For centuries, racism has been the middle name of the American justice system. How else can one explain this conundrum: According to the New York attorney, Alton Maddox, African-Americans comprise half of the prison population in the country, and yet African-Americans make up only 13% of the US population. Approximately 8 million Americans are under correctional control overall--in prison, on probation or on parole.
The conundrum is made possible because of the racism inherent in the criminal justice system, which the new Justice Integrity Act 2009 intends to fight. When the bill was introduced in the Senate, Benjamin L. Cardin, a Democratic senator from the State of Maryland, hailed it and called on people of goodwill to attack injustice in America. "This bill will not only help restore the public's trust in our justice system but also restore integrity in our justice system," Senator Cardin said.
In a spirit of bi-partisanship, the bill was co-sponsored by the Republican senator, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania who said "this legislation will provide us with the necessary data that will help us as we try to address racial disparities and eliminate any bias in law enforcement in our justice system".
The introduction of the bill is timely given the increasing cases, old and new, of Americans victimised by US law enforcement authorities. Bruce K. Leber, president of the New York State Bar Association, says the prevalence of wrongful convictions in the country has eroded public confidence in the American justice system.
Recent reports have cited the case of the African-American woman, Betty Tyson, who spent 25 years in prison for murder before her conviction was overturned, in 1998, after it was discovered that exculpatory evidence was suppressed by prosecutors during her trial.
James Walker, another African-American, served 19 years in prison for a 1971 murder. He was freed in 1990 after it was discovered that the prosecutor and lead detective in his case suppressed the fact that the informant, upon whose testimony Walker's conviction was based, had implicated a second man and a surviving victim did not select Walker from a line-up.
Perhaps the most notorious miscarriage of justice in recent times, according to Attorney Maddox, was the so-called Central Park Jogger Case in 1989. Maddox represented one of the defendants in that case. Five African-American and Latino teenagers were arrested and charged with the rape and vicious assault of a white woman jogging in Central Park, New York. They were tried and convicted, despite the absence of forensic evidence linking them to the rape and assault.
Prosecutors and the police contended that the teenagers' confessions were enough to secure a conviction. Defence attorneys argued that the confessions were coerced. The young men served long prison sentences. …