Benign Neglect of Racism in the Criminal Justice System

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This article is a literary review and analysis of Malign Neglect: Race, Crime, and Punishment in America by Michael Tonry (1995). Part I of this review describes Tonry's analysis of the crime policies of the Reagan and Bush administrations. Part II discusses Tonry's indictment of the War on Drugs and criticizes his failure to acknowledge the effects of discriminatory prosecutorial practices and sentencing laws. Part III critiques Tonry's trivialization of the significance of race discrimination in the criminal justice system more generally. Part IV summarizes Tonry's proposals for change and stresses the importance of documenting, examining, and eliminating racial bias in the criminal justice system. The article concludes by noting that the important question is not whether racial bias is a “major” or “minor” cause of the disproportionate imprisonment of African Americans. The focus should be on how to discover and eliminate racial bias in the criminal justice system, wherever and whenever it exists. It stresses that law enforcement experts and criminologists should examine and propose solutions to the problem of racial bias in the discretionary arrest decisions of police officers and argues for monitoring of both police and prosecutor conduct.