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The issue of racial discrimination in the criminal justice has been widely witnessed and thus various theories have come up to give an explanation. Looking at the consensus view, various people share their individual values with the state in which they live. The purpose of the state is to provide laws that will protect its people from criminal acts. When people commit criminal offenses, they are supposed to face the punishment as provided by the law. The severity of the punishment is supposed to depend on the seriousness of the committed offense as well as prior convictions. Considering conflict theory, a society is composed of groups of people with conflicting values as well as interests. In such a society, the state organizes itself in such a way that the interests of the powerful class are represented at higher levels of power as opposed to the poor. The laws on crime are viewed as a means of protecting those who are powerful and elite. Punishments are offered on the basis of non-rational factors such as social class. According to conflict theorists, the groups which are considered to threaten the powerful such as the poor and the unemployed normally suffer discrimination in the criminal justice system based on social control and are more criminalized compared to the rich and those in power. The poor, the minority, and the unemployed may suffer escalated penalties in case they are found to have committed an offense. The rationale behind this social discrimination is the fact that the poor, the unemployed, and the minority are considered to be a threat to those in power and those of high social classes. Such discrimination is practiced so that the powerful can retain their positions in the society and protect their personal interests. For example, during the era of segregation, which occurred in the South (1890s to 1960s), criminal justice laws were enforced in such a way that the supremacy of the whites was protected and the blacks declared subordinates.
The fact that crime is driven by a symbolic aspect of social conflict is another theoretical explanation of racial discrimination in the criminal justice system. A good example here is the issue of threat perception as opposed to actual threats which proves to be influential to crime policies.