Criminal Justice Responses to Hate Crime Essay

Cheap Custom Writing Service

In 1990, President George H. W. Bush signed into law the federal Hate Crime Statistics Act (HCSA), which mandated that the attorney general’s office collect data on hate crime, that is, crime motivated by the victim’s race, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. An array of other criminal justice responses—not just legislative ones—has also been implemented across the United States as a means of either preventing or responding to bias-motivated violence.

As is typical of governmental decrees, the HCSA provides a legalistic definition of hate crime: “crimes that manifest evidence of prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation or ethnicity.” For the most part, states that subsequently (or previously) introduced hate crime legislation have followed suit, adopting a similar definitional style. All states except Utah currently have some form of hate crime statute. What differs across the nation is the breadth of protected classes. Indeed, there is considerable variation in the victim populations addressed by state hate crime statutes. The common categories are reduced to race, religion, and ethnicity. Sexual orientation and gender, for example, appear in only a handful of statutes, as does country of origin. Minnesota, for instance, records hate crime motivated by the victim’s race, religion, national origin, sex, age, disability, and sexual orientation. In New Jersey, however, criminal violations of persons or property are designated as hate crimes when the victim’s race, color, creed, ethnicity, or religion was a motivating factor. Oregon hate crime protections are extended to victims violated because of perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, marital status, political affiliation or beliefs, membership or activity in or on behalf of a labor organization or against a labor organization, physical or mental handicap, age, economic or social status, or citizenship of the victim.

What these otherwise diverse statutes do share is an emphasis on the legal definition of crime. That is, the term hate crime assumes the commission of a criminal offense, a violation of an existing criminal code. The hate crime designation may only be applied when a predicate offense or underlying crime is committed as a result of bias or prejudice. For the most part, these statutes apply only to index offenses. However, some states specify a different, often narrower range of relevant offenses, such as harassment, vandalism, and assault.

Moreover, the nature of hate crime legislation is itself disparate. At the federal level, hate crime may be confronted through the Hate Crime Statistics Act, the Hate Crime Sentencing Enhancement Act, the Violence Against Women Act, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the Church Arsons Prevention Act, or the Civil Rights Act. At the state level, some jurisdictions account for institutional vandalism, some require hate crime data collection, some provide for police hate crime training, and most allow for penalty enhancement for bias motivated crime. The latter refers to the provision for increasing the penalty associated with an offense if it is deemed motivated by bias. In some states, the bias must be the sole motivation; in others, it must only be motivated “in part” by animus. In addition, most states also have an array of civil rights statutes that might be invoked to protect vulnerable groups from victimization or to provide redress. In fact, these were the precursors to hate crime legislation. Until the 1990s, they were often the only means by which bias-motivated crimes could be addressed.

However, it is not enough to simply legislate against hate crime. It is debatable, first of all, whether it has anything more than symbolic impact. Moreover, in order for it to have any impact, it must be enforceable. To date, there is a limited tendency for police to designate hate crimes, or for prosecutors to follow up even where charges are laid. Consequently the criminal justice response to serving the needs of victims must be varied and broad, to include not just legislation, but such things as the establishment of victims’ bills of rights such as that developed by the International Association of Chiefs of Police in 1983, or the array of services known as victim-witness programs. These programs serve the general needs of victims, but may have particular relevance for hate crime victims.

Victims who come in contact with the criminal justice system may find themselves in a quandary in that those to whom they turn for help may be unwilling or unable to respond to their victimization effectively. The experience of victimization is traumatic for all people; however, it can be even more so for those whose racial, sexual, or ethnic identity, for example, leaves them vulnerable. Hate crime victims may fear the risk of secondary victimization. Some criminal justice personnel have themselves been perpetrators of bias-motivated violence.

Criminal justice agencies that are representative of the communities they serve will almost invariably be more aware of the particular problems of these communities. However, minority groups are dramatically underrepresented as service providers in the criminal justice system. As the United States has become even more diverse, police agencies, in particular, have begun to recognize the need to recruit those from minority communities. These recruits bring with them an understanding of their clientele, as well as slightly different approaches to their jobs. Latino/a police officers, for example, may bring insights into the specificity of domestic violence among Latinos/as; women may bring dialogic rather than aggressive tactics into emotional confrontations; people with disabilities may bring attention to the barriers implied by the physical environment. In other words, hiring those who are different is a way to celebrate and take advantage of diversity.

Nonetheless, hiring and promoting diversity within criminal justice agencies is no guarantee that those agencies will necessarily be more sensitive to cultural diversity and more effective in responding to hate crimes. There are gay men who are racist, women who are homophobic, Latinos/as who are classist. Prejudice cuts across difference. Consequently, regardless of the makeup of criminal justice agencies, cultural awareness training has also grown in importance as a means of sensitizing professionals to the experiences, values, and needs of the communities they serve. The Anti-Defamation League, for example, regularly provides police training on hate groups, on the impacts of hate crime, and even on how to identify a hate crime.

Additionally, criminal justice practitioners must be made aware that different communities may in fact experience the trauma of victimization in different ways. Awareness and knowledge of how hate crimes affect diverse communities allows criminal justice actors to implement services that are appropriate to localized dynamics. For example, communities experiencing high rates of victimization of women may implement nighttime transportation services, or short and long-term shelter programs. These would not be an appropriate response, however, where the paramount problem is violence against gay men and lesbians. In those cases, the creation of media and educational campaigns against homophobia or of a local gay and lesbian advocacy panel may be the most effective intervention. Ultimately, the key to effective delivery of victim services is sensitivity to the cultural needs of the victim’s community, in a way that empowers victims and potential victims.


  1. Jacobs, J., & Potter, K. (2000). Hate crimes: Criminal law and identity politics. New York: Oxford University Press.
  2. Jenness, V., & Broad, K. (1998). Hate crimes: New social movements and the politics of violence. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.
  3. Lawrence, F. (2002). Punishing hate: Bias crimes under American law. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  4. Perry, B. (2004). Hate and bias crime: A reader. New York: Routledge.

This example Criminal Justice Responses to Hate Crime Essay is published for educational and informational purposes only. If you need a custom essay or research paper on this topic please use our writing services. offers reliable custom essay writing services that can help you to receive high grades and impress your professors with the quality of each essay or research paper you hand in.

See also:


Always on-time


100% Confidentiality

Special offer!