Surpassing slavery rates, mass incarceration has become the most critical modern affairs in the “land of the free”. Ironically, the United States is currently leading in the world’s largest imprisonment rate with a large majority of the population being incarcerated (Tucker, 1 pg). The growth rate has rapidly escalated throughout the recent years, predominantly affecting minorities across the nation, often caused by prejudice and discrimination. In recent years, data has shown that the prison population has grown, approximately, 70% from 1970 to 2005 (Tucker, 10 pg). Although the United States was formed under the principles of freedom and tolerance, the rates of mass incarceration prove that, in fact, racism has oppressed minorities, intensified racial violence and fostered inequality within the criminal justice system.
Mass incarceration, in a way, embodies the Jim Crow Laws of “social control”; it segregates and discriminates a group of individuals based on certain characteristics. It is a known fact that former convicts often struggle to reintegrate themselves back into society after completing their prison sentence. The reintegration process is often difficult to overcome due to advanced prejudice and predisposed stereotypes imposed by society, since minorities are often profiled based on race. As a result of spending portion of their lives behind the bars, inmates are disenfranchised, isolated, and often confront financial adversities.
Disenfranchisement, the process by which people are deprived from their voting rights due to criminal offenses that, usually, resulted in long-term sentences. Because former inmates are deprived of their suffrage, their right to vote, they are not able to actively participate in the government. They no longer have a voice that can potentially influence the election of representatives and nation’s leaders to further improve the justice structure. They cannot longer directly influence the politics within their society, making them unable to alter and enhance the criminal justice system. Once again, felons face injustice and discrimination from the American government.
When filling out any and every employment applications, ex-convicts must check out the box that asks for prior arrests and convictions. In doing so, former convicts are not hired by employers, basically due to employment discrimination and, as a result, they, frequently, struggle in searching for economic stability. Numerous job positions are, essentially, out of reach for felons disregarding what the charges were or how long ago they occurred. Therefore, due to unemployment, ex-convicts often end up living in low-income areas, striving to survive. Hence they often become the prey of desperation and, of course, law enforcement.
In recent years, police have gained popularity, not only because of their service to the community, but also due to their excessive and abusive use of force and power against people of color. It can be speculated that imprisonment could reduce crime rates across the nation, afterall, police forces are arresting “criminals”, however, that is far from the truth. In reality, mass imprisonment does not prevent further crime from happening. Imprisonment rates grow independently from crime rates; there is no correlation between the set of data. In fact, it simply fuels violence among society, as often displayed in the media, instead of endorsing peace and prosperity across the nation.
Cases, where police actions had led to the deaths of African American men, like those of William Chapman in Portsmouth, Virginia in 2015, Walter Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina in 2015, and Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 2016, unfortunately, become more apparent across the nation. William Chapman, for instance, was an unarmed 18-year old who was shot to death by dangerous and racist officer Stephen Rankin, who had killed a hotel cook 4 years prior to this lethal event (Swaine,2-3 pgs). Furthermore, simply stopped because of the taillight on his motorcycle, Walter Scott, age 33, was shot 5 times by officer Michael Slager (NBC News, 9 pg). Terence Crutcher, unarmed 40-year old man, tasered and shot by Officer Betty Shelby after being stopped by county police (Blau,1-2 pgs). In all of the cases mentioned above, there was no legitimate reason for proceeding the manner in which they did, especially, if all of the victims were unarmed. The officers actions simply demonstrate prejudice and racial profiling against African American men.
For instance, Stephen Rankin had previous issues in the past, in which the police department had prior knowledge, and yet did nothing to possibly prevent a catastrophe. It was later revealed that he had insulted the man and his family, and had expressed Nazi messages online. Next, Michael Slager shot, multiple times, a man who was running away from him, which clearly shows that the situation was not in self-defense as Slager had initially claimed in the trial. Officer Betty Shelby shot Crutcher as he walked back to his car with his hands up in the air, and posed no justifiable, or reasonable threat to himself or other officers who were standing by Officer Shelby.
“Mass incarceration has established a ‘racial caste system’ in society, primarily driven by politics, not crime.” -Alexander, 2010 (Tucker, 6 pg). Based on the prison data and demographics, 40% of the inmate population is African American (Tucker, 8 pg). It is evident that the prison system promotes inequality and is centered around a racial caste system. A large portion of the prison population is formed primarily by African American, who are being incarcerated seven times faster than the white population. Statistics clearly demonstrate the “structural favoritism” and bias in the American government. As a matter of fact, African American men even serve longer sentences for minor felonies than caucasian men, who commit violent crimes.
“In the federal system, African American offenders receive sentences that are 10% longer than white offenders for the same crimes.” -U.S. Sentencing Commission, (Tucker, 8 pg). Drug-related felonies and misdemeanors have been one of the major reason for incarceration since the war on drugs began. Brutal policing and enforcement in low-income areas became the hunting ground for law enforcement that prey on minorities misfortunes. It appears as if the war on drugs became a bait, a vile excuse to arrest minorities and convict them of a crime. Furthermore, even though white, high school males are the typical users of cocaine, African Americans are 20 to 57 times more likely to be convicted for drug-related felonies than caucasians are (Small, 1 pg). White females are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol than African American women, however, black women are more likely to be reported (Small, 3 pg). The fact is that minorities will face discrimination throughout the entire criminalization system; from the time in which they are stopped by police officers to the time in which they are sentenced by the government (Drug Policy, 3 pg).
Ignorance and hatred has infected this nation, gradually consuming thousands of lives to no end. A nation that was supposed to protect and embrace the values of unity, independence and diversity, instead appears to encourage uniformity and antipathy. Therefore, it is necessary to solve this phenomenon to bring about national unity through the population because the people can control and greatly influence the government. Society, as a whole, can potentially resolve, or at least, improve the position of many African Americans currently living in the United States. Society can begin to amend the lives of children, whose lives were greatly affected by the prison system once their family were unjustifiably outcasted. Government could begin to incorporate and promote social norms in order to maintain the principles the Founding Fathers had implemented in the constitution.
Hence, mass incarceration has become the new face and color of racism within the American government system and society. The new racism has, unjustly, deprived a large majority of the population with their basic rights, such as liberty and independence, based on profound prejudice against minority groups. Mass incarceration has done nothing to improve society; it has not prevented, but fueled further crimes and injustices. Evidently, it has done so much to intoxicate the nation by constantly proceeding to repress minorities, encourage violence and disparity in a liberated country.