Solution Proposal for Racial Disparities in Mass Incarceration
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Solution Proposal for Racial Disparities in Mass Incarceration
Criminal justice is tasked with the roles of ensuring public safety by apprehending those found to have breached the law (reducing crime) and avoiding the abuse of power by law enforcement officials tasked with such a mandate. Criminal justice systems involve the application of concepts from other related fields such as law, psychology, sociology, and ethics (Crutchfield & Weeks, 2015). As such, whereas some issues in society may be deemed as criminal justice matters, they may also fall in the auspices of social justice. One of the contemporary social and criminal justice issues that ought to be dealt with is racial inequalities/disparities, especially in mass incarceration. Over the last few years, protests have been witnessed across the United States which have been targeted as the issue of police brutality, particularly against people of color (Handa, 2020). The Black Lives Matter movement has been at the forefront in the US and around the world in its quest to ensure equality in the criminal justice system. The recent protests across the US have brought much-needed attention to the need for changes in American policing to ensure the elimination of systemic racism and racial disparities within the criminal justice system. Notably, organized racism occurs at every stage of the criminal justice system, right from policing to the making of prosecutorial decisions, pretrial release, sentencing, and even correctional discipline and mass incarceration (Erickson, 2014). The racial disparities inherent in mass incarceration affect not only adults but also children and have been construed as majorly punishing people of color who have been unfairly marginalized along other grounds such as gender and class. To address the social and criminal justice issues of racial disparities in mass incarceration, it is proposed that the criminal justice system should level the playing field and adopt racial impact legislation that could lead to the use of alternative means of achieving public safety and not just mass incarceration.
Summary of Chosen Social and Criminal Justice Issue
Racial disparities in mass incarceration is an issue because communities of color such as African Americans have been disproportionately affected by incarceration and such a matter has arisen from the criminal justice system that perpetuates their victimization. Notably, African Americans are more likely than their white counterparts to be victims of violent crime. An interesting case that indicates the origins of racial disparities in the criminal justice sentencing and mass incarceration is McCleskey v. Kemp  where a narrow majority of 5-4 judges of the US Supreme Court blocked the opportunity to block executions especially of people of color who had been racially profiled. Surprisingly, the Supreme Court held that the solid statistical evidence that had been presented about the discrimination of the blacks in the capital justice system did not in any way offend the Constitution. Although the black people in the US make up a mere 13.4% of the overall population, they make up 47% of the wrongful conviction exonerations, and 22% of fatal shootings (Nellis, 2016). Additionally, people of color make up 37% of the people executed by the death penalty in the US. Even more staggering statistics reveal that African Americans are five times to be incarcerated in state prisons compared to the rates at which their white counterparts and incarcerated. Further statistics reveal black men are disproportionately targeted by mass incarceration because they are likely to receive harsher incarceration experiences compared to prisoners of other races. Erickson (2014) argues that black juveniles are more targeted by the criminal justice systems and mass incarceration compared to youth from other races. The disproportionate incarceration of African Americans compared to other races has made an adverse impact on society because there have been feelings of unfairness and protests aimed at the achievement of a more just society (Erickson, 2014). For instance, protests have been held across the US, which has disrupted businesses and nearly led to racial tensions across different states. As such, it is vital to adopt social justice principles to address the issue of racial disparities in the criminal justice system to prevent any racial tensions and eliminate feelings of discrimination and victimization among people of color.
The social justice principles needed to be addressed within the issue of racial disparities in mass incarceration are those of equity, participation, and diversity. Equality can be used to ensure that systematic barriers, which make the people of color to be disproportionately imprisoned are addressed (Crutchfield & Weeks, 2015). For instance, due to other grounds, which exacerbate their situation such as socioeconomic statuses, addressing such matters can lead to the attainment of equity. Participation, on the other hand, will make the African Americans and people of color have a voice and opportunity to present their opinions and concerns about the disparities in mass incarceration and ways that such a social injustice can be addressed (Pettit & Gutierrez, 2018). Elsewhere, diversity would enable the government and other actors to understand that some groups such as people of color face more barriers in society, thus, a need will arise for expanded opportunities for such marginalized groups. Participation would make sure that the criminal justice policies passed involve the inputs of people of color or their representatives and not making laws that would govern such people without their involvement (Erickson, 2014). The lack of participation where laws are made without due considerations to how race affects crime in the US and the relationship between race and criminality makes it easier to conclude that people of color are not effectively involved in making changes to the criminal justice system.
The cultural and diversity issues present in the issue of racial disparities in the criminal justice system are the disproportionate number of people of color who are exposed to the criminal justice system compared to people from other races. Additionally, the social and economic penalties that emanate from incarceration are accrued by those with already weakened economic opportunities (Crutchfield & Weeks, 2015). Mass incarceration has been found to deepen the disadvantages and foreclose mobility for some of the most sidelined people in society (Cooper et al., 2021). The intersection of poverty and racism provides various disadvantages for people of color, which may make them engage in crime. Instead of the government taking measures to ensure that such inequalities are addressed, it is only focused on arresting, charging, and incarcerating people of color without resolving the root cause of the matter. Failure to be a proportionate representation of all races in the criminal justice systems raises the issue of the lack of diversity. Notably, the statistics examined have demonstrated that it is from the poor communities and economically disadvantaged persons that a very large number of felons are removed. The population churning has been referred to by criminologists as coercive mobility. Although the legislature, judges, police, and prosecutors intend to protect citizens and communities from the actions of those deemed to engage in crime, coercive mobility has led to the unintended effect of increased victimization and lack of diversity in prosecution and sentencing. Erickson (2014) adds that the American culture demonstrated by the political leadership is to support policies that ensure the justice system is skewed against people of color. For example, the conviction of individuals for crack selling, which is more heavily sold and used by people of color has led to 100 times more severe sentences for African Americans compared to other races (Crutchfield & Weeks, 2015). A biased criminal justice system demonstrated an American culture that fails to recognize diversity and the importance of considering the issue of race and justice.
Addressing the issue of racial disparities will lead to a more just society because people from different races will feel that neither of them is more targeted than the other. There will be more trust within the criminal justice system as opposed to the present time where people of color have more doubts about the discriminatory nature of the system. Crutchfield and Weeks (2015) note that a just society is one where individuals have an equal opportunity to advance their goals and experience equal treatment irrespective of the color of their skin, national origin, or social status. The unequal treatment of people of color by the criminal justice system in the US is a matter that has led to some portion of the population feeling that they have been marginalized and discriminated against. According to Crutchfield and Weeks( 2015), racial inequality is not just the absence of discrimination but also the presence of deliberate systems that support and promote such a vice through proactive measures. However, addressing the issue of a disproportionate number of people of color incarcerated will lead to feelings of equality and a more just society where the system does not discriminate against people merely because of their race and social status. Notably, in the current times, there are still perceptions that the criminal justice system is racially biased against people of color because of the high number of blacks who have been incarcerated unnecessarily.
Empirical Research on Chosen Topic
Scholars argue that since the case of Brown v. Board of Education  was decided, there has been a sudden rise in the number of people of color incarcerated compared to people from other races such as the whites. Presently, the George Floyd case (State v. Chauvin )where a police officer was found guilty of second-degree murder even after overwhelming evidence means that the incarceration policies in the US are favorable to whites but discriminatory against people of color. It is without a doubt that if George Floyd was a white person whose death had been occasioned by a black police officer, the prosecution would have preferred murder in the first degree. According to Mauer (2011, p.88S), although only about 100,000 African Americans had been incarcerated in the American prisons and jails in 1954, such a figure has risen to around 900,000 in 2020. Additionally, the Department of Justice argues that if the current trends are anything to go by, then in every three African American males born, one should expect to be imprisoned in their lifetime. The sentencing project provides a true picture of the racial disparities in the criminal justice system by arguing that although African Americans are 5.1 times more imprisoned than whites, the five states of Wisconsin, New Jersey, Minnesota, and Vermont have a disparity rate of 10 to 1 (Nellis, 2016). According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the number of black prisoners is more than that of the whites and Hispanic counterparts despite the blacks being a smaller percentage of the US population. Specifically, whereas 38% of the US state prisoners are black, only 35% are white and 31% Hispanic (Kelly, 2015). In twelve of the states around the country, more than half of their prison populations are African Americans. For the Hispanic population, their percentage in state prisons is as high as 61% in some states such as New Mexico, and 42% in the states of Arizona and California (Nellis, 2016). An examination of the prison populations across the United States reveals that racial and ethnic disparity exists because of an overrepresentation of people of color compared to their overall population in the community.
The uneven incarceration of people of color in the US has been normalized, especially because no concrete actions have been taken to reverse the trends. Norris (2019) argues that the mass incarceration in the US can be chronically linked to the racially-based war on drugs taken by the US government and the “grossly disproportionate rates of imprisonment among African-American men” (2). To put such a statement into perspective, Norris (2019) provides the rate at which the prison boom has emerged in the US. For instance, the population of inmates in the US in the 30 years after 1972 has been sharply increasing. Specifically, in the years between 1972 and 1984, the population of prisons has doubled. Kelly (2015) adds that the population doubled in the years between 1984 and 1994. Staggering statistics reported by Harmon & Boppre (2015) is that figures of the 2015 US prison population reveal that its rate was 500 percent higher compared to 40 years prior. According to the US Commission on Civil Rights (2016), no other population in the US has experienced rates of incarceration higher than the indigenous persons. According to the Commission, although African Americans have been over-represented, the indigenous people have higher rates of incarceration double those of the blacks. However, Jeffries & Newbold (2016) focuses on disparities in female imprisonment by arguing that although the number of overall incarcerated women is lower compared to that of men, the past two decades have seen women experience incarcerations, which are relatively higher rates than those of men. Giving an example of the US, Kelly (2015) argues that in the years between 1995 and 2005, the rates of women incarceration have nearly doubled that of men which is an increase of 6.2% compared to the rate of 3.7% for men.
In terms of the causes of the high rates of incarcerations for people of color in the US, different authors have suggested that the trend emanates from the intermix of different factors such as the need for private organizations that provide services in prisons to continue operating. According to Kelly (2015), whereas the prisons are run by the government, there are different private organizations that provide services to the inmates at extremely high rates. As such, they have to capitalize on the high number of inmates because a reduced number of people in the facilities would result in the reduction of those people’s profits and incomes (Handa, 2020). A perfect example of companies that benefit from increased inmate population is Securus, a security company that charges as much as $25 for a 15-minute phone call by the inmates, which ultimately makes a profit of $1.3 billion per year (Handa, 2020). Additionally, food service providers such as Aramark are private enterprises that provide low-quality meals to the inmates albeit at very high prices. As a result, the prison system has become a money minting enterprise that serves not only the public interests of rehabilitating offenders but also the private interests of those organizations that provide essential services to the inmates. The interplay of these different interests means that those in power who continue to further oppress people of color to maintain control over them and continue to experience high prison populations and ultimately enjoy huge profits. However, there are different possible solutions to such a matter.
The issue of disparity in imprisonment rates, especially between people of color and whites can also be seen from the diverse number of authors who have sought to explain the causes of the inequalities. One of the explanations offered is the War on Drugs in the 1980s both at the federal and state levels. Notably, at the federal level, the War on Drugs policies introduced mandatory five- and ten-year sentencing policies, which were aimed at cracking down on the crack cocaine offenders (The Sentencing Project, 2018). Although amendments have since been made by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, the mandatory penalties are yet to be removed. Additionally, criminologists argue that over-reliance on incarceration is another factor, which has led to a high rate of growth in prison and jail populations. Such high rates of imprisonment are unwarranted because statistics illustrate that incarceration strategies are not the most effective approaches in the control of crime (The Sentencing Project, 2018). Moreover, the three-strikes legislation of 1996, which introduced and assigned mandatory life sentences without parole for those found guilty for three times felony offenses are aspects that explain why there are high rates of mass incarceration of the people of color in American society.
Possible Resolution to Chosen Social and Criminal Justice Issue
The resolution of the issue of racial disparities in mass incarceration can be achieved by providing credible sentencing options for the courts where defendants can be placed on community supervision and the avoidance of sentencing rules that discriminate against people of color. The branches of criminal justice impacted/involved in the issue of racial inequalities in mass incarceration are the law enforcement officers, the prosecutors, and the court officials such as the judges who are the ultimate decision-makers on who is to be incarcerated and who is not (Cooper et al., 2021). Judicial officers are involved in the hearing and determination of the criminal cases brought before them. The judges have to determine whether an individual charged with a crime would best be handled through a prison sentence or via probation and other alternative forms of punishment. The judiciary can address the issue of racial inequality in the criminal justice system by always giving sentences to people fairly and based on the law (Handa, 2020). The judiciary should not be seen as favoring people from a particular race while giving long sentences to others from another race. Law enforcement officers will help in resolving the issue by not unduly arresting and charging people of color with minor crimes that they would not charge people from other races with (Mauer, 2011). The judges will help in ensuring they provide alternative forms of punishment instead of merely using mass incarceration as the primary form of punishing offenders. Instead of being prejudiced against people of color and unnecessarily stopping and arresting them, the law enforcement officers should only make arrests where they are convinced that the persons in question have committed a crime. Instead of making high arrests from people of color, law enforcement officers should be impartial in their arrests and arraignments (Handa, 2020). However, the prosecutors will help in making sure that only serious criminal conduct is brought before the courts and not just all cases. These parties would play an instrumental role in ensuring that the resolution to the social and criminal justice issue of racial inequality in mass incarceration is effectively addressed.
Criminal and social justice theories such as the social learning theory, rehabilitation theory, and reformative theories discourage mass incarceration and support my resolution which is the use of alternative forms of punishment and not just mass incarceration. The social learning theory argues that people engage in criminal behavior because of the environment around them and developing an environment that discourages criminal behavior can lead to reduced crime and rates of incarceration (Ward, McConaghy, & Bennett, 2018). According to the social learning theory, social behavior can be acquired through observations and imitations from those already practicing them. As such, learning occurs if people observe rewards and punishments in the process popularly known as vicarious reinforcement (Kurlychek & Johnson, 2019). The role of the theory would be to change the environment and ensure that people of color live in an atmosphere that allows them to imitate good behavior and not criminal conduct. The rehabilitation and reformative theories call for offenders to be given another chance in the community to pay for their mistakes and develop into better persons (Ward, McConaghy, & Bennett, 2018). As such, the solution of using an alternative form of punishment would ensure behavioral changes through social learnings that emphasize good conduct over criminal behaviors that could be sanctioned. Moreover, the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Plata  where the Court ordered the California prison to reduce its population supports the importance of reducing mass incarceration. In this case, the US Supreme Court made a groundbreaking decision, which made sure that the California court depopulated its prison facilities and ensured that there was no mass incarceration of people under hostile conditions and lack of basic needs.
The judiciary, corrections, and law enforcement systems address issues of social inequality, human rights, and overall fairness by always following the law and making sure that they root out vices such as discrimination and racial bias in their systems. Such actions ensure that racial disparities in mass incarceration are resolved and result in a reduced number of people wrongfully incarcerated (Kurlychek & Johnson, 2019). The judiciary is the ultimate decision-maker because it determines whether persons charged with certain crimes are guilty or not. The judiciary is one of the bodies that has been involved in the perpetuation of racial inequality in mass incarceration. Statistics have revealed that judges are happier to give people of color disproportionately high prison sentences compared to how they act when faced with offenders from other races. As such, the judiciary has a role of ensuring that it fairly determines the sentence appropriate for offenders irrespective of their races (Ward, McConaghy, & Bennett, 2018). For instance, instead of always preferring a prison sentence for criminal offenders, the judiciary should change its policies to ensure that it is more focused on rehabilitating such persons through community service programs and probation as opposed to sending them to jail, which is one of the primary causes of unequal mass incarceration. Kurlychek and Johnson (2019) assert that the corrections have an instrumental role in ensuring that they make favorable recommendations to the judges about the conduct of people of color for early release. To ensure that there are no inequalities in the corrections, each and every inmate should be treated equally and the privileges provided should not be based on people’s skin color but rather an equal treatment of all inmates. The law enforcement systems should address social inequality and human rights by always protecting the rights of all citizens without exception. Current trends have indicated that law enforcement officers are likely to stop, pull over, and search people of color compared to the rates at which they do the same to people from other races such as the whites. Ensuring the law enforcement systems are impartial is one of the aspects that could lead to the resolution of racial inequalities in the criminal justice system. The different actors in the criminal justice systems should ensure that they not only do justice but the public should perceive justice to be done.
Poverty and low socioeconomic status can lead people to crime because of the need to fulfill their basic needs which might make many people of color be incarcerated at disproportionate levels. Imran, Hosen & Chowdhury (2018) report that there is a positive co-integrating relationship between poverty and the rates of property crime. Socioeconomic factors and crime rates have been found to be two aspects that co-relate. One of the reasons why some individuals engage in crime is to provide for their loved ones. Anser et al. (2020) further state that there is a positive relationship between the per capita income of a country and the overall crime rate. Moreover, according to Becker’s economic theory of crime (1968), people would resort to crime if they find out that the costs of committing a crime are lower than the benefits that would be gained. As such, according to this theory, people living in poverty would have a greater chance of committing property crime compared to people who have a higher socioeconomic status (Savage, Ellis, & Wozniak, 2019). Systemic racism, on the other hand, results in more arrests and prosecutions made against people of color, which leads to unequal convictions made (Kurlychek & Johnson, 2019). However, there are other ways that poverty applies to the social and criminal justice issue of disparities in mass incarceration.
Research has demonstrated that if it were not for the high rates of incarceration in the US, the number of people experiencing poverty would reduce by as much as 20%. Notably, the rise in the rates of mass incarceration, especially for African Americans, did not emanate from an increase in the trends of crime (Center for Community Change, 2018). On the contrary, the rise originated from the “tough on crime” drug policies adopted by different regimes. Notably, the stringent policies introduced in the 1980s include those aimed at stopping and frisking suspects, mandatory sentencing, and harsher treatment of those found to have violated their paroles (Center for Community Change, 2018). The introduction of these policies has been more adverse for the people of color, which is one of the reasons for increased rates of poverty. Statistics reveal that a majority of people who enter the criminal justice system are overwhelmingly poor. Specifically, two-thirds of those in jails majorly report low annual incomes. In the majority of instances, they report an annual income of under $12,000 prior to their arrests (Center for Community Change, 2018). The mass incarceration of African Americans exacerbates their low income and contributes to their poverty because incarceration reduces earnings, becomes an employment barrier, and decreases economic security. Furthermore, incarceration leads to reduced income due to criminal debt, fines, and fees which disrupts communities and the families of those incarcerated. As such, apart from the contributory nature of poverty to incarceration, it has been demonstrated that imprisonment is also an impediment to poverty reduction.
Racism is another variable that may apply to the issue of mass incarceration because the disproportionate nature of incarceration of people of color can be attributed to structural racism. Some of the victims of imprisonment believe that the criminal justice system was designed to unequally impact people of color especially African Americans. Additionally, it is their assertion that the system is engineered to become a system of racial oppression and a replacement of the discriminatory Jim Crow Laws (Innocence Project, 2020). Additionally, there is a belief among people in the society that mass incarceration being coincidental before it began to occur at the end of the application of Jim Crown laws and that it has been designed by the leader to over-zealously have a disproportionate effect on African Americans and reinforce the racial differences and discrimination that have been witnessed in the American society (Innocence Project, 2020). Irrespective of which position is correct, it is indisputable that people of color have to live with a sprawling criminal justice system that continues to target them and become omnipresent in many poor communities across the US. Due to the racial inequality that the American society was build and in which it is contemporarily ingrained, t has become a common occurrence for the black and brown lives to be destroyed and even taken away. The