If you are young and naive such as myself, the concept of mass incarceration may have no relevance to you, (or so you may think) or it seems like a non-U.S. problem. When I first heard the term, I thought my professor was talking about a foreign country in which incarceration and war were prevalent. But I was wrong. Mass incarceration is an alarming issue in the United States.
Let’s first take a look at the statistics. We currently hold more people in prison than any other industrialized nation. In the United States alone, there are approximately 6.5 million men and women imprisoned, on parole, or on probation (x). According to a recent study, there are 459 White, 1,258 Latino, and 3,074 Black men incarcerated per 100,000 residents of that group (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2013). In 2013, a survey was released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in which it was revealed that drug use between Black and White people is almost the same and Black people only account for 13% of drug use in the United States. Nonetheless, Black men and women make up for over 60% of narcotic convictions. The Rockefeller Drug Laws state that those who are found in possession of or are found dealing even small amounts of marijuana, cocaine, or heroine must serve 15 years to life in prison.
So the question is, why are these numbers so uneven? Why is it that Blacks and Hispanics are incarcerated at higher rates than Whites are?
In a radio interview with Andrew Wilkow, Republican senator Rand Paul refers to the U.S. Criminal Justice system as the new Jim Crow. Jim Crow refers to a set of codes that were enforced in the Southern United States during the Reconstruction period. It made racial segregation legal and claimed its purpose was to be separate but equal. These laws were in effect until 1965 and were anything but equal. I believe senator Paul refers to the idea of Black people being controlled and watched by the authorities. While imprisoned, the system makes sure to deprive Black men from living equal lives and are condemned to live under 24/7 surveillance and poor conditions. He says, “You can kill someone in Kentucky and be eligible for parole in 12 years, but we have people in jail for marijuana sales for 55 years, life, 20 years, 25 years. We’ve gone too far in all of this and then when you add up the numbers, even the white kids and black kids use marijuana at about the same rate and in national surveys the arrests and incarceration rate is four times greater for black males than it is for white males.”
The disparity in racial incarceration rates is due to many factors. The main ones being various criminal justice practices that are considered illegal but still carried out. One being racial profiling. Often times, authorities are told to stop cars with Hispanics or Blacks inside of them because they are more likely to have drugs on them. Although Black people only make up 15% of New Jersey drivers, 35% of “random” stops are Black people and 73% of the arrests are of Black people. New York’s Stop-and-Frisk policy disproportionately targets young Black and Latino men. The amount of random searches done on Black men has currently surpassed the entire Black male population. In Los Angeles, although drug use rates are widespread across all racial groups, 90% of prosecutions for drug crimes are of Black and Latino men. Although this was recently changed, many people were incarcerated due to the difference in sentencing guidelines for possession of cocaine and crack-cocaine. For five grams of crack cocaine (most commonly used by poor Blacks) which amounts to $125 you are supposed to be imprisoned for five years. For cocaine (most commonly used by middle-class Whites) you have to be found with at least 500 grams ($500,000) of powdered cocaine to get the same sentence.
There seem to be more and more shocking facts being revealed about incarceration by the day. Now, it is permitted to sentence youth offenders as adults. Again this disproportionately affects males of color as they are sent to adult prisons although they are underage. See: This Is What Incarcerated Youth In America Looks Like. Women in prisons have reported that they were at least shackled once during child birth even after it was made illegal to so. About 75% of Mexican immigrants going through deportation proceedings for non-criminal reasons, are still incarcerated out of suspicions.
Next time someone makes a comment on how Black and Latino populations are more prone to committing crime, make sure you mention how the criminal justice system is built to work against them. It is built to antagonize people of color and keep them under full surveillance. Once these people of color finally make it out of prison, they are faced with the realities of underemployment and cannot afford to make a living due to their records. This then results in more lower class Black and Latino communities. Higher crime rates in Black and Latino communities are not because people of color are bad people, it is because the United States Criminal Justice system is consistently unjust to these communities.