Race and Incarceration Annotated Review

Race and Incarceration


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The American Penal System has gone through various changes but the most profound changes have been studied in relation the race inequality. Going to jail has become the norm for most of the African-American men. This inequality through incarceration is visible not only in men but in women also. There was a 78% increase in the criminal justice control rates for black women. It was studied that between 1980 and 1992, there was a 276% increase in the female prison population. This is compared to the 163% increase for black men in prison. (Davis 268) These figures give a rough estimate of how the prison population has changed and how the majority of the inmates are either Latinos or African-American. These high incarceration rates have therefore made researchers taste that prison time is normal part of the adulthood of a black man in a poor urban neighborhood. (Irwin and Austin)

While we talk about the victimization that takes place for black people, it only seems legit to discuss how white people are completely left out of the picture. Hegemonic white ethnicity which is typical of the powerful white elites goes on to apply on all the white people. Due to this reason, white people are rarely questioned or are a target of racialized discourses. (Webster 307)

We see a direct correlation between the persistent disadvantages of low education in African-Americans to the large scale incarceration that has been taking place. It is seen that this association is rather indirect than direct. The low level of education ultimately leads to urban deindustrialization, wealth inequality and residential segregation. Regardless, incarceration is shown to have a relation with the family instability, low wage, unemployment, recidivism and restriction of the political and social rights. This makes many think whether it is a vicious cycle by the policy makers and those in charge.

The high incarceration rate and the low education have been traced to the same sources. In other words, the cause for the black men doing crime and not getting enough education is the same. These young men are put in difficult family conditions, bad living conditions and very slim economic opportunities. (Petit and Western 154) Education directly correlates with the employment and occupation status. We saw earlier how economic strains cause a person to go into crime; similarly low schooling opportunities push the persons into crime as well. Poor academic performance and weak attachment to school is very frequent in the biographies of most of the adult criminals

Let alone the direct factors that cause these black men to enter the jail, there are other factors like victimization by the police. Policing efforts and the arrest made by the police therefore determine the amount of crime in that area. Victimization data by the police suggests and therefore strongly supports the racial disqualify that is present in incarceration today. (Langan) Even though this research is dampened by the crime actually committed by blacks due to poverty and joblessness, there has been racial disparity seen in the policing actions as well.

Researchers conclude that the poor are perceived as a threat or a risk to the social order by criminal justice officials. The poor therefore attract the police more than the rich attracts them. This disproportionate attention that the authorities give could due to the way criminal law is written or how the way it is applied in the courts and by the police. (Petit and Western 154) There is a class bias seen when it comes to sentencing someone. If everything was done fair and square, then every person would be given the same punishment regardless of how much education they have. However, studies have shown that defendants who are more educated receive shorter sentences as opposed to those who aren’t that educated. Therefore, it is concluded that imprisonment is more common in low education men because they are victimized by the criminal justice authorities.

Therefore, the aforementioned discussion highlights that racial incarceration takes place through income disparity and racial segregation. People in the poor neighborhoods are subject to decreased level of education. This leads to reduced employment which ultimately leads to poverty. Poverty and helplessness itself are big factors that can cause a person to move towards crime. Even if a black man or woman isn’t likely to commit a crime, the laws and the supervising activities of the criminal authorities system are especially focused on these people. Such stereotyping even by the state authorities can cause a person to rebel and turn to crime.

Class and Race disparity is also seen when we study fine-paying by the people who are charged. Due to the results interpreted, it was revealed that whites are more likely to pay out of the fines and therefore get their prison time reduced. On the other hand, due to less economical support, Blacks and Hispanics cannot do that and therefore they stay in prison longer. (Schanzenbach and Yaeger).

Even though the victimization may not be on purpose, they do carry it out to maintain the social order. It appears as if the elected Democratic and Republican officials have made laws for criminals despite the racial implications that follow. In other words, “race blindness” of these laws cause black people to be treated as racial subjects that are abused and exploited. In simpler words, the law and the justice system thinks that they are being fair and equal. However, the aforementioned notions just showed that racism still exists. (Davis 265) It is seen that fear has always been a component of racism. Fear is something that is present in crime and in racism. Due to this correlation, the people who ultimately fear crime also go on to fear black people as well. These ideologies are common not only for the whites in the society but even the black people themselves. Even a black person cannot back away from the ideological power of a young black male as criminal. Due to these ideologies and stereotypes, crime has now come to take a new sort of fear.

Davis (271) states that communism used to be a nationwide enemy that caused fear in the hearts of people. Now the dear is being taken over by the ideological constructions of drugs, immigration, welfare and crime. This sort of fear is only augment by the capitalistic movement across borders. As corporations move to poor countries outsourcing and look for cheap labor, they create more and more joblessness in the country. As unemployment increases, poverty increases which ultimately leads to more crime for the poor working class.

Even though race is a biological entity, it has been proven that race and ethnicity is socially constructed by the society. People usually assign a certain status or way of life to a certain race and that is maintained throughout the years. It is race itself that gives rise to various social and political struggles. (Powell 804) When people are categorized in certain ways that does not favor them, they will argue and lead to more conflicts. Racial categorizing has always been carried out and is another means of power struggle between different groups of people.

Seeing how there is increased racial inequality in prisons, there have been movements organized to protest against this. Critical resistance is a national member-based organization that is made for this purpose. It works to make movements that would dismantle the prison-industrial complex. The prison industrial complex is basically the term that is used to describe how by using police and imprisonment, the system is trying to work in the interest of the government. This organization works to protect the startups that the mass media has created against poor people, people or color and queer people. Thus, there main purpose is to work in the favor of these oppressed communities and make sure that the current ideologies regarding prison time and punishment are changed.

The One Billion Rising movement was basically initiated to end violence and sexual oppression in women all across the country. This global campaign basically worked to call an end to sexual violence, for justice and for gender equality. The men and women who were incarcerated in San Francisco also became part of this movement as well. Their motives were not only to end the violence against women but to also speak against the unjust treatment that has been going in jails as well.

All this discussion basically brings us to the conclusion that racial and gender bias does exist in our criminal justice system today. The African-American and Latinos are being victimized and are being pushed into the viscous circle that pushes them towards crime. From educational to employment, they are being deprived of equal treatment. Due to this reason, they are never allowed to reach the top and hence they turn to crime as the last resort. Sadly enough, not many people are aware of or agree with the victimization that is carried out by the police. Race and ethnicity are socially constructed agents but it is because of these agents that normal men and women are being turned into criminals today.

Works cited

Davis, Angela Y . “Race and Criminalization.” The House That Race Built: Original Essays by Toni Morrison, Angela Y. Davis, Cornel West, and Others on Bl ack Americans and Politics in America Today. By Lubiano, Wahneema. 1st ed. New York: Vintage Books, 1998. 265-279. Print.

Irwin, John and James Austin. It’s about time. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth Pub. Co., 1994. Print.

Langan, Patrik. “Racism on Trial: New Evidence to Explain the Racial Composition of Prison in the United States.” Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 76. (1985): 666-683. Print.

Petit, Becky and Bruce Western. “Mass Imprisonment and the Life Course: Race and Class Inequality in U.S. Incarceration.” American Sociological Review, 69. April (2004): 151-169. Print.

Powell, John A. “The Colorblind Multiracial Dilemma: Racial Categories Reconsidered.” 31 U.S.F.L. Rev, 789. (1996): .

Schanzenbac, Maxh M. And Michael L. Yaeger. “Prison Time, Fines, and Federal White-Collar Criminals: The Anatomy of a Racial Disparity.” Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 96. 2 (2006): Print.

Webster, Colin. “Marginalized white ethnicity, race and crime.” Theoretical Criminology, 12. 3 (2008): 293-312. Print.

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