RACE AND THE U.S. PENAL SYSTEM: Why do we have more African-Americans behind bars and what can be done to repair racial inequality in the penal system?

By HabtamuKebede, (December, 2015):  Race has always been among the key components of the United States politics as minority groups such as African-Americans have been deprived of opportunities and politically marginalized. Although the total numbers of African-Americans are not more than 13 percent of the total population, studies confirmed that the number of African-Americans in incarceration are higher than any other races taking population representation  into account. African-Americans are also over six times as likely to be imprisoned than whites (Hartney, 2006). In this paper I will investigate the root causes behind why so many African-Americans are behind bars. The paper will scrutinize whether African-Americans have been intentionally targeted by the criminal justice system. The paper will also review historical approaches of the U.S. penal system that have been designed to effectively solve the problem of crime and over incarceration. The paper will examine how the United States reaches its current high incarceration rate. In addition, this paper will analyze the impact of the disproportionate incarceration on the African-American communities in particular and the society in general. In its conclusion the paper outlines various researched social policy solutions and recommendations to help mend the rift of racial inequality and upheld social justice and equal protection under the law as indisputably stated in the United States Constitution.

The current incarceration number in the United States is shockingly higher than any other country in the world, larger than the countries that has a much greater population such as China, and India. The world most populous nation, China followed the United States with 1.5 million prisoners (Pewtrust, 2008).  However, when it comes to incarcerating the minority groups in bigger number “The only country in the world that even comes close to the American rate of incarceration is Russia and no other country in the world incarcerates such an enormouspercentage of its racial or ethnic minorities. The United States imprisoned a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of Apartheid ” (Alexander, p.7-8).

According to the Pew Public Safety Performance Project report,in the United States more than one in every hundred adults are either in jail or in prison. While one in every 30 males between the ages of 20-34 is behind bars, for black males in the same age group is startling higher at one every nine black men are in confinement. The report also indicates that men are 10 times highly likely to be imprisoned or jailed. The number of the female prison population is also being slightly but surely catching up in record number. While the number of female population in their twenties is strikingly at 1 in 53 mark, for African-American women between the ages of mid-thirties to late thirties has reached 1 in 100 mark (Pewtrust, 2008).

Minority groups in the United States are disproportionately represented in the prison population, and confront serious discrimination in the hands of law enforcers. In 2009, the chances of going to prison for  a high school dropout African-American men between the ages of 30-34 was much higher 69 % than whites at 16%. If we look at the figure in retrospect, in 1979, the chances of going to prison for the same age group was 15%  for blacks and  4% for whites (Horowitz, 2015). Studies also confirmed that “nearly 2 in 10 African-Americans have less than high school diploma”(Ira Katznelson et al, p.5). Although African-Americans and other minority groups are targeted and unfairly depicted as law breakers and criminals, studies confirmed that “drug use, alcoholism, violence, weapons possession, and drunken driving actually has been higher among White youth than  among Black over the last decade-but much less publicized” (Parenti, p. 132).

Although the criminal justice system does not openly discriminate people based on their color of skin, those who languish in the prison systems are predominantly from economically disadvantaged  minority groups. “In some cities more than half of all young black adult black men are currently under correctional control-in prison, in jail, on probation or parole” (Alexander,p.9). If the current trend of disproportionate imprisonment is allowed to persist, one in three young adult African-Americans are predicted to serve time in prison (Alexander,p.9).

Studies have shown on how the color blind penal system handles cases based on profiling the alleged suspects and victims.  “Prosecutors are far more likely to seek the death penalty if the victim was white. Almost all inmates on death row (whether black or white) are there for murdering a white person”(Parenti, p.133). African-Americans are far more likely (four times) to receive a death penalty while the chances of not commuting the murder cases they accused of is much lower than white suspects. On the other hand, when African-Americans are victims of murder at the hands of white perpetrator, the criminals get lower detention sentences. For example “in Texas in 2005, four white men beat an African-American man unconscious and left him for dead: three of them received 30-day sentences and one got 60 days. Also in Texas, a young white man chained a homeless black man to a tree and burned him to death with gasoline. He served only a year in Juvenile detention”(Parenti, p.133).

Racial biases play a significant role in determining on who goes to prison. Youth from an affluent family that have a run on with the law mostly gets a warning and released to their families. On the other hand, “African-American youth from the poor-neighborhood are more likely than White offenders of the same age to be apprehended, tried and convicted and more likely to get longer prison terms than Whites convicted of the same crime”(Parenti, p.133). If anything, these figures unambiguously show that African-Americans have been over-represented in the prison systems throughout the years and their numbers to only get worse as time goes by.

African-Americans have been segregated, discriminated against, and deprived of opportunities. The economic disparity between the haves and have-nots are astronomical. The “gaps in wealth and income are greater in the United States than in any other economically developed countries” (Ira Katznelson, p.5). In addition, studies also uncovered that “in 2009, the median net worth of  Whites was $113,000; for African-Americans, it was $ 5,500. Today, the total net worth  of White households is 20 times that of African-American households”(Ira Katznelson, p. 5). This colossal gap in economic scale attributes and determine the fates of people in the lower ladders of the economy. The poorest people are, the more likely for them to reside in a poverty-stricken high crime rate neighborhood, which increase the likelihood of getting imprisoned. Wealth also a determining factor in affordability to hire a lawyer and getting a better representationin the court of law should one ends up in prison.

Studies confirmed that felony crimes such as burglary and robbery annually cost the public $4 billion a year, while “corporate wrongdoing costs at least $200 billion a year” (Parenti, p. 118). Nevertheless, it’s the poor petty offenders that are harshly penalized by the criminal justice system. For instance “A Virginia man got ten years for stealing 87 cents. A youth in Louisiana received fifty years for selling a few ounces of marijuana. A Huston youth was sentenced to fifty years for robbing two people of one dollar. A five time petty offender in Dallas was sentenced to one thousand years in prison for stealing $73. In South Dakota, a seven-time nonviolent criminal who wrote a $100 check that bounced was given a life sentence. A California man got twenty-six years to life for trying to take the written portion of the driver’s license test for his cousin who spoke little English, normally a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison. (After serving eight years, he was granted a new hearing and possible a chance at freedom.)” (Parenti, P. 123-124).

The drug offenses are among the catalyst for many African-Americans languish in prison. Despiteenormous number of African-Americans are in imprisonment for a drug offenses, “almost six times as many Whites use narcotics as African-Americans, yet 62 percent of drug offenders sent to state prisons nationwide are African-Americans;in some states it is as high as 90 percent. In Connecticut, a drug offense by a black juvenile with no prior record 48 times more likely to result in imprisonment than if he or she were white”(Parenti, p.133).

Studies also showed that “police have stopped drivers based on their skin color rather than on the way they were drivng, in what has been called racial profiling. On interstate 95 between Baltimore and Delaware, African-Americans drove only 14 percent of the cars, but accounted for 73 percent of the stops. Investigations of police departments in numerous locales reveal that incidents of racial brutality are widespread and often tolerated by department commanders” (Parenti, P. 133).

The United States of America is also the stringent nation when it comes to disallowing the right to participate in the political participation to citizens convicted of crimes. In 2010, an astounding 5.85 million Americans were forbidden to vote because of the laws that restrict the voting rights for those convicted felony level crimes (Uggen, Shannon & Manza, 2012).The 2012 Sentencing Project research conducted by Uggen, Shannon, and Manza also finds that 2.5 percent of the total United States voting age population, which is equivalent to 1 of every 40 adults is disenfranchised due to current or previous felony criminal records.
As the number of the prison population increases, the number of disenfranchised ex-felons dramatically grows larger simultaneously. In 1976 the disenfranchised population was estimated at 1.17 million,  however, the number swelled up by more than double in 1996 and reached 3.34 million and subsequently goes up to 5.85 million in 2010. The number of disenfranchised people in the most strictest eleven states, amount to  45 percent of the total national disenfranchised population (Uggen, Shannon & Manza, 2012).

The first six leading states in felon disenfranchisement rate, Florida, Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee and Virginia effectively disenfranchised and barred more than 7 percent of their adult population from political participation. African-Americans are significantly affected by felony disenfranchisement laws and 1 of every 13 African-American voting age population cannot cast their votes due to current or previous felony records. The number of disenfranchised African-Americans are nearly 7.7 percent of the total adult voting age population, which is four times higher than the non African-American population that have 1.8 disenfranchised ex-felons. The number of disenfranchised African-Americans also varies from state to state. In the first three leading states, Florida, Kentucky, and Virginia, 23,22, and 20 percent, consecutively, or roughly one of every five adult African-Americans are disenfranchised(Uggen, Shannon & Manza, 2012).
For many generations, racism and racial discrimination have been  among the prime precursors of political contention as African-Americans struggled to achieve equality and justice, while those who wanted to maintain the status quo of racism depicted the quest of freedom as symbols of crime and lawlessness. As such, the landmark Emancipation Proclamation was about the race, the historic Civil Right movement was also about racial inequality. Therefore, it will be proper to examine how the very concept of race was invented and come into existence. Researchers confirmed that “race” is a hypothetical construct that has been conceived to categorize people based on an external and apparent marker. People are categorized by superficial genetic traits such as skin color, hair texture, eye color, height, and weight. Nevertheless, humans are not divisible by biological markers. Despite its political significance to divide people along skin pigment and segregation, the existing racial classification is only a conceptual construct and it is not biologically real (Mukhopadhyay, Carol). Therefore, it’s absurd and irrational to arbitrary judge and criminalize people based on their look.

“Historically, the idea of race emerged in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, coinciding with the growth of colonialism and the transatlantic slave trade. Europeans attempt to classify humans into natural geographical distinct races hierarchically ordered by their closeness to god’s original forms. Europeans were, not surprisingly, at the top, with the most perfect form represented by a female skull from the Caucasus Mountains, the origins of the racial term Caucasian or Caucasoid for those of European ancestry”(Mukhopadhyay, Carol).

In the United States, however, the concept of race took its shape and form to help the fearful southern plantation owners. The planter class deliberately and intentionally created racial divisions among the poor whites and the black slaves to hamper alliances among them and fortify their class interest. The plantation owners allow white settlers to have access to the Native American lands and white servants were ranked  to join the militia and patrols to police the slaves. The African (black) slaves were neglected and deprived of basic rights and subjected to inhumane treatment. This division was intended to prevent any cooperation between the blacks and the poor whites against the planter class. The malignant and malicious strategy of the plantation owners eventually enables the destructive racial hemlock to take root and choke hold the society from pursuing equality for the generations to come.

The gruesome and grotesque of slavery was finally coming to end when president Abraham Lincoln introduced the historical milestone legislation, Emancipation Proclamation that abolished slavery. Scholars have stated that the Emancipation Proclamation was intended to fulfill the ideal goals of the Declaration of Independence, which promotes the equal treatments of citizens and the advancement of the rule of law. Nonetheless, Slaves in the southern United States remained in the hands of their captive masters until they set free at the end of the Civil War. Even then, the defeated and fractured Confederates and former plantation owners were unwilling to accept the freedom of former slaves and explores every aperture to reverse the change and keep up  things as they are.

The newly freed slaves in the South were portrayed as a threat to society and perceived as violent criminals and rapists. The mis-perception of black men lingers around and becomes a prevalent element to interpret the demeanor and behavior of African-Americans till this day. Although, slavery was abolished and the blacks were freed, the white supremacists were actively exploring for loopholes to constrict and take away their rights. In the following years, all kinds of startling vagrancy laws such as the one that criminalizes African-American males for only not having a job, and displaying an “insulting gestures” were introduced and enacted (Alexander, P.31). All black male over the age of eighteen were required to provide evidence of employment upon request. Blacks were also disenfranchised and prevented from political participation due to the literacy test, the grandfather clause and the poll tax requirements.

The contemporary United States holds the first title for its economic disparity as “the gap in wealth and income are greater in the United States than any other economically developed countries. (Ira Katznelson, P. 4) The United States is also the world’s leader in incarceration rates, with an estimated 2.3 million people (Pewtrust, 2008) (mostly African-Americans & other minority groups) are currently serving time in confinement. Therefore, it is monumental to briefly examine on how the U.S. reaches its current over incarceration stage and how minority groups has been disproportionately targeted by racist laws.

The history of the United States has only exhibited the wide ranges of racial discrimination. This is not to disregard all the efforts of both the federal and the state governments, the United States Supreme Court, political parties, the Civil Rights Movement, and groups and individuals that has sacrificed to bring about justice and equality in their own ways. Although the law should serve impartially and equitably, the relationships of law enforcement agencies and African-Americans encompass the inherent nature of social injustice as African-Americans have been a victim of a vindictive and racially inclined criminal justice system. Although the number of black prisoners in early history was lower than the whites, that was only because blacks were slaves and they were barred from the due process of law. Any issues that involve the slaves was left being handled by the heavy hands of the plantation owners. Slaves were taken as subhuman beings and properties of their masters that does not deserve anything other than the kind judgments of their masters.

From the get go the Southern states enacted the black codes and convict laws to round-up and incriminate the newly freed slaves. Although the convict laws were applicable to everyone in theory, they were explicitly directed at the former slaves and targeted African-Americans disproportionately. Under the black codes, the blacks that were unable to provide an employment evidence were sent to prison in masses and started their peril behind bars (Alexander, p.8). Once in prison, they lost all their rights and were forced to work for plantation owners and private companies without any pay. The black codes and vagrancy laws restrict the advancement and mobility of blacks adversely. African-Americans that were convicted under these laws didn’t have any meaningful legal rights and didn’t have adequate resources to defend themselves. It is important to discuss about the impacts of the early discriminatory laws and how it affected the African-Americans as the current state of the new generation is inherited from the previous one, and the current over incarceration pattern indicates a very vivid and graphic similarity.

In 1972, the United States has fewer than 350,000 people in prison and jail nationwide compared to the current over two million people today (Alexander, p.8). The prison population explosion starts started in the 1980s with both Democrats & Republicans support the initiative to be tough on crime and played a significant role in swelling up the incarceration rates. However, the tough-on-crime movement has a remarkable backings of influential institutions such as evangelical church and prominent academicians. Therefore, it is monumental to give a serious attention to clearly understand on how the United States get into its current state of over incarceration and identify the relevant contributing factors.
Historically, it was the Quakers that introduced the less punitive Penitionateires to repent the inmates from their sins. Later, in 1870, the Irish Prison Director, Sir Walter Crofton introduced his idea known as the “Irish System” to the attendees of the Cincinnati National Congress on Penitentiary and Reformatory Discipline delegates. The Irish System resonates with the attendees and implemented across the country. The Irish system is a system designed in a more rehabilitative approach and intended to treat and transform wrong doers instead of extending their prison term. The approach was also instrumental in laying the ground for indeterminate sentencing that allows judges to have a discretionary power when sentencing in court cases (Travis, P. 7).

In addition, the Irish system poised that the infliction of vindictive suffering of inmates would not be productive to transform the prison population. Instead, the idea prescribed a system where prisoners would be categorized according to their good character and cooperativeness to the prison staff. Those who improved their moral character and showed progress would be rewarded in the gradual process of their release into the society with a system what later became known as the Parole(Travis, P. 7).  Nevertheless, the rehabilitative Irish system did neither discuss nor had any intent to address the root causes that contributed to incarceration.

Even prison administrators believed in the effectiveness of indeterminate sentencing and asked state legislatures to “enact “good time” provisions so that well-behaved inmates could see their sentence reduced. New York enacted such a law as early as 1817, but most good time laws were passed after 1850. By 1869, 23 states had enacted these laws”(Travis, P. 8). This indeterminate sentencing model was a major step in changing the 1800s flat sentencing where prison terms established by the judges at the time of sentencing could not be changed (Travis, P. 8). “By 1923, approximately half of the inmates in state prisons had received an indeterminate sentence, and about half of all prison releases were released to parole supervision” (Travis, P. 12).

Researchers confirmed the direct correlation between politics and over incarceration. In his research, “The Politics of Punishment: Evaluating Political Explanations of Incarceration Rates”, Kevin B. Smith stated that “Those who control the coercive power of the state use that power to impose their values on others  or to advance one constituency’s interests by damaging the interest of others”. For the most part, however, it’s the conservatives who are overly blamed for playing a major role to the issue of over incarceration. It’s true that conservatives used the tough-on-crime and the law and order rhetoric to “oppose advances of the civil right movement” (Percival, p. 36) and to marginalize Liberals when the crime rate spiked in the 1960s.

In addition, the Southern segregationists unsuccessfully attempted to classify acts of civil disobedience such as the civil rights protests  as an acts of crime punishable by imprisonment. (Percival, p. 37) Most importantly, it was the conservatives that brought the tough-on crime and the law-and-order rhetoric into the national arena. Although it was Berry Goldwater, the 1964 Republican Presidential candidate who championed the law-and-order bluster in the national presidential campaign, both President Richard Nixon and President Ronald Regan blamed the Warren Court and advocated for individual responsibility respectively. This is of course not forgetting the critical roles of conservative scholars such as James Q. Wilson and Ted Palmer.

The War on Drug campaign and incriminating substance abuse instead of treating it as a mental health issue were mostly promoted by conservatives. Republicans historically has been exhibited their tough on drug stance at all levels of the political spectrum. “In a highly publicized 1971 speech, Nixon claimed drug addiction had assumed the dimensions of a national emergency and was public enemy number one. For those who, traffic traffic in drugs and for those, who for example, make hundreds of thousands of dollars-and sometimes millions of dollars-and thereby destroy the lives of young people throughout this country, there should be no sympathy whatever and no limit insofar as the criminal penalty is concerned” (Percival, 40).

Although, conservatives are strongly advocating for the tough-on-crime concept to effectively rally and persuade supporter, they often violate their own rhetoric and choose not to abide by it. Well connected republican family members often violate the narcotic laws, but their violation is handled with astonishing indulgence. For instance “the son of U.S. representative Dan Burton (R-In.) was arrested for transporting nearly eight pounds of marijuana in Louisiana, then arrested again for possession thirty marijuana plants in Indiana. He was sentenced to do community service. Florida governor Jeb Bush eagerly filled his state’s prison with drug offenders, but when his own daughter was arrested on prescription fraud, he immediately pleaded for the public to show compassion. She never went to jail”(Parenti, 124).

Sensational right wing media personalities known for their rigid stance on many political, economic and social questions are also not completely immune from violating the war on drug laws. Although, conservatives assumption of solving the problem of crime by locking-up more people is widespread, it’s hugely asymmetrical in practice. The most prominent conservative radio talk-show host, Rush Limbaugh for instance is known for advocating for the tough-on-crime model and “locking away drug abusers while he himself was illegally procuring controlled substances from various doctors to feed his addiction. Instead of jail, he was allowed to check himself into a pricey private rehabilitation center”(Parenti, 124-125).
Liberals contributions to the current problems of over incarceration is any less than their conservative counterparts. In fact Liberals treated incarceration as a remedy to racial injustice that targets African-Americans exceptionally “Liberals law-and-order sets a lens for seeing racial violence as correctable with reformed carceral machinery.” (Murakawa, P. 17).   Murakawa further stated that “ The Liberal’s brand of racial criminalization and administrative deracialization legitimized extreme penal harm to African-Americans.” Liberals abandoned the long-standing mottos of  justice and the rehabilitative approaches of over incarceration. Liberals surrendered to conservatives blunder and goes along with the conservatives tough on crime mantra to gain political power. “…The significant rightward shift many Democrats took on crime in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Presidential candidate Bill Clinton assumed this stance; numerous Democratic governors, including Gray Davis of California, and Democratic members of state legislatures also adopted similar positions.” (Percival, p. 55)

Since the number of African-Americans in the prison system are proportionally higher than any other race, it will be pivotal to look into what the Liberal camp contributions were to the notions of “black criminality”. “By the mid-1960s, Johnson Democrats worried about street crime and urban riots, addressing “black criminality” as a social, psychological and familial adaptation to white racism”. (Murakawa, P.13) Furthermore, Liberals asserted that racism was a psychological defect that manifested differently on white and black people. “For white people, racism was an irrationality, for black people, racism was an injury, a disfigurement of psychological development”(Murakawa, P.13)

Based on the above preposterous classification Liberals formulate a political road map that portrays and “ making black people seem damaged and potentially violent.” (Murakawa, P.13) Although the absurd classification was not supported by any scientific studies, it does not require a great intellectual coherence to imagine its implications. Classifying African-Americans as a psychologically damaged and potentially violent people paved the road for anyone in the law enforcement agency to deal with them accordingly and possibly contributes to prejudice and opens the door to any discriminatory application of the law.  In so doing, the Liberals contributed to lay the foundations of the modern prison state and makes Africans-Americans vulnerable to a wide range of discrimination.

Nevertheless, the United States mass incarceration is neither homogenous nor as straightforward as it had been implied by researchers (Lynch, 673-693). The united States federal system structure requires multiple, varied and smaller approach as states and local jurisdictionshave different laws and incarceration rates.  For instance, some of the states enacted determinate and non discretionary sentencing while others were not. Nevertheless,  state’s sentencing policies are not hardly an indicative of sentence outcome lengths.  Minnesota, for example “was at the forefront of the determinate sentencing revolution, developing an often-emulated guidelines system to constrain sentencing discretion. Since these guidelines were put into practice in 1980, this state has been among the most resistant to mass incarceration in the nation. At the end of 2009, the state’s imprisonment rate was 189 per 100,000 population, trailing Maine, which had a rate of 150 per 100,0000” (Lynch, 673-693). On the other hand, the state of Louisiana has five times more prisoners than Minnesota and holds either the first or the second place in the imprisonment rate, although the state adopted similar sentencing guidelines, at the end of 2009, Louisinas’s incarceration was at 881 per 100,000  (Lynch, 673-693).

As sentencing guidelines indifference, states revenue and resources are also not indicatives of incarceration rates. Hence the state’s with more resources does not necessarily have more prisoners than states with limited resources. For instance, “in Arizona, legislators and governors were forced to figure out revenue-generating schemes when faced with inadequate resources to manage the projected prison population growth brought on by a variety of law changes…the legislatures included to relocation existing funding streams, the institution for  new fines and fees imposed on certain convicted offenders (particularly drunk drivers), “sin” taxes added to liquor and cigarette sales that were designated specially for prison constructions and increased vehicle licensing fees”(Lynch, 673-693).

Most importantly, it is pivotal to understand that “most of the power to incarcerate rests at the sub-state level, in the county courts where prosecutors pursue prison sentence, defendants plead guilty to prison-eligible felonies,and judges formally impose sanctions”(Lynch, 673-693). In the cases of public initiated propositions such as the California’s Three Strikes Law that was designed to lockup repeat offenders for an extended jail time was a disastrous prescription in  soaring the prison population. As a result of the Three Strikes and you are out legislation,  the state of California emerged as one of the most jailers state in the union. The Three Strikes Law was proposed by  a Fresno photographer, Mike Reynolds, a father of a murdered daughter (Zimmering et al, P. 4)

Nevertheless, building more prisons requires enormous amounts of resources and highly trained workforce to operate them. The state’s total spending on correctional facility’s operation, including the federal government’s aid in 2011 was estimated 71 billion dollars. More prisoners means more mouth to feed, shelter and supervise. Therefore the growth in incarceration rate is positively correlated with the state prison operating expenditure. The average cost of an individual prisoner in 2005 was $ 23,876. However, the cost varies from state to state. Nevertheless, the issue of over incarceration and its adverse effect on our society is extraordinarily alarming and requires a meticulous research (Pewtrust, 2008).

Researchers and sociologists looked whether the prison overcrowding litigation positively correlated with the prison building across the country.”In a time-series analysis using data from 49 states, demonstrated that major resource allocations to prison and actual prison capacity building followed prison overcrowding litigation and they concluded that such litigation is an indirect contributor to American mass incarceration” (Lynch, p. 673-693). This finding is a clear indication of state legislatures resistance as to why they don’t prefer to take the simplest and cheaper alternatives such as releasing low-risk offenders. (Lynch, P. 673-693).

Another contributing factor to the current  prison overcrowding is the decline of inmate release on parole and probation. While the likelihood of former inmates that are returning to prison is increasing and contributing to mass incarceration, “Under determinate sentencing statutes, prisoner release decisions are no longer left up to parole boards and are functionally mandated at the time of sentencing. By 2000, only one of every four release was let out of prison based on a parole board decision, where 25 years earlier, most prisoners were so released (Lynch, P. 673-693).

We may need to look into factors that lead former prisoners that are released on parole and probation return to the prison system in bigger numbers. One of the contributing factors for parolees return is that the lack of viable policy that provide a meaningful assistance to facilitate successful reentry of former inmates. Rather, agents use drug testing modes of monitoring technology and are more likely to revoke parole and return parolees for violations that can reasonably be addressed in other intervention mechanisms (Lynch, P. 673-693). Another contributing factor to the prison overcrowd is that the extended period of supervision. For instance, in California, the parole officers effectively lobby to extend the mandatory parole supervision and pressured the legislatures to enact “SB 1057 in 1978, which mandated a standard 3 year term of supervision (extending to a 4-years time period for those who were sent back to prison on violations”(Lynch, P. 673-693).  As a result of the extended period of supervision accompanied with a shift in parolee surveillance policy change the number of parolee returning to prison soared and by 2000, more than 40% of the California prison population was parole violators.

The United States of America are constituted of 51 distinct criminal justice systems and 3,141 counties or jurisdictions within one nation. This autonomous “jurisdictions do the actual prosecution and sentencing of felony defendants that they receive cases from even more local and regional law enforcement jurisdictions. In other words, criminal justice policy is made and put into action at the municipal, county, state, and national level and the thousands of organizations that comprise this criminal justice network, are for the most part relatively autonomous both horizontally and vertically. Therefore, the best avenue for reform is through altering the laws and policies that allowed for mass incarceration…and on the ground local legal practices that overproduce prison sentence” (Lynch, 673-693).

The variables for the current prison overcrowding explosions are multifaceted. Although the racial component of systemic failure plays bigger proportion, the contributing elements range from the evangelical church leaders’blurry perceptions of crime and a rigid stance of political figures are the few to mention. In addition, the criminal justice system autonomous jurisdiction’s dissimilar sentencing guidelines complicates matters the most and forced researchers to explore different approaches to effectively reduce the current over incarceration rates.

The current prison over crowd impacted everyone by requiring states to allocate their revenues from important social programs such as schools and health services into prison operations. At times, state legislatures impose additional excise taxes to generate additional resources to run the prison system. Whether locking up criminals that can be rehabilitated can solve the problem of crime is still contentious. People that are not directly impacted by the current over the incarceration rate mainly assume that the system is effectively working and wants to maintain the status quo. The evaluation of the effectiveness of the current criminal justice system also varies across racial lines; while most whites believe that the system is working effectively, almost all African-Americans has a series resentment about it.

Although African-Americans has been targeted throughout the history of the United States,it is undeniable fact that there are some African-Americans that have experienced great success in recent years. However, there have always been free-blacks and black success stories, even during slavery and Jim Crow. Since the day the first prison opened, people of color has been disproportionately represented in the prison system. “In fact, the very first person admitted to a U.S. penitentiary was a light skinned Negro in excellent health,  described by an observer as one who was born of a degraded and depressed race” (Alexander, 187). The United States of America has made a tremendous progress to mend the racial rift and promote social justice and equality. However, there are still much more work to do and it is a work in progress as African-American families are fractured and continued to suffer from racial forces that are subtle. Today, Policy makers can not openly discriminate based on race nonetheless subtle racial stereotypes influences how law enforcement chooses which neighborhood to search for drugs and other “reasonable suspicions”.

Because former inmates are disenfranchised and are not allowed to participate in the political process over 7% of the voting age African-Americans don’t have any say in the decisions that affects them and their families. African-Americans are raising a generation that suffers a cycle of poverty as they has been deprived of opportunities. “Whites currently are inheriting between $7 and $10 trillion in property and other assets from their parents and grandparents accumulated at a time when people of color were allowed almost no access to such assets. For instance, between the 1930s to the 1960s,” Some 15 million white families procured homes with federally subsidized FHA loans, while, people of color were mostly excluded from the program (Parenti, P. 132). Therefore, reforming the current criminal justice to make it more effective and color sensitive to includes several variables. Today, the inmate re-entry programs are not adequately facilitated for former inmates to integrate into the society. Former inmates, especially colored convicts are highly unlikely to be hired and not eligible to get benefits from public housing, the student financial and excluded from the welfare program. As a result a significant number of former African-American convicts are unemployed.

In conclusion, there are still hope to reverse the course and to find a comprehensive and effective solution to address the issues of mass incarceration. Although, the U.S. mass incarceration problem is too intricate and have many complex interrelating elements, there are signs of hope on the horizon.  Although slow and gradual, changes are also taking place and the number of prisoners is consistently declining in many states. The national prison rate has been declined by 2.4% from its peak. A report by the Public Safety Project also found an incarceration rate’s decline in 31 states since 2007 (Percival, P. 210-212).


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