In the United States, there is disproportionate incarceration of the African American men in the criminal justice system. Owing to the long period of incarceration and the crackdown on drug traffickers, the criminal justice system has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. The enactment of stringent laws significantly contributed to the long period of incarceration. Although the enforcement of the law is impartial, the criminal justice system appears to have disproportionate incarceration of the African Americans. Statistics show that 10.4% of African Americans, who have the ages ranging from 25 to 29 years, were incarcerated, which is significantly higher when compared to 1.2% of White men and 2.4% of Hispanic men (Thomas & Sampson, 2005).
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These statistics imply that there are racial factors that cause disproportionate incarcerations of criminals in the criminal justice system. The incarceration of the African American men has become evident in that Thomas and Sampson (2005) state that, “on a given day, nearly 1 in 3 (32.2%) African American men aged 20-29 years, is either in prison or jail or on probation or on parole” (p. 55). These statistics depict the effects of racial factors on the distribution of crime and incarceration process of the criminal justice system.
The proposal examines the topic of incarceration because it is an issue of cultural diversity in the criminal justice system of the United States. The disproportionate incarceration of the African American men is an important topic of cultural diversity because it indicates the influence of culture, social, and societal forces on individuals in the society. Given the statistics of incarceration, it is evident that cultural factors play a central role in the incarceration of the African American men.
Since the crackdown on drug offenders have led to an exponential increase in prison population, the criminal justice system is biased in the incarceration process because it does not consider cultural values and beliefs that predispose certain race to commit certain crimes. Nagel (2007) asserts that incarceration of African Americans from the perspective of the perpetrators rather than victims is not effective in deterring drug offenders. In this view, the criminal justice system should reassess the philosophy of incarceration and consider cultural factors that predispose African American men to commit crimes such as drug abuse and drug trafficking, which are the main reasons of their incarceration in the criminal justice system. In essence, the incarceration philosophy should reflect the cultural diversity because cultural beliefs, norms, and traditions contribute to the occurrence of crimes in the society.
Given the disproportionate incarceration of African American men, the research paper seeks to find out what are its causes. In this view, the study will examine why the African American men experience higher rates of incarceration than White men and Latino men in the United States. To establish the reasons for the disproportionate incarceration, the research paper will examine incidences of prison sentences, convictions, criminal prosecutions, and incarceration period of men from the three races, namely, African American, Hispanic, and the White.
Analysis of the factors that relate to the criminal activities of the three races will elucidate why African American men commit crimes and how the criminal justice system handles them. Moreover, the research paper will examine the racial composition of the criminal justice system in terms of lawyers, judges, and lawmakers. The racial composition of the criminal justice system will shed additional light on the nature of racial inequality, which contributes to the disproportionate incarceration of African American men.
Disproportionate Incarceration of African American Men: The Proposal
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- Causes of incarceration
- Incidences of incarceration
- Factors and Variables Associated With Offenders
- Proportion of lawyers, judges, and lawmakers
- Consequences of disproportionate incarceration
- Possible Solutions to Disproportionate Incarceration
The disproportionate incarceration of the African American men in the criminal justice system of the United States is a social issue, which occurs due to cultural and racial factors. Although the African Americans constitute about 12% of the population in the United States, their proportion in prisons is about 40% (Thomas, & Sampson, 2005). These statistics indicate that the African American men are likely to commit crimes when compared with men from other races. Since a significant number of African American men abuse drugs, they represent a considerable proportion of drug offenders. The enactment of stringent laws, which aimed at curbing drug abuse, is the major cause of the increasing rates of incarceration in the United States. To examine the issue of disproportionate incarceration of African American men, cultural approach is imperative.
The cultural factors that surround the African Americans and perceptions that other races hold about their culture could be increasing the likelihood of African American men to commit crimes. According to Fellner (2009), proponents of ‘drug war’ do not perceive the incarceration as a form of discrimination, but they perceive it as a way of protecting the minority groups from violence, crimes, and drug addiction. Therefore, this research paper seeks to examine cultural factors that contribute to the disproportionate incarceration of the African American men in the United States.
Causes of Incarceration
The disproportionate incarceration of the African American men results from a number of causes, which are stereotypes, racial discrimination, and economic factors. Most of the African American inmates are drug offenders because they abuse and traffic drugs. Tonry and Melewski (2008) argue that although the Whites and the Blacks are drug offenders, the offending patterns exhibit some racial elements. Analysis of the drug abuse patterns between the Blacks and the Whites shows that the rates of drug abuse are not proportional to the rates of incarceration. According to Tonry and Melewski (2008), law enforcement agents have stereotyped that African Americans are prone to be criminals and thus deserve harsh treatment in the criminal justice system so that they can change their behaviors. Therefore, such perceptions explain why African American men experience higher rates of incarceration than men from other racial backgrounds.
In the aspect of racial discrimination, African Americans have endured discrimination in the United States. Although the African Americans constitute about 12% of the population, their population of inmates is about 40%, and thus depicts the extent of racial discrimination. The enforcement of legislations that deal with drugs has taken a racial orientation because it unfairly targets the African Americans men (Fellner, 2009).
Even though the criminal justice system appears to be advocating for the rights of the minority groups by protecting them from drug abuse, violence, and related crimes, it disproportionately incarcerates them. In essence, the incarceration philosophy that the criminal justice system uses is ineffective and discriminating. The incarceration philosophy is ineffective because it does not consider the cultural and economic backgrounds of the African Americans. Moreover, the incarceration philosophy is discriminating because it only targets African American men.
Economic factors also predispose African American men to crimes such as violence, drug abuse, and robbery. In urban areas, the African Americans continue to experience inequalities in the labor sector, as a considerable number of them do not have decent jobs. White Americans and Latinos have dominated the jobs leaving African Americans jobless. The impoverishing conditions under which Black men live make them resort to crimes as a way of earning their livelihood. Livingston and Nahimana (2006) report that 35-55% of African Americans with ages between 18 and 35 years are unemployed in urban areas.
These statistics imply that African Americans have high rates of poverty, unstable families, and low levels of education. Tonry and Melewski (2008) affirm that when judges assess criminal records and recidivism rates, African American men deserve incarceration because they have unstable families, lack formal employment, and have low educational levels when compared to their counterparts in other races. Such attributes make judges to incarcerate them rather than put under probation.
Incidences of Incarceration
The statistics of incarceration vary according to races of perpetrators. By the year 2003, the convictions of violence were 27.7%, 26.1%, and 34.9% among Blacks, Whites, and Hispanics respectively. Moreover, the convictions of drugs are 30.5%, 25.5%, and 30.6%, while the convictions of robbery are 10.4%, 4.7%, and 8.3% among the Blacks, Whites, and Hispanics respectively (Tonry & Melewski, 2008). These statistics point out that the African Americans have the highest offender rates in drugs and robbery. Overall, “among Whites, 53.7% were committed for violent, drug, or gun crimes, compared with 69.4% of Black offenders” (Tonry & Melewski, 2008, p. 30). Thus, the incidences of crimes among the Black men partly contribute to their high rates of incarceration in relation to White men.
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Prison sentences also vary across the races in the United States due to racial discrimination that is evident in the criminal justice system. In 2006, Imprisonment rate of the Blacks was 2,661, while that of the Whites was 453 (Tonry & Melewski, 2008). The ratio for the imprisonment of the Whites and the Blacks is 1 to 5, which implies that the Blacks are five times more likely to face imprisonment than the Whites. The disproportionate imprisonment of the Black men indicates that the criminal justice system applies crime control policies unfairly against the Black men. Additionally, since the Blacks have higher rates of recidivism owing to poor social support, they serve for a longer period in prisons than the Whites and Hispanics. What cause the Black men to serve long sentences are Afrocentric features, which emanate from stereotypes and racial prejudices. Tonry and Melewski (2008) highlight that, “Afrocentric features were associated with longer prison sentences and increased frequency of capital sentencing” (p. 22). Hence, judges and lawyers use Afrocentric features in determining the nature of the sentence, which offenders deserve.
Factors and Variables Associated With Offenders
The major factors and variables associated with offenders are demographic variables, education level, employment status, and drug abuse. Demographic variables such as gender and age are the dominant factors that determine predisposition of the Black men to crimes. Thomas and Sampson (2005) state that about a third the Black men aged between 20 and 29 years are offenders. Regarding the educational level, the Black men, who have low education levels, are more likely to offend than the ones with high levels of education.
Since employment status determines economic empowerment of people, the poor Black men, who do not have meaningful forms of employment and decent lives, are likely to commit crimes such as violence and robbery. Unemployment relate to unstable families because unemployed men leave their families to languish in poverty and increase delinquency among children, which are recipes for increased crimes in the society. Unstable families and poverty increase frustrations that compel parents and children to abuse drugs.
Proportion of Lawyers, Judges, and Lawmakers
The African Americans are underrepresented in the criminal justice system and in politics. In the criminal justice system, the proportion of African American judges and lawyers in the criminal justice is about 6%, while the proportion of the lawmakers is approximately 8%, yet they constitute around 12% of the population. Comparatively, the proportion of the white lawyers and judges is about 75%, yet they comprise around 72% of the population (Tonry & Melewski, 2008). These figures show that the proportions of lawyers, judges, and lawmakers do not represent the respective racial quotas. Nagel (2007) notes that the skewed representation the African Americans has contributed to the enactment of biased legislations and discrimination in the criminal justice system. Therefore, racial discrimination due to poor representation of the African Americans contributes to the disproportionate incarceration of the Black men in the United States.
Consequences of Disproportionate Incarceration
It is probable that a majority of Americans have their trust in the criminal justice system, and when justice is unattainable through it the system, it becomes a concern (Livingston & Nahimana, 2006). The disproportionate imprisonment of the blacks motivated by unethical practices and prejudice within the criminal justice system, have several consequences on the Black American community.
Research indicates that at least one member in every three Black Americans has suffered unjust incarceration or is currently in prison (Livingston & Nahimana, 2006). Perhaps the rising rates of criminals among the Black Americans, as cited by many researchers may have resulted from the issue of disproportionate imprisonment amongst them. As the trend of injustice continues and becomes realized among the Blacks, such imprisonments are unjust as the possibility of offenders forming retaliation against federal policies increases (Fellner, 2009). Unjust incarceration of individuals make them to resist laws by forming criminal gangs, which cause even worse consequences on the Black American families.
Disproportionate incarceration affects the Black American communities economically, as frequent imprisonment deprive families of their economic stability (Fellner, 2009). The majority of the disproportionately incarcerated Black American men are youngsters and juveniles aged 18-34, and they often spend their substantial period of their teenage in prison. Approximately 10% of Black American men of ages 25-29 are serving prison sentences, which are considerably longer than the period of the Whites (Livingston & Nahimana, 2006). Less than 5% of them serve on parole or probation basis as courts unjustly place serious charges on them.
Incarcerating of Black American youngsters, who are still economically productive destroys their lifetime ambitions and future expectations. While the White American young men are completing school, university courses, gaining professional growth, shaping their careers, and developing their families, the human capital of Black American men are decaying in prisons (Livingston & Nahimana, 2006). Prior to leaving the prisons after completing the lengthy jail terms, the economic lives of jailed Blacks men hardly improve.
Coupled with the unending economic discrimination between the Whites and the Blacks, the Black men normally come out of prisons and face serious challenges in adjusting to the society. “Boys reared in communities plagued by poverty, limited opportunities, and high rates of incarceration enter the adult world economically and politically emasculated” (Livingston & Nahimana, 2006, p. 211). Apart from affecting the economic development of the Black Americans, unequal imprisonment leaves their communities politically and socially disenfranchised. Black Americans remain affected socially as frequent prejudice, especially one that involves the criminal justice system, affects their social development due to fear of intimidation and unjust imprisonment (Fellner, 2009).
Currently, approximately 450, 000 of the two million prisoners, comprising the majority of the Black Americans are in federal prisons for alleged nonviolent drug offenses and about 25-33% of incarcerated Black Americans are lifetime prisoners (Fellner, 2009). Such a population is considerably skewed and Black communities become disintegrated; and hence, social and political structures of the Black Americans, as a minority community, crumble.
Possible Solutions to Disproportionate Incarceration
Unequal imprisonment of Black Americans is unethical as it does not only ruins the lives of the Black Americans, but affects the national economy of the United States, as maintaining the prisons containing unjustly incarcerated persons seem uneconomical (Fellner, 2009).
This is in contrast to the view of Americans, who have tended to perceive the United States as the guardian of fairness and justice. Several solutions can help to reduce disproportionate incarceration practices against the Black Americans in the criminal justice system. The American government should enhance the education of Black Americans through school programs that aim at empowering them so that they can gain employment, avoid drug abuse, and also improve their lives economically (Fellner, 2009).
Many alleged drug dealers and Black prisoners have low education that predisposes them to economic, social, and political prejudice. Improving their educational status would help them understand their human rights; and hence, improve their legal defense in the criminal justice system (Fellner, 2009). Realigning of the entire criminal justice system, including law courts and prisons would greatly ameliorate the manner in which they serve the American population.
Another significant way to reduce disproportionate incarceration is to reform legal advocacy systems. Some cases of unjust imprisonment that occur violate the principles of diversity as sometimes judicial officers apply sentencing philosophies, which are discriminating (Livingston & Nahimana, 2006). Proper advocacy of reforms in the criminal justice system will significantly help the application of sentencing philosophies in a fair manner, which does not constitute discrimination of offenders based on their racial backgrounds (Fellner, 2009).
Together with strategies of enhancing legal advocacy, drug abuse is the most misused stereotype against the black Americans. Hence, the government should approach the issue of drug trafficking and drug abuse from a cultural and racial perspective. The government should deal with real drug barons to avoid incarcerating the Black Americans on offenses that are beyond their control. According to Fellner (2009), such approaches that aim at reducing drug abuse would help in reducing disproportionate incarceration and remove stereotypes of drug abuse that predispose the Blacks to unjust incarceration.
Disproportionate incarceration of African American men is a social issue that has cultural and racial undertones. The stereotypes, racial discrimination, and poverty compel African American men to commit crimes. Statistics indicate that African Americans men have the highest convictions in drug, violence, and gun crimes. The attributes that make African American men to commit crimes are their ages, education levels, unemployment status, and drug abuse. The skewed proportions of lawyers, judges, and lawyers have significant impact in the enactment of legislations and their application. Therefore, to prevent disproportionate incarceration, education of the young men, the provision of employment, elimination of discrimination in the criminal justice system, and reduction of drug abuse are important corrective measures.
Fellner, J. (2009). Race, drugs, and law enforcement in the United States. Stanford Law & Policy Review, 20(2), 257-291. Web.
Livingston, J., & Nahimana, C. (2006). Problem child or problem context: An ecological approach to young Black males. Reclaiming Children and Youth, 14(4), 209-214. Web.
Nagel, M. (2007). Anti-Black racism, gender, and abolitionist politics. A Journal of Social Justice, 23(1), 304-3012. Web.
Thomas, J. & Sampson, L. (2005). High rates of incarceration as a social force associated with community rates of sexually transmitted infection. The Journal of Infectious Diseases, 191(1), 55-60. Web.
Tonry, M., & Melewski, M. (2008). The malign effects of drug and crime control policies on Black Americans. Crime and Justice, 37(1), 1-44. Web.