Racial disparity in the US prison system
Last week I asked my Facebook friends to suggest writing topics. So this week I’ll take on some or all of the things they’ve responded with.
Bob Alberti suggested – Racial disparity in the US prison system.
I feel like this is an issue that has been written about and reported on a lot in the past several years. At the same time, it doesn’t seem to be improving at all and perhaps getting worse. While I certainly don’t know about it with any depth I do think it is a huge component in the pervasive racism that still exists in every aspect of society in the United States and my learning a little and writing a little will at the very least help me become more aware.
Here are some basic facts I found on the Center for American Progress website:
1. While people of color make up about 30 percent of the United States’ population, they account for 60 percent of those imprisoned. 1 in every 15 African American men and 1 in every 36 Hispanic men are incarcerated in comparison to 1 in every 106 white men.
2. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, one in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime. A report by the Department of Justice found that blacks and Hispanics were approximately three times more likely to be searched during a traffic stop than white motorists. African Americans were twice as likely to be arrested and almost four times as likely to experience the use of force during encounters with the police.
3. Students of color face harsher punishments in school than their white peers, leading to a higher number of youth of color incarcerated. Harsh school punishments, from suspensions to arrests, have led to high numbers of youth of color coming into contact with the juvenile-justice system and at an earlier age.
4. According to recent data by the Department of Education, African American students are arrested far more often than their white classmates.
5. African American youth have higher rates of juvenile incarceration and are more likely to be sentenced to adult prison.
6. As the number of women incarcerated has increased by 800 percent over the last three decades, women of color have been disproportionately represented. African American women are three times more likely than white women to be incarcerated, while Hispanic women are 69 percent more likely than white women to be incarcerated.
7. The war on drugs has been waged primarily in communities of color where people of color are more likely to receive higher offenses. African Americans comprise 14 percent of regular drug users but are 37 percent of those arrested for drug offenses.
8. Once convicted, black offenders receive longer sentences compared to white offenders. The U.S. Sentencing Commission stated that in the federal system black offenders receive sentences that are 10 percent longer than white offenders for the same crimes.
9. Voter laws that prohibit people with felony convictions to vote disproportionately impact men of color.
10. Studies have shown that people of color face disparities in wage trajectory following release from prison. The results show no evidence of racial divergence in wages prior to incarceration; however, following release from prison, wages grow at a 21 percent slower rate for black former inmates compared to white ex-convict.
I just watched an interesting documentary called ‘The House I Live in.” It’s about how America’s “war on drugs” impacts society. Watching that documentary, reading articles, and really even just looking at statistics it is crystal clear that the War against Drugs is a much more destructive force upon American Society than any drug problem could ever be.
What’s clear from these statistics as well as personal narratives is that there is absolutely a disparity in the US prison system that swings heavily towards locking up more black people for smaller reasons and for longer periods of time. There are currently more black people in prison in the United States than there were slaves when slavery was legal in the United States. If you read that last sentence and didn’t throw up in your mouth at least a little you should maybe read it again and really give it some brain space for a few minutes.
What we don’t have in these stories and statistics is a reason WHY the disparity exists. WHY?
Slavery happened in the US and persisted for so long because there was money to be made through the enslavement of humans and there were effective enough systems for dehumanizing people from Africa that a majority of white people in the US could convince themselves they weren’t horrible monsters. So, where’s the financial incentive to dehumanize and arrest black people now?
In 2011, Corrections Corporation of America, the country’s largest private prison company, recorded a total revenue of $1.7 billion. In 2011, The Geo Group, the country’s second largest private prison company, recorded a total revenue of $1.6 billion. These privately owned prison companies donate large sums of money to US politicians of all stripes.
Clearly, I’m not an investigative journalist. I’m just a guy who thinks too much and has access to the Internet. I’m not going to uncover any new, system shattering information regarding the abhorrent US prison system, although I’m sure it’s there to be uncovered. I’m probably not going to change the relationship between law enforcement officers and young people of color. I’m probably not going to change the unyielding racism that impacts the lives of all decent people, and most not so decent people, on a regular basis.
Just reading about and thinking about these issues fill me with a deeply saddening powerlessness. I can’t even imagine the powerlessness that comes with knowing and experiencing these systematic imbalances every single day of my life like someone with more pigment in their skin than me has to confront. I hate feeling powerless.
But I’m a white man, which for some dumb reason means people are more likely to listen to me. So, what I can do is learn more about these issues and talk more about these issues. I can try to accept making myself and others around me uncomfortable more often because I’m talking about something horrible if that means more of us take more responsibility for how not okay everything is in the world of the US law enforcement and prison system.
And I can look for and dream up solutions. The only way I think any real ground can be gained in making things more level is to show that’s it’s more profitable to arrest fewer people and imprison fewer people. If we can show the rich people that they can become even more rich by letting people keep their humanity, they’ll invest in that instead. I have no fucking clue how that would work, do you?