RUA Course Project SOCS 350N – African Americans’ Overrepresentation in Prisons

Introduction

African American males are excessively represented in America’s incarcerated population. According to a report published by the US Justice Department, in 2003, the males, specifically those aged between 25 and 29, were overly represented in the country’s prisons. It appears that the report is geared towards triggered a national discussion on the disparities that define the ethnic representations in the prison. Apart from being overly represented in correctional institutions, the report indicates that minority ethnic populations in America, including African Americans, are more likely to come into contact with virtually all criminal justice system elements than Whites. The elements include criminal prosecution, conviction, and incarceration. This paper entails an analysis of the scenario painted by the report. It examines the consequences of the overrepresentation of African Americans in America’s incarcerated population. Besides, the paper explores the ways in which the overrepresentation can be prevented as well as corrected.

Analysis

The overrepresentation of sections of the American population, especially based on their racial extractions, indicates that, possibly, the country’s criminal justice system is colored by race-based biasness. According to the Center for American Progress Action Fund (2012), many research works have confirmed the existence of the biasness as the principal reason for the overrepresentation. A conclusive determination of the existence of the biasness as a reason for the overrepresentation would go a long way in the unveiling, as well as elimination, of the racial biasness and the related the disparities in the country’s court and prison systems.

The African American’s excessive representation in the prisons brings makes the country appear to have gone back to the Jim Crow times. During those times, more African American males were imprisoned that were taken into slavery just prior the breakout of the Civil War. Presently, mass incarceration is a pronounced issue regarding human rights in America (Tucker & Mitchell-Kernan, 1995). Studies show that possibly, Blacks are overly represented in the prisons owing to the actuality that overall, they are poorer than the Whites, are sentenced to do longer times in prison than the Whites, and have higher chances of being arrested than the Whites (Center for American Progress Action Fund, 2012). Conversely, one may be tempted to speculate that the overrepresentation of African Americans in the prisons occurs since the Whites are intrinsically more likely to abide by the applicable laws than the African Americans. Besides, one may be tempted to speculate that the Whites commit less grave crimes than the African Americans.

Discussions regarding the overrepresentation are likely to be dampened by the actuality that the law does not expressly talk about race. Given that the law does not talk about race, it follows that the law can be taken as supposing that the country’s justice system is neutral regarding racial considerations. Even then, the varied studies, including those that the Center for American Progress Action Fund (2012) refers to, show that the system is colored by race-based bias, which impacts on sentencing considerations and decisions. Judges are likely to consider race in the decisions substantially, giving rise to the overrepresentation.

That means that the sentences handed to convicts charged with the same set of offences are likely to be different based on the convicts’ racial extractions. Many of the studies demonstrate that in America, African American defendants have higher probabilities of being sent to prison than White defendants for the same sets of offenses. Race-based bias is present in virtually every courtroom and every other element of the country’s criminal justice system (Center for American Progress Action Fund, 2012).

Consequences

The excessive representation of African Americans in the country’s prisons has several significant effects on the Black population in the country. It threatens the population with mass disenfranchisement via the limitation of African American’s right to participate in voting exercises (Tucker & Mitchell-Kernan, 1995). It denies a sizeable number of members of the population equal opportunity and access regarding education, public benefits, housing as well as employment (Kim, Losen & Hewitt, 2010). These are some of the reasons why there have been increasing calls from activists focusing on human rights for the reforming of the justice system.

Voting-related legislation that bar persons convicted on felonies from voting processes disproportionately affects African Americans. In every election cycle, millions of Americans are barred from voting owing to their previous felony convictions (Jones-Brown, Frazier & Brooks, 2014). Felony-related disenfranchisement disproportionately affects African Americans owing to the race-related disparities defining the system. In the recent elections, up to about a tenth of African American males have not voted on account of the convictions in many states.

The excessive representation of African Americans in the country’s prisons has bred increasing distrust for the country’s justice system by minority ethnic populations. The distrust stems from the perception that African Americans get from their disproportionate likelihood of being imprisoned by the system. They get the perception that the system is prejudiced against them. Over the years, the perceived justice system’s prejudice against the Blacks has led to the deterioration of the relationship between its various elements and the country’s African American population.

There is an emerging thinking that the excessive representation of African Americans in the country’s prisons has to a disproportionate rise in crime prevalence in Black communities. There is a developing contention that incarceration, rather than criminals, gives rise to increased crime in the communities. That contention is hinged on the thinking that since African Americans are overly represented in prison, incarceration compels then to shoulder a disproportionate and unfair burden.

Especially, the excessive representation of African American males in the country’s prisons compromises the overall societal control of young people, children, particularly adolescents. Imprisonment gives rise to large numbers of households headed by single parents (Tucker & Mitchell-Kernan, 1995). The decimation of the numbers of adult African American males in own neighborhoods increases the likelihood of having boys engage in crime because they are devoid of appropriate supervision. That means imprisonment begets a vicious succession of more and more imprisonments.

Owing to the overrepresentation, Black communities face disproportionate challenges regarding employment. The challenges include the reluctance of companies to establish operations in areas that are predominated by African Americans, reducing the number of employment openings available to them. Police officers are keener on such areas, raising the possibility that every criminal residing in the areas is arrested (Pew Charitable Trusts, 2010). That means that imprisonment provides a continued supply of African Americans for more imprisonment.

Obviously, the numbers of individuals arrested in given neighborhoods are used in computing the neighborhood’s crime rates. That means that areas with large Black populations are highly likely to have higher reported crime rates than other areas. Businesspeople are rather hesitant about investing in areas with high reported crime rates as they view them as having high numbers of potential criminals, including ex-convicts. Employers are highly likely to deny an individual a job he or she qualified for as a response to her or his criminal record (Pew Charitable Trusts, 2010).

Correction and Prevention

There are varied possible ways for correcting, as well as preventing, the excessive representation of African Americans in the country’s prisons. First, the overrepresentation can be addressed significantly by putting in place affirmative actions aimed at lifting as many of them as possible from poverty (Kim, Losen & Hewitt, 2010). As noted earlier, possibly, Blacks are overly represented in the prisons owing to the actuality that they are generally poorer than the Whites. The actions can include increasing the amount of grants they receive from the government to establish and run businesses and increasing the funding available for their training on entrepreneurial skills.

Second, the overrepresentation can be addressed significantly by formulating a sentencing regime that limits the discretion of judges on the lengths and types of sentences they impose on individuals convicted of particular crimes. As noted earlier, Blacks are sentenced to do longer times in prison than the Whites (Center for American Progress Action Fund, 2012). The sentences handed to convicts charged with the same set of offences are likely to be different based on the convicts’ racial extractions. The regime should be reformed to provide for definite sentences against the individuals.

Conclusion

African American males are excessively represented in America’s incarcerated population. The overrepresentation of sections of the American population, especially based on their racial extractions, indicates that, possibly, the country’s criminal justice system is colored by race-based biasness. Discussions regarding the overrepresentation are likely to be dampened by the actuality that the law does not expressly talk about race. The excessive representation threatens Black populations with mass disenfranchisement, breeds increasing distrust for the country’s justice system by minority ethnic populations, and makes Black communities face disproportionate challenges regarding employment. There are varied possible ways for correcting, as well as preventing, the excessive representation. They include putting in place affirmative actions aimed at lifting as many of them as possible from poverty and developing a sentencing regime that limits the discretion of judges on the lengths and types of sentences they decree on convicts.


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