Social Justice Research – Prisons

Brendan Cottone


Mobile Media

Prison Reformation

A major issue that has been cultivating in the United States for the past forty years is the ever-changing prison movement. Since 1980, the rate of U.S. citizens that incarcerated has quadrupled. Today, the United States has the largest prison population in the world, backed by crime ridding movements such as the war on drugs, and the introduction of privatized prisons, which are shockingly for profit. There are more then 2.4 million people incarcerated inside the United States. With so many people being incarcerated, it is important to look at how this affects the United States populous. This topic is especially fitting within the state of turmoil the U.S. is experiencing at the moment in regards to racial inequalities and disparities.

To understand the impacts of the rising incarceration rates in the United States, one must look past the numbers and towards people that these trends have been affecting. Since the United States incarcerates 25% of the world’s prisoners, one must question the impacts this has on the people. This high incarceration rate has negative impacts on individuals, families and communities, and is a significant factor in discussing racial inequality and the ability to break oppression. Between incarceration, parole and probation; more African-American men are currently under the jurisdiction of federal, state and local criminal justice systems then were enslaved in 1950. What is the cause of these higher incarceration rates? Unfortunately it has to do with more then people committing crime. The war on drugs has been criticized as a racially unequal movement. There is a multitude of evidence that backs claim. By looking into the rates of marijuana use, it is evident that people of color are far more likely to be incarcerated for drug use. In 2010, 14% of blacks reported using marijuana in the past twelve months, as compared to 12% of Whites. This concludes that whites smoke as much marijuana as blacks. But by looking at the incarceration rates for marijuana use in 2010, there were over 700,000 reported arrests for marijuana use by blacks, compared to only 200,000 arrests for marijuana use by whites (Washington Post). This is an alarmingly large discrepancy and practically screams for reform in regards to the incarceration movement in America, as it is not racially equal. Another factor on the war on drugs would be the mandatory minimum sentences in regards to crack cocaine. Although it has recently been reformed, sentencing on cocaine, specifically crack cocaine, would lead to a mandatory minimum sentence of five years. Meanwhile, possessing the same amount of powder cocaine would not result in a minimum five year sentence. The difference between crack cocaine and powder cocaine is small, except for one major implication, the price. Crack cocaine is cheap and used by people who are impoverished or oppressed, meanwhile powder cocaine is the white collar drug, and much more expensive. It is clear as day to see the inequalities these laws had in regards to the incarceration movement.

There are many solutions to the growing incarceration inequalities in the United States. The primary solution though, is education. By teaching people not only their rights and law, but by emphasizing higher learning, those impoverished will have the ability to have their own voice, know their rights and avoid incarceration or interactions that could end up putting them behind bars. Another solution would be to reform laws, specifically on drug use, and encourage rehabilitation instead of incarceration. Finally another solution would be to end the privatized prison movement, eliminating both the for-profit prison, and the need to fill these prisons.

Works Cited

  1. Matthews, Dylan. “The Black/white Marijuana Arrest Gap, in Nine Charts.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 4 June 2014. Web. 14 Feb. 2015.
  2. “FAMM – » Crack Cocaine Mandatory Minimum Sentences.” FAMM. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Feb. 2015.
  3. Wishner, Mary. “Race in the Criminal Justice System.” — Gallagher Law Library. Univ. of Washington, 10 Oct. 2013. Web. 15 Feb. 2015.

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