A staggering 2. The prison industrial complex, which is in part operated and funded by public companies and the public , could very well keep growing under the auspices of a pro-incarceration and pro-private prisons administration. Yet growing evidence suggests mass incarceration does not prevent crime. These racial disparities are also prevalent in youth facilities. Estimates for misdemeanor convictions are even higher, prompting widespread concerns that too often the accused are coerced into pleading guilty or not told their full options. With marijuana now legalized in California, the city of San Francisco plans to impart change by wiping out cannabis convictions dating back decades, enabling formerly convicted felons to vote, apply for some jobs, and regain a variety of other rights. Report from prisonpolicy. Such inmates were either deemed to be in the country illegally or facing upcoming deportation proceedings. In contrast, their male counterparts who are less likely to use a weapon are given more lenient sentences of between two and six years. Even worse, many states still shackle women during labor and even while giving birth.
As a result of strategic reforms across the criminal justice spectrum, combined with steadily declining crime rates since the mids, prison populations have begun to stabilize and even decline slightly after decades of unprecedented growth. Still, America maintains its distinction as the world leader 2 Among countries with a population of at least , residents. Prisoners in At the same time of productive bipartisan discussions about improving criminal justice policies and reducing prison populations, the U. The focus of most recent concern lies in regular reports of police brutality against people of color, some of which have resulted in deaths of black men by law enforcement officers after little or no apparent provocation. Truly meaningful reforms to the criminal justice system cannot be accomplished without acknowledgement of racial and ethnic disparities in the prison system, and focused attention on reduction of disparities. Since the majority of people in prison are sentenced at the state level rather than the federal level, it is critical to understand the variation in racial and ethnic composition across states, and the policies and the day-to-day practices that contribute to this variance.
Blacks have long outnumbered whites in U. But a significant decline in the number of black prisoners has steadily narrowed the gap over the past decade, according to new data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. At the end of , federal and state prisons in the United States held about , inmates who were black and , who were white — a difference of 39,, according to BJS. Ten years earlier, there were , black and , white prisoners — a difference of 93, This analysis counts only inmates sentenced to more than a year.
Alexander argues that America has a long history of controlling the black population by whatever means it can get away with. First it was slavery. Later, when that was outlawed, we turned to Jim Crow because it was the best we could do. Then, following the civil rights era, we turned to mass incarceration. The excuse for this is the war on drugs, which led to the arrest and incarceration of vast numbers of black men. Crucially, Alexander says, we arrest black men for drug offenses that we barely touch white men for. We make up lots of reasons for this, but they mostly turn out to be spurious. Basically, even though black and white men are involved in the drug trade about equally, we mostly imprison only black men for violating our drug laws. Not just in its themes, but almost literally. And then it hit me: it sounded very much like some of the things that Angela Davis and her colleagues wrote about incarceration in the early 70s.