According to Allan Johnson, a structure is an assemblage of interconnected parts/elements that can be considered a whole (Johnson 88). This is primarily due to an underlying ideology in different societies that it serves a specific function as a whole. The term “system” is used in the United States of America to describe the racialization of mass incarcerations in varying degrees around the country’s states. Many factors have contributed to the ideological formation that people of color and people of other races are the main perpetrators of lawbreaking. This essay presents the systemic inequality that exists in the United States of America with regards to the racialization of the mass incarcerations observed at varying magnitudes all over the various states within the United States of America. There are many contributors to the ideological formation that the people of color in conjunction with those of other races are the primary culprits when it comes to breaking the law. This essay presents the systemic inequality that exists in the United States of America on the issue of mass incarcerations that have been on an upward scale within the last four decades. It aims to determine the reasons as to why the inequality exists on the specific aspect of the mass incarcerations in the United States of America and ways in which it impacts the democracy and economy of the world’s superpower. Finally, it aims to present manners in which the issue can be handled. It uses the examples presented in Michelle Alexander’s arguments in New Jim Crow – as well as Allan Johnson’s concept of a “system” – to help readers understand the historical and “systemic” elements of mass incarceration.
The social inequality that is evident in the US prison system has been transformed by the tremendous rise in the prison and jail population. There is a class formation of social outcasts that have resulted from the prison population in the US. The class is characterized by poverty, racialization (by being in the racial minorities), crime, incarceration, and low literacy levels. While the degree of incarceration has hit unprecedented heights, the discrimination in penal confinement is a huge aspect to reckon with. Young African men born since the 1970s with a maximum education level of high school have been serving prison time as a lifestyle (Western and Pettit 8). In Alexander’s chapter on the color of justice, she kickstarts her narration by outlining two incidences where African Americans are fixed in the system and lack a place to go (Alexander 95). She critically elaborates how the dominant ideologies in US Justice system have resulted in racialization of drug wars. The numbers do not lie as despite the whites being the predominant dealers and users of drugs, more than 75% of those who end up serving heavy and irrational prison sentences are of African or Latino origins (Western and Pettit 11). Ironically, while individuals of all races utilize drugs at a similar magnitude, the whites are guilty of illegal possession, selling, and admission into emergency rooms. This contradicts rationalization of the whole concept and is only left for discussion as to why the inconsistency exists.
This is attributable to overt racism by the hegemonic white race in the United States of America. Over the years, the inequality imposed on other races especially on the African Americans is something that has developed to the point of being hegemony. This culture was never forcefully imposed on the blacks; rather it began by linking the blacks to violent crimes to the point of the issue seeming to be common sense in the American society. Consequently, most of them are imprisoned as the numbers appear in the US prisons. Also, over the years, there has been a notable distinction of racial formations that have affected the equality of the citizens of the United States of America. In the history of the world’s superpower, the blacks got to America as slaves. This implies that they were already viewed as an underprivileged minority from the earlier generations of the initial inhabitants of the great nation. In addition, the influx of other races in the United States also led to them being viewed on a racial lens.
The aspect of law enforcement has a significant say in attempting to justify the racialization of the mass incarcerations that have made the US possess a quarter of the total number of prisoners in the world, despite having a population that is under 5% of the total world population. In the existing system, it is almost impossible for one to challenge any ruling that reflects racial bias. With the police being charged with the mandate to stop, search, and arrest, it is contradictory that while the 1980s story focused on whites in the drug trade and use, while the media slowly began painting the blacks in the bad light. This requires a proactive approach in the implementation of its mandate. Alexander presents evidence on how the police administer harsh punishments to alleged criminals of the dark-skin origin (Alexander 111). This is ingrained in the system (Johnson 88) to the extent of the birth of the ideology that a black person is envisioned as a drug user. As such, the racial bias seems inevitable in the war against drugs. In fact, it is so sad that the regulations enforced by the Supreme Court encourage racial discrimination. For instance, it denies any claims of racial bias as stipulated under the Fourth Amendment. Alexander also explains that white defendants were leniently handled compared to the blacks in murder cases handled in the state of Georgia (Alexander 111). As such, the system has been immunized against racialization.
Another predominant characteristic of the mass incarcerations experienced in America is the gender formation. This is the final characteristic that explains the intersectionality of the prisons in the United States of America. The other two are racialization and class formations as explained in the initial sections of the paper. In gender composition, it is clear that despite the bulk of the convicts in US jails and prisons being blacks, the male population of the African Americans forms ninety per cent of the total convicts of similar origin. This leads to the angle that the males have been painted as criminals in the existing society. To put things into perspective, the youth of color in the United States dominate the bulk of all prisoners behind bars. This consequently represents a high dropout rate at high school level for the black population (Western and Pettit 9). The numbers have dramatically risen since the inception of President Ronald Reagan’s war on drugs. As if not enough, heavy and unrealistic fines are imposed upon alleged criminals with an imposition of parole conditions that render them jobless, deny them insurance as well as the right to vote for periods even more than a decade. The result is a poverty-stricken black population living with fear rather than at peace.
In conclusion, it is evident that the war against inequality especially, in the mass incarceration, poses a threat to American democracy. Some of the profound negative impacts of mass incarceration include racial injustice, poverty and economic discrimination. The final consequence of this practice is that it may impair the nation from competing on a global map. There are huge cracks in the US Justice System as the penal policies have proved inefficient. While the system has managed to increase the levels of incarceration, it may not be aware that imprisonment may act as much as a “crime school.” Many would hardly employ those who have a crime record, hence, sentencing ex-convicts to long-term unemployment. While the same system voted a black president into power, as a way to imply that the traditional ideologies on the minorities may have changed, it remains uncertain how true the statement is since discrimination against African Americans was also evident during Barack Obama’s just-concluded tenure. Steps in altering criminal laws, providing for treatment for people with mental or addiction issues as opposed to imprisonment, ending incarceration as a parole sanction, and detaining defendants awaiting trial are some of the requirements for ending the vice. From the analysis presented in the essay, it is clear that inequality is present in the current system and eliminating it is almost impossible. However, if the proposed measures are taken into consideration, it is possible for steps in the right direction to take place. The essay has presented enough evidence on the inequality based on race and gender, manners in which it hurts the image of the great nation and the ways in which overturning the tables can commence.
Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow : Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. New Press, 2012.
Johnson, Allan G. Privilege, Power, and Difference. McGraw-Hill, 2006.
Western, Bruce, and Becky Pettit. “Incarceration & Social Inequality.” Daedalus, vol. 3, 2010, pp. 8-19.