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Race and Incarceration Rates Research Paper

Related Topics: Law Race Incarceration Prison

Pages:5 (1649 words)



Topic:Criminal Justice System

Document Type:Research Paper



Race has always been a cultural factor in the U.S. and it is certainly a factor in today’s criminal justice system. James (2018:30) has shown that current “research on police officers has found that they tend to associate African Americans with threat” (30). A significantly higher percentage of the African American population is incarcerated than any other population in the U.S. And, worse, as Lopez (2018) points out, “Black people accounted for 31 percent of police killing victims in 2012, even though they made up just 13 percent of the US population.” The evidence indicates that African Americans receive a disproportionate amount of attention from police and are disproportionately punished and incarcerated because of institutionalized racism within the American ruling class. This racist worldview was evident from the early days of the nation, when the concept of Manifest Destiny was put forward by John O’Sullivan (1845). That concept expressed the belief that White Anglo Saxon Protestants were essentially God’s chosen people and thus had a right—i.e., it was their manifest destiny—to rule others, take their land, and lord it over them. This worldview became so ingrained in American culture that it led to the spirit of Jim Crow laws being put in place—such as the “separate but equal” clause of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)—segregation and more oppression. The Civil Rights Movement drew attention to the plight of the African American but today there is evidence of a New Jim Crow responsible for the association of race with incarceration (Alexander 2012).

The Root of the Problem

Alexander (2012) notes that the mass incarceration of African Americans is because of racial prejudice in the criminal justice system (informed by the same culture that promote Manifest Destiny nearly 200 years ago): she points out, for instance, that 50% of the young African American male population is “currently under the control of the criminal justice system” (Alexander 2012:16). Another issue is the unjust War on Drugs which disproportionately impacts African Americans, who are commonly denied representation and are pushed into accepting unfair plea deals, which all the same cause them to end up in the prison industrial complex. Aguirre and Baker (2000) note that minorities often cannot afford bail whereas it is easier for white defendants to post bail. Minorities are routinely denied due process, and even the use of juries often lends itself to bias that the prosecution is able to exploit (Aguirre and Baker 2000). When the jury is stacked with white people and the defendant is a black or a Latino, it is unlikely that there is going to be much sympathy from the jury for the defendant—primarily because the white culture in America has been conditioned to view the minority as a threat (Davis 2012). As a result, the minority is more often than not found guilty. Because he knows this is likely to be the outcome going in, the African American will accept whatever plea deal the prosecution offers in exchange for a lighter sentence. Of course, there is no such thing as a light sentence because once in prison, the jail cell follows one all his life. From that point on the African American male is stuck…

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…exploit cheap labor overseas. It is all about exploiting minorities so that the ruling class can profit.


As Alexaner (2012:258) states, “If we want to do more than just end mass incarceration—if we want to put an end to the history of racial caste in America—we must lay down our racial bribes, join hands with people of all colors who are not content to wait for change to trickle down, and say to those who would stand in our way: Accept all of us or none.” The criminal justice system has thus been called out by critics and activists, reformers and scholars. The problem is that the criminal justice system is really just an extension of the culture industry that has been fueling the country since its inception. The same White Anglo Saxon Protestant ruling class that founded the country is still essentially in charge today. The only difference is that the nature of the tension between the races has become even more hostile and hard to address. Today’s culture is one in which white communities are taught to fear minorities and view them as threats to their way of life. So many whites feel that there is no problem with so many minorities being imprisoned. They view the ones who are not in prison with suspicion and see them as criminals who are walking freely about. The problem is inherently a cultural one and the racial expressions that are found in the disproportionate incarceration rate signify that racial attitudes are components in the culture that have to be changed—or else the minority populations will…

Sample Source(s) Used


Aguirre, A., & Baker, D. V. (Eds.). 2008. Structured inequality in the United States: Critical discussions on the continuing significance of race, ethnicity, and gender. New York: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Alexander, Michelle. 2012. The New Jim Crow. New York: New Press.

Davis, Angela. 2012. The Meaning of Freedom. San Francisco: City Light Books.

James, Lois. 2018. The stability of implicit racial bias in police officers. Police Quarterly 21(1):0-52.

Lopez, German. 2018. There are huge racial disparities in how US police use force. Retrieved July 30, 2019 (

O’Sullivan, John. 1845. Annexation. United States Magazine and Democratic Review 17(1):5-10.

Pettit, Becky, and Bruce Western. 2004. Mass imprisonment and the life course: Race and class inequality in US incarceration." American sociological review 69(2):151-169.

Plessy v. Ferguson. 1896. Retrieved July 30, 2019 (

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