On the Implicit Racism of America's Criminal Justice System

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Fechtor 1 Caleb Fechtor Prof. Kalt Core Social Sciences 15 April 2013 America’s Punitive System: Friend or Foe? The United States of America has, since its establishment, represented a bastion of opportunity, freedom and democracy; many people, regardless of their nationality, pride our country for these reasons. Our country’s Declaration of Independence, advocates “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” and our Constitution promotes well-being and independence for most of its citizens, at le
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  Fechtor 1Caleb FechtorProf. Kalt Core Social Sciences15 April 2013 America’s Punitive System: Friend or Foe?  The United States of America has, since its establishment, representeda bastion of opportunity, freedom and democracy; many people, regardlessof their nationality, pride our country for these reasons. Our country’s Declaration of Independence, advocates “life, liberty, and pursuit of  happiness ” and our Constitution promotes well-being and independence for most  of its citizens, at least that is how it seems (Declaration of Independence). However, many fail to consider those who have been, eitherexplicitly or implicitly, ignored, slighted and downright oppressed by thepolicies and institutions recognized by the United States Government. What’s alarming about our current punitive system, however, is not only theextent to which private interest corruptly influences it, but also the degree towhich the public complies, obliviously, with it  s’ corruptness .The best example of administrative oppression can be observedwithin the abuses demonstrated by the United States criminal justice system. America’s federal prison system, which, over the past thirty years has increased its incarceration rate 790 percent, now imprisons 226,680,000American citizens; 716 people out of every 100,000 are jailed in our country,not to mention the 5 million on probation or parole (IPSnews). Many, if not all, of these people are victims of an overzealous punitive system responsiblefor imprisoning more citizens than any other country on earth (IPSnews).To illustrate this problem sociologist Lois Wacquant notes,  “the carceral system of the United States has now ballooned to proportions such that if it were a city it would be the country's fourth-largest metropolis ” (Wacquant 5). The immense size of our incarcerated population, not to mention the  Fechtor 2corrupt nature by which it operates, is enough reason to provoke anextensive examination of it.  The American government, which this country’s citizens have been raised to trust, has strong leadership that uses the prison system to repress citizens in order to maintain full state power, and uses its’ authority toseemingly ‘solve’ the central socio -economic problems that America has, but instead, furthers them. Furthermore, the American public has beendesensitized to the traumatizing effects fostered by the mass incarcerationthat the government enforces, and conditioned to allow, and activelyparticipate in, a government in which a corrupt criminal justice systemremains. The Anti-Prison Movement Assembly Synopsis Many have disagreed with the US penal system, but few havedissented as openly and passionately as those involved in the Anti PrisonMovement. Although anti-prison social movements have been around (indifferent forms) for decades, the first official Anti Prison Movement Assemblywas held in 2006 (PeoplesMovementAssembly). This organization, formed due to a shared interest in “justice and solidarity against confinement,control, and all forms of political repression,” is comprised of variousassemblies country wide, and aims to spearhead the anti-prison movement principle and abolish the prison system in its current form completely. Madeup of those who distrust our government and see injustice in its abuse of punitive power, this organization characterizes the United States as, “A prison empire, founded on the legacy of slavery, which uses racist mass incarceration, widespread criminalization, torture and thetargeting of political dissidents to try to solve its fundamental economic and social problems (Peoples).”  Their reasons for opposing the US prison system are complex and numerous,but their goal is well defined : “To dismantle the prison industrial complex  (PIC) and build stronger communiti es” (Peoples).  Fechtor 3 Who Mass Incarceration Affects Most   “The United States leads the world in the number of people incarcerated in state correctional facilities…[and] there are currently more than 2 million people in American prisons and j ails” (DrugWar). A similarlyshocking statistic notes that, although the US has only 5% of the world ’ spopulation, it has 25% of the world ’ s prisoners (NAACP). Although the United States government is jailing its’ citizens left and right, not all groups of  our population suffer the consequences of the punitive system equally. Witha population of inmates this enormous, what groups in society is ourgovernment targeting most?  African Americans : African Americans, who were supposedly  freed from the oppression of legalized racism after the Civil Rights Movement and abolition of Jim Crowlaws, now face repression in new ways, and represent the minority groupmost affected by the abuse and corruption our judicial policies allow. TheUnited States, although seeming to have eliminated racist governmentalpolicies such as Jim Crow laws, has not. Instead, it has replaced the likes of  Jim Crow with “criminal record based discrimination,” which is a form of racism “reborn in new form -tailored to the needs and constraints of [our] time” (Rose, Alexander 3). This is due, scholar Michelle Alexander believes, to an “ era of  colorblindness” in which we, “r ather than rely on race, use our criminal justice system to label people of color ‘criminals’ and then engage in all the practi ces we supposedly left behind” (Alexander 2 ).Although African Americans make up “about 30 percent of the UnitedStates’ population, they account fo r 60 percent of those imprisoned, ” and areimprisoned at a rate 6 times higher than whites (AmericanProgress). Inreality, as researcher Heather Rose points out, “ When race is considered, the rate by which the United Statesincarcerates its citizens is not proportionate with racialrepresentation in its society, nor does it correlate with documentedcriminal behavior ” (Rose).  Fechtor 4Furthermore, there is an extremely disproportionate “magnitude of  incarceration of low-income people of color, ” a “stark disparity” whichalludes to a shocking fact: “a black male has about a one in three chance of going to prison during his lifetime” (Rose).It is clear that our incarceration rates are astonishingly high,especially for certain minority groups like African Americans, but to evenbegin deconstructing racist, “ criminal record-based discrimination ” we must realize its nature as a “ multifaceted issue ” and racism as a “highly adaptable” social phenomenon, and examine the ways in which the government asencouraged racist policy (Rose, Alexander 3).The US Government has sponsored certain programs that furthercriminal record based discrimination, such as those instated during America’s W ar on Drugs. More succinctly put, “t  oday it is perfectly legal todiscriminate against criminals in nearly all the ways it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans” (i.e.denial of right to vote, exclusionfrom jury service, employment discrimination, housing discrimination, andineligibility for pubic benefits)(Alexander 2).Policies like “ mandatory minimums,” and the “three strikes laws… mandate specific prison time forcrimes committed regardless of the circumstances of an individual c ase” which cause prison overcrowding result in the “false notion that we need tobuild more prisons in order to incarcerate our way to public safety” (Rose). This “tremendous expansion” of the criminal justice system results“principally from disparate enforcement of drug laws in communities of  color” which suggests disproportionate incarceration rates in terms of race(Rose). Hispanics: African Americans are incarcerated at a much higher rate than whites,but they are not alone. Hispanics, the ethnic group with the “fastest growing”rate of imprisonment (“increasing from 10.9% of all State and Federal inmates in 1985, to 15.6% in 2001”), are also incarcerated at nearly twice therate of whites (SentencingProject). Similarly, despite equal rates of drug use
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