The United States held 1,860,520 inmates in 1999. That was an increase of 58,333 from 1998 meaning an increase of 1,122 inmates a week. Locking up adult men against their will, in circumstances which take them away from normal personal and sexual relationships and home, family, and community responsibilities, and throw them together with a large numbers of other similar adults, might be thought of as a pretty good recipe for the manufacture of trouble all on its own. Whenever you surround someone with rules that are supposed to govern virtually every aspect of their lives, but which are applied inconsistently from prison to prison is an example of how to make someone go from unhappy to violent. Racial disparity in imprisonment is a problem. African Americans are much more likely than whites to be imprisoned for crimes. Overpopulation has now become a problem in many of the prisons in the United States. Conflict theories focus on the degree of minority threat to the political dominance of whites as a primary cause of racial discrimination in the legal process.
Discrimination is most likely in communities and regions where the minority population is largest, and thus, presents the most serious political threat. If imprisonment disparity reflects racial discrimination, this predicts that imprisonment disparity will be highest in those regions where minority percentage is highest. The Bureau of Justice Statistics from the United States Department of Justice reported that black men and women were at least seven times more likely than white men or women and two times more likely than Hispanic men or women to have been in prison or jail. This goes on to say that most likely the prisons with the majority of inmates being minorities are located in urban areas and cities were they felt outnumbered and were treated like a minority. Of course these minority inmates came from a poor income or social standing amongst the majority of the population in their area.
There are three aspects of the legal process that afford white defendants less severe punishments than blacks, even among persons committing similar types of crime. First of all, racial discrimination may occur overtly in legal decisions, with judges and other officials often granting white defendants more favorable dispositions than blacks. Depending on where the trial takes place, the odds are in favor of the majority of the jury being white. As stated above, most minorities live in urban cities where the majority of the population is white. Secondly, class biases enter into the legal processing of cases in terms of the economic resources needed to mount an effective criminal defense. For example, Kleck, who wrote many papers on the treatment of minorities in the administration of criminal justice, argues that the American legal system openly permits differing economic resources to be used in mounting a criminal defense, and such differences render legal advantages in avoiding conviction or obtaining lenient sentences if convicted. The jury will know before the sentence what this person on trial has contributed to society, or will contribute to society. Innocent until proven guilty has taken on a new name amongst the attorneys defending potential criminals. Juries are more likely to give a lenient sentence to a person they know is valuable to society regardless of the crime committed. Finally, racial discrimination in legal processing is produced by organizational or institutional aspects of criminal justice that have the unintended effect of ensuring that minority defendants receive less favorable dispositions than whites. Bernstein, Kelly, and Doyle report that court personnel who are given organizational limits on the number of persons who can be processed, may unintentionally target minority defendants for processing. Under certain conditions of prison crowding, officials may accord highest priority to imprisoning offenders whose behavior conflicts most with the norms enforced by the agencies and to the prisoners who fit traditional stereotypes of serious criminals, that is, violent black offenders. The Bureau of Justice Statistics from the United States Department of Justice also report that as early as 1998 state prisons were operating at thirteen to twenty-two percent over capacity, while Federal prisons were twenty-seven percent over capacity.
The stratification theory describes punishment as institutional mechanisms used by dominant social classes to control and regulate populations that threaten political or economic hegemony. The stratification theory attributes disparity in imprisonment to differences in the legal system’s treatment of white and minority defendants. In terms of discrimination against minority defendants, reasoning that while minorities may commit a large share of serious and violent crimes, the legal system may compound the problem by imposing more severe sanctions on minorities than on whites committing similar types of offenses. As John Fitzgerald Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” This phrase brings to mind the amount of pressure that is put onto a jury in deciding the fate of a potential criminal. Aside from the actual incident lies an aurora of complex and entangling details of background information, assumed discrimination, and potential jury bias. It would be interesting to know exactly how much an all-white jury would have already categorized an African-American before trial even began, of course, trying to do what is best for the United States of America.
While blacks and other racial minorities constitute a relatively small share of the general population, they make up a very large share of the federal and state prison populations. Bridges and Crutchfield report that in 1982, African Americans made up twelve percent of the United States population and forty-eight percent of the prison population. Overpopulation and racial disparity are immense problems within our prison systems. A solution to this problem is not as easy as it looks. The mindsets of many Americans would need to be altered. Many Americans whether they know or not, are extremely racist when it comes to preconceived notions and views that they had been raised up to believe. Luckily, the American people have a great deal of say in deciding the fate of criminals. However, the luxury of democracy is only as good as the people make it. Americans must be informed and educated to think on their own, and set aside all partial assumptions on race and equality. It is so detrimentally important to teach Americans at an early age to receive an education based on morality, character, and a state of being equal. No longer can people assume the family to teach between right and wrong. Too many Americans assume the family structure will instill all the needed valuable knowledge required to operate effectively in society. Education is not over-rated, and a solution to both overpopulation and racial disparity lies in educating the minority along with the majority about what it means to a person of character. A person who would treat others as they would want to be treated.
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