Since the beginning of time humans have developed various “caste” systems. Those who belonged to societal upper classes benefited the most from this form of class typecasting, being considered a member of the “majority.” Over the centuries, this type of labeling in America has been used more and more to effectively marginalize minorities – and in criminal justice matters, this marginalization is most prominent and has a severe impact upon non-Whites.
With criminal justice legislation, statutes, and applications of both, the wording of legal documents and proposed bills have been used to basically disenfranchise minorities. The enactment of drug laws provides an easily recognized form of such disenfranchising of African Americans and Hispanics in the U.S. As with many U.S. laws, the base legislation has come from certain trade or advocacy groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) which helped write and pass hundreds of such criminal justice laws.
Today there are more than 2.4 million Americans incarcerated in U.S. prisons and another 6 million under some form of supervision, control, jail or parole. This is an increase of more than five times the number incarcerated in 1980. From 1990 through the present there has been a decline in crime in the U.S. as shown by the following graph:
Source: Mother Jones
Just as there are disparities in defining the laws, there is a discrepancy between U.S. crime and incarceration rates during the same window from 1980 through the mid-2000’s as shown by another graph:
A statistic that is indicative of the clear disparity of individuals sentenced to prison is the following graph on potential male incarceration by race:
Source: US Bureau of Justice Statistics
The chart offers a disturbing factor regarding ethnicity/race, in that African-Americans in the U.S. have a 28-32% chance of going to prison sometime during their lifetime, Hispanics a greater than 15% chance and Whites less than a 6% probability.
This graph and related statistics easily show that while all ethnicities are affected by incarceration, minorities are more adversely affected than Whites. With such huge increases in prison populations at state and federal levels impacting upon a larger proportion of Blacks and Hispanics, the factors involving our increasing prison populations are of special interest. Incarcerated Black males represent the highest rates of incarceration and have held that distinction for many years as chart 2.3 demonstrates.
However, with increases in apprehensions of Hispanic males due to new immigration laws, the gap between Black and Hispanic males is narrowing.
This below graph charts actual and projected costs associated with only one of the criminal justice laws (Truth In Sentencing). TIS laws are used to assure anyone sentenced to prison serves 85% of that sentence.
This cost of incarcerating minorities is now being felt nationwide as states make difficult choices on budget expenditures. Since tax dollars are used to pay for incarceration, politicians seem to be comfortable with continuing mass incarceration. Since the majority of those incarcerated are African Americans and Hispanics, this is the high cost paid for segregating our population(s) by race and imprisonment in the new millennium.