The Mass Incarceration of Ethnic Minorities


The third of four posts on America’s scandalous prison industrial complex.

While private prison companies and profits are the primary driver of America’s scandalous incarceration rates, institutional racism and the collapse of America’s mental health system also make a major contribution.

Most crimes in the US are committed by white people. The most heinous crimes, such as serial killings, mass shootings and mortgage and foreclosure fraud are nearly always committed by Caucasians. Yet ethnic minorities, who comprise less than 35% of the general population (14.3% African America, 17% Hispanic) represent 58% of the prison population

A black man born in 1991 has a 29% chance of going to prison. One in 15 black children and one in 42 Latino children have a parent in prison

Institutional Racism in the Criminal Justice System

Reasons for the mass incarceration of ethnic minorities are multifaceted. Racially biased policing is the most obvious. Police randomly stop (and sometimes shoot) people of color for no other reason than their ethnicity. Once in custody, low income minority defendants have no choice but to rely on inexperienced, overworked and underpaid public defenders to represent them. Owing to time constraints and restricted investigation budgets, public defenders often pressure minority defendants who are “factually” innocent to cop a plea. This becomes especially worrying in cases where police have deliberately lied or fabricated evidence.

Disproportionate Sentencing

Once convicted, according to the Wall Street Journal, an African American offender will likely receive a harsher sentence than a white person committing a comparable crime. Nearly half of America’s prison population are doing time for non-violent offenses. This is largely due to racist war on drugs and tough-on-crime polices that force judges to impose minimum mandatory sentences and disallow non-custodial sentences, such as home detention and community service.

The main driver behind minimum mandatory sentencing and habitual offender (aka “three strikes”)* laws is race-based neoconservative fear mongering by corporate media and neoconservative politicians. Both deliberately portray ethnic minorities as inherently unstable, aggressive, violent and a threat to the social order.

In his 2003 documentary series The Power of Nightmares, Adam Curtis eloquently depicts how neoconservatives deliberately create myths about dark skinned Muslim fanatics to win votes and consolidate political power. The neocons’ racist law and order agenda is the domestic counterpart of their War on Terror. Convinced they are at imminent risk from African and Hispanic men, terrified white voters elect strong tough-on-crime candidates to lock them away for as long as possible.

*Typically three strikes laws require mandatory imprisonment without opportunity of parole for all violent offenders with two prior felony convictions.

To be continued with a final post discussing the wholesale warehousing of America’s mentally ill in prisons and jails.

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13 thoughts on “The Mass Incarceration of Ethnic Minorities

  1. ,,,and yet all of this seems to be well documented and it continues and will continue despite evidence that supports the fact that the criminal ‘justice’ system is racist to its very core.

    A little over a year ago, when I was in Virginia, my 70 year old mother called me and told me that when she was driving home from the store and was just a few blocks from her home, a cop pulled her over and told her that she was driving the wrong way on a one way street. She told me that when she pointed out to him that not only had she lived in her house for 45 years and knew her goddamn neighborhood, she also said, “If I’m driving down the wrong way, then why in hell is the STOP sign facing ME?” She said she had never seen anyone look so stupid in all her life and she’s seen plenty of ‘white’ people looking stupid. According to my mother, she rolled up her window and proceeded in the direction that she was going. But it rankled her to no end to be stopped by that racist asinine fool of a cop when of course he had ran her tags and knew that she lived a block away and would most definitely know the area well.

    I have been ‘followed’ by cops simply because of the area that I live in and I hate to say this but every time I leave home, I check that all my lights and signals are working before I head out and this fucking shit is ridiculous and I have managed thus far to never see the inside of jail cell and so has my mother, but that fact just doesn’t seem to matter to skinheads with a badge.

    “low income minority defendants have no choice but to rely on inexperienced, overworked and underpaid public defenders to represent them. Owing to time constraints and restricted investigation budgets, public defenders often pressure minority defendants who are “factually” innocent to cop a plea.”

    That is most definitely true and I stated something similar to this in a comment in response to a comment of yours. And we certainly know why there is no problem in locking people of color away for as long as possible. People have only to read your post that preceded this one to get a clue that convict labor is cheap and profitable for those who lobby congress for those ‘minimum mandatory sentencing guidelines’!

    Thanks for continuing to shed light on this atrocity, Dr. Bramhall!


  2. As far as I can see, the ruling elite has no intention of ending either mass incarceration or racism. Sadly it seems to be one of the most effective tools in dividing the working class. I have been studying up on where this whole concept of race began. Scholars seem to agree that it started with Bacon’s Rebellion in Jamestown Virginia in the 17th century. I found a great video about how poor white trash were deliberately tricked into screwing themselves over after black and Irish indentured servants started ganging up on the aristocracy. I plan to post it later in the week.


    • ..and still the ‘poor white trash’ are still screwing themselves over and are still ignorant. I realize that the only constant is change but there is plenty to make a lie out of that in the continuation of those who believe that they are not in the same boat with Black people, that concept doesn’t seem to change. The so-called upper echelons of ‘white’ society still look at the poor whites almost the same as they do Black people and yet it doesn’t seem to register with them(the poor whites) that they are held in utter contempt and deemed despicable by the mere fact of their inability to pull themselves up by their frayed bootstraps.


    • This subject is quite controversial. I reckon we can learn and understand a lot by studying a bit about its history and considering how human nature plays a part. What baffles me is that in our day and age there is so much talk about anti racism laws and all men being equal. It seems to me that a lot of it is just talk.


  3. It is so depressingly familiar. In Australia a similar story of the indigenous being incarcerated for the most minor offenses, such as not paying a bill in time. You can only get through all this by either turning a blind eye or keep on exposing this hideous culture of terminal materialism.


    • My understanding is that racism is a relatively new phenomena that first appeared around 400 years ago with the introduction of race-based slavery. I don’t believe that human beings are naturally racist. I believe the ruling elite create and perpetuate racism to keep the working class divided.


  4. The fact that 72% of black children are born to single mothers is a major concern. Dropping out of high school bars that person from 90% of jobs. This is equally true for all races with Hispanics having the largest percentage of dropouts by far and Asians the least. With manufacturing jobs decreasing all the time it leaves minimum wage service jobs or crime. 75% of crime is committed by high school dropouts.

    Staying in high school till graduation, having children only when they can afford to support them and having them in a family unit of mother/father would go a long way to improving prospects.

    Look at these statistics…………My home city! Black men are 8 times more likely to be the victim of homicide in Philly than white men. 90% of the black men that die are going to be killed by other black men. White men are 50 times more likely to be attacked by black men than black men being attacked by whites. And don’t even think of the statistics in Wilkes Barre. There needs to be drastic change and it most certainly begins at home.


  5. You raise some interesting social concerns, Paul. I, too, believe drastic change is necessary. I’m particularly concerned that the US has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the developed world. I’m curious, though, how changing this could start at home?


    • Teen birth rates in the US have been in decline, year on year for the past 20 years and are less than half what they were in the 90’s. Following that trend, it will not be the huge issue it historically was.

      The home is where values are established (or not). Respect for family, oneself and others. Respect for property belonging to someone else. The work ethic. Breakdown of that unit has led to gravitation to gangs and other groups to feel that belonging and support. That leads to peer pressure and lack of respect for those outside the group. It is a self perpetuating cycle and has led to several generations where there is little hope and less desire to stop the spiral. It is aggravated by corruption at all levels, The ills of society can not simply be explained as a black v white thing as the race baiters would have us believe. We are all in this together and the only way out is together.


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