The Mass Incarceration of Ethnic Minorities

prisoner

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.

photo credit: http://notothepic.tumblr.com/