Lather, Rinse, and Repeat: Our Endless Cycle of Incarceration and Racial Injustice

Scott Bremmer

Ms. Jill Stukenberg

WR 123-07

8 June 2008

Lather, Rinse, and Repeat:  Our Endless Cycle of Incarceration and Racial Injustice

When I completed the Multicultural Education and Equity Awareness Quiz recently, question number eleven shocked and upset me.  This is a quiz whose purpose is to educate and inform readers of problems in society.  The question that shocked referred to the laws on cocaine and showed the different penalties from powder versus rock.  Though both forms have an equal amount of the drug, the powder form, mostly used by middle and upper class whites, would take 500 grams to serve a minimum five year sentence.  In the rock form, it would only take 5 grams for the same five year sentencing.  Adversely, the rock or crack cocaine is mostly used by African Americans and Hispanics (Gorski 3).  Why did the weights versus punishment target a racial class so unfairly and blatantly?

As we [U.S.] progress as a nation, we would hope that our social problems improve.  Taunted as the leader of the “Free World” , our bureaucracy is set up to be able to improve our quality of life, offer a “Living Wage” to all citizens, learn from our mistakes, and amongst many other, to enact laws with penalties ensuring a peaceful society.  Really you can sum up this though with the quote, “One Liberty and Justice for All.”  Why is there such a disparity between the number of minorities in prison and the actual representation of their race in the American population?  Some may say it is a product of economic advantages and disadvantages.  Others may say it is a fundamental breakdown of values.  Yet, a majority would attest that the “Drug War” and subsequent laws have unfairly incarcerated minorities, to the point of almost targeting them.  This research paper attempts to shed light on this alarming topic. 

While the population of the U.S. is made up of only about 13% African Americans, blacks make up about 54% of the nations prison and jail population (“Debunking”)and almost 90% of all drug offenders imprisoned (McRae).  This shocking disparity would lead us to believe that there is racism in the American justice system.  But before we start labeling Lady Justice, there are more facts and opinions to consider.

One of the more recent studies by the U.S. Census Bureau revealed that the inmate population has topped over two million.  With almost 40% of inmates lack a high school diploma or equivalent (“Census”), one should note that economically deprived citizens have fewer opportunities for education than other economic classes.  Coincidently 15% of schools are responsible for 50% of dropouts (Linton 319).  Indeed G.E.D. success merits a pivotal role in both an indentifying measure and an “attack” point to curb the prison epidemic.   Studies also showed that more African American men were in college now more than ever both as a total number and a percent compared to the last decade and that there are twice as many African American men in college than incarcerated (“Debunking”).   However, with nearly 40 percent of minority inmates lacking a G.E.D. and black students not able to reach college at the same rate white students do, we look towards the public school systems again as a focal point (Census).  These numbers can be encouraging when looked at progress, but also have different implications when you look at minority groups as a percent of the total population compared to the prison population.  African Americans only make up of about 13% of the total population  The most recent reports show that the male prison population is made up of 46% white, 41% African Americans, and 19% Hispanic, and while the white and black prison population has been decreasing in numbers recently, the Hispanic numbers is on the rise.  Although among Hispanics the actual number of college students in dorms outnumbered that in prison cells, the gang and drug wars have increased the Hispanic prison population (Census).

The challenge to answering the question of racial inequality in America’s justice system depends on which way you look at the numbers and whether you feel economic class status is a form of racial bias.  It is encouraging to see college enrollment numbers rise above prison and jail admissions as a whole, but are we minimizing the problem by looking only from certain points of view?  Does looking at total numbers outweigh looking at percentages when raw number can show a positive trend but percentages show a negative trend as in the numbers of inmates by race?  Do we as a nation need to tackle the prison population from a racial front or an economic point of view?  This exploratory writing assignment has helped me come up with more important questions to be answered before one can truly answer the question of racial inequality in justice.

American citizens still go off the general presumption that “prison is for prisoners who commit crimes.”  This attitude is one that is easier to digest that the agonizing headache one gets when this prison problem is dissected.  It seems that the only time most citizens pay real attention to this problem is when we are faced with a new tax levy to build and/ or fund more prisons.  Although we are concerned about monies spent, consider that the U.S. spends billions every year on manpower and hardware just to keep drugs out of the country (“Cocaine”).  Then there is the Federal Bureau of Prisons who spends more than four plus billion dollars each year on staffing, supporting, and otherwise operating prisons (Prisons”).  Millions each year are made by companies since the privatization guides were adopted.  People are making money off the incarceration of prisoners (Blair 1).  Rounding up the big money makers is the black market which is worth well over four hundred billion dollars a year (“Cocaine”).  Then there is the multibillion dollar court system with judges, attorneys, processers, etc.  The impact that this epidemic has on our own economic system lends itself to the notion that many government and private business agencies exist only to profit off our social problem.

The number of inmates grew by almost half a million between 1910 and 1980, but in the 1990’s it has grown another 816,965 inmates, largely due to drug arrests, minimum sentencing, and the “Drug War” (Macallair 2).  At the current rates we are experiencing, this new millennium will have an astronomical number of U.S. citizens imprisoned.

When we compare the number of prisoners in the U.S. to that incarcerated internationally, we hold the dubious honor of being #1.  It is two categories that are not desirable though, in both percentage of population imprisoned by percent and for drug related crimes in comparison of all other crimes (Macalliar 5).  When looking at the total numbers versus percent by population it is important to remember that there is a much larger population within the European Union compared to the U.S.

Not so shocking is that the number of inmates jailed for drug related charges has been steadily on the rise and that we now imprison more inmates for drug related crimes than violent crimes.  The number of possession of illicit drug offenses (not selling, trafficking, etc.) is a huge contributor to these numbers (Macallair 2).

Clearly, the major contributor of the imprisonment of minorities is due to current drug laws, whether it is the manufacturing, distributing, using, trafficking, or possessing the drugs.  It is important to understand some of the history of illicit drugs in the U.S.  Our current epidemic started as an enthusiasm and excitement toward the effects of drugs on our bodies and minds.  Up through the early 1900’s, what we now consider illicit drugs, tonics and remedies containing opium, heroin, cocaine, and morphine flooded the U.S. and were quite legal.  For a nickel you could buy a carbonated (that’s what the Soda Jerk would do), mineral water with cocaine in it—Coca Cola.  The 1890’s saw drug use reach an all time high with professional baseball players using it during games, to such notaries as Mark Twain, Sherlock Holmes, and Froyd using cocaine on a regular basis.  There was also a dark side where African Americans were given and encouraged to use cocaine in dockyards and work camps to enable them to work longer and without fatigue.  Interestingly enough, all prohibitory drug and alcohol laws 100 years ago were racially fueled.  The ban on underage drinking (under 18) came about mainly as a concern from the white population that, particularly in the South, black youths were using alcohol and there was increased violence and crime as a result.  Cocaine was banned also due to a fear that cocaine had a violent effect on blacks and therefore endangering whites.  In 1901 there were even government studies and Senate hearings about which races were considered prone to addiction and alcoholism:  Blacks, Native American Indians, and Eskimos were all named.  Resulting from many of the studies, in 1906 the Food and Drug Act was adopted.  This act attempted to reduce use and addiction through awareness and limiting supply, but all bans do not stop use and there still were no official federal laws banning drug use.  Then in 1914 congress passed the Harrison Tax Act, which was the first Federal attempt at making drug use illegal.  This tax act targeted opium, cocaine, morphine, and heroin by prohibiting, taxing, and regulating these drugs.  The act allowed doctors and pharmacists to provide these medicines in the course of medical treatment.  Little did law makers know that the Harrison Tax Act would mark the beginning of the black market, as drug use maintained and such terms as “controlled substance” were born.  Now the government in the early 1900’s was faced with a new social problem in the increase of crime and drug use as well as the court and prison systems being overwhelmed.  Then President Nixon launched the first real “Drug  War” when, during the Vietnam War, alarming numbers of the U.S. armed forces were using and/ or addicted to heroin.  This new drug war inspired more Federal laws and interaction.  Newly created agencies like the DEA were put to task, only to fuel the economic machine.  President Reagan aggressively attacked drugs fifteen years later by spending five times the dollar amount Nixon did with his new campaign.  Regains tenure saw the rise of smoke able cocaine which is cheaper and more pure.  Crack cocaine became the choice among the poor because it gave a better high than powder cocaine as well.  The Columbian drug cartel targets urban American citizens to an estimated 80 billion dollars a year (“Cocaine”).  We as a nation recognize that this drug epidemic must be addressed and we can either incarcerate or offer treatment.  It seems that the current direction is to enforce laws and minimum sentencing.  Yet some wonder if it is truly more cost effective to put people in jail rather than treat their addictions?  Does this policy leave minority families without a father figure in turn causing a breakdown of family values?  Are minority children at risk of following in the footsteps of their incarcerated fathers?  Do these laws unfairly target minorities or the lower class?  Our government spends more every fiscal year to fight drugs, but although treatment and education help, some of the reality is that drugs really work and large numbers of people want those drugs.

I worked at a business in the Powellhurst district recently.  This community has been devastated by meth-amphetamines and crack cocaine.  I had this firsthand experience, realizing the effects of this epidemic seeing on a daily basis the tragedy these drugs have on a community.  It is not just the user who suffers but families, friends, children, innocent by-standers, businesses, social workers – every facet of what makes up our communities.  You start to see businesses close, property values decline, and the entire community left with a feeling of helplessness, hopelessness, and despair.  The current incarceration numbers must be addressed, but one should not advocate a dismissal of all drug laws just to drop prison admissions (namely minorities).

I remember back in college during the mid-80s, it was a time when cocaine was hitting popularity.  A gram of powder cocaine went for $100 and you had to know someone who knew someone – not that readily available.  I was in a bar a few weeks ago and was offered three and a half grams (commonly known as an eight ball in street lingo) for only $120.  It is very clear that illicit drugs are cheaper and easier to find despite the best efforts of the current “Drug War.”  Once again, a cry for systematic change in or policies and laws surfaces to the top of this debate. 

One can also deduce that the root of the drug epidemic is largely economical in nature, yet our economic travesties affect minorities to a grossly inopportune extent.  Mandatory sentencing has hit African Americans the hardest partly due to lack of proper legal representation.  Not able to afford private attorneys and forced to use public defenders who are overloaded with cases, African Americans go to prison more often than white offenders of the same laws (Aubry).  So it is not the laws that are biased so much as our societies offering of economic and educational opportunities.  Society should not give up on addressing the drug problem, but look at other ways to address the problem besides primarily criminalization. 

Yet another point of view on the topic is that it is not necessarily racism in the laws as much as it is racial profiling by those who uphold the law.  The acronym DWB (Driving While Black) has been a popular spoof by activists who believe this to be a problem.  Bill Robinson who is a writer, journalist, and a member of the African-American community, former city council member and current member of the General Assembly in Pennsylvania, PA, tries to shed light on the overcrowding of prisons, and says that the prison problem is a multitude of issues.  He goes on to describe racial profiling, drug sentencing rather than treatment, and a lack of funding for public defenders as some of the real issues (Robinson).  Robinson poses some interesting views and insights some questions that need to be considered. What if the current drug laws and monitory sentencing affected the middle class as much as it currently affects the lower class?  Is it racial profiling that is to blame, or is racial profiling a product of the current “Drug War” laws?

An episode of Cops filmed in Portland, OR summed up racial profiling if you really looked at the episode.  Two Portland Police officers, who were assigned to the downtown beat, were giving their general personal history as in most episodes when they saw a black male age 24 walking down a street (we can refer to this as WWB or walking while black).  The police officer driving immediately pulled over even though there was no cause (as told by their conversations and the camera casting a bias video record).  The black man immediately started running, but was caught after just a few steps.  The suspect did have two small baggies of rock cocaine; he stated they were twenty dollar bags.  Later conversation revealed that he was trying to raise some rent money; he did also use, but said he did not normally traffic drugs.  His low paying job did not quite cover rent needs and his desire to use drugs (“Chases”).  This snip-it validates racist claims while really lending itself as an outcry for sympathy with strong demands for change.  Hardcore drugs are bad and we as a society need to address the drug problem not turn a blind eye, but this current approach we have been following with the “Drug War” needs drastic changes and improvement.  The complexity really unfolds here because when you look at the reasons for original prohibition laws, and the racial inequality with injustice problem, the pattern of history repeats itself.  The story lines may be different, but the message is the same—there is racial injustice in the American system.

Young African American men have a greater chance of ending up in the prison system than young white males.  There is a rise in the number of young African males in the prison system in recent years, all the while states like New York, Texas, and California have experienced a drop in overall inmate numbers.  The changes in the states that are experiencing a drop in inmates is largely due to budget cuts and, most interestingly, a shift from incarcerating non-violent drug crimes to offering drug treatment programs (Aubry).  This change from incarceration to drug treatment plans may suggest to some that a large amount of the prison population is unjustly jailed due to their drug addiction rather than race.  Others might add that minorities make up a large percent of the lower class population who are more likely to sell and use illicit drugs; therefore the economic system is racially biased.  By not offering drug treatment, social rehabilitation, or jobs we continue to break down the very fabric of our society.  Americans spent almost $40 billion on jails and prisons in 2000.  Of the $40 billion total, about $24 billion (over half) of that money was spent on imprisoning 1.2 million non-violent drug offenders out of a total prison population just over 2 million (Macallair 1).  Studies show that for every dollar spent on treatment, there is a societal benefit of more than seven dollars due to a drop in prison costs and reduction in crime.  With effective drug treatment there is a 64% decrease in repeat offences landing them back in prison as well an 82% drop in shoplifting, drug selling decreased 78%, as well as other positive impacts (“Treatment”).  By not offering drug treatment, social rehabilitation, mental health treatment, or jobs we are creating repeat offenders in our prisons.  It is the parolee who is not offered any betterment programs has strong odds of menacing society and returning to prison.

With all the evidence showing that illicit drugs are cheaper and readily available now more than ever, it is not so much a “Drug War” as it is a directive to fill the prisons.  Two of the greatest travesties from the “Drug War” are the facts that it has perpetuated racism in the system (racial profiling and laws targeting the economically deprived), and that the “Drug War” is contributing to the fundamental breakdown of the family unit and ultimately a breakdown of our very society.

When tackling this whole subject, one comes across the fact that the inmates have a streak of racism in their society.  It is worth mention, and although it does not play a part in our justice system, the race gangs most certainly affect the drug epidemic.  Gang activity has given rise to a new generation of drug users and addicts.  Typically the gangs in prison segregate themselves racially and it is estimated that over 50% of the prison population is in a gang or has some affiliation (“Surviving”).  There are such gangs as:  Northern Structure (Hispanic), Serenos’ (Hispanic), Arian Nation (white, non-Hispanic), Bloods, Cripps, etc.  Although there are some “wars” between gangs of the same race, it is more prominent to find gang wars based on race, disrespect, and hatred.  These gangs control the prison drug market as well as the street trade, and studies quoted show that drugs are just as readily available in prison as out on the street (“Surviving”).  Once again, taking a look at the “Drug War” we theorize that since the drug epidemic is still so prevalent, and that drugs are available in prison, it is time for a systematic change in how we address our drug epidemic as a society.  The whole process seems to be fueling racial segregation, intolerance, and inequality.

Prison officials are segregating gangs by race more and more in recent years (Spiegel 2273).  This policy‘s goal is largely to curb the prison violence which is fueled by ethnic lines.  The outcome is that more of our citizens (former convicts) and their families become divided among racial lines, only to fuel a sense of ethnic war rather than unite our society.

Gangs literally run the prisons.  They control the social order for prisoners and provide a command structure.  Gang members control all extortion, gambling, and drugs in this sub-society within prison.  The strict discipline and military style structure provide a somewhat surrogate family, providing a sense of belonging and purpose.  Their code is taken very seriously, being so organized and structured with their by-laws; it is a deadly game to cross the gang or show disrespect.  Prisoners have two choices when entering incarceration, to join a gang or to try and go it alone.  With prison violence so prevalent it is easy to see why some choose the gang life for safety.  Pure survival tactics force inmates to group with their own race and ethnicity.  In this world of desperate and violent offenders, tension builds to inevitable race wars.  Ironically it is the gang themselves which cause most of the murders and violence in prisons.  Overcrowding has lent itself to gang strength, as inmates divide amongst racial and ethnic lines for safety.  With some jails at 200% their intended capacities, prisoners are “warehoused” in prison gymnasiums around 3,000 per cell block gym (“Prison Nation”).  Inmates are literally stacked on top another, with bunk three tiers high and placed within feet of the next. 

When talking of the drug trade it is important to mention that it tops an estimated $300 million per year in U.S. prisons, all gang controlled.  Considering that 80% of all prisoners are drug users and 35% of those have had their habits turn into addictions (“Maryland” 7), it is easy to see an outcry for treatment.  Yet states find it difficult to fund treatment programs while battling the overcrowding problems and tax payers find it difficult to pass bonds to help what they see as helping criminals who should be punished.  We may feel better to say to offenders “you did your crime, now do your time”, but in the end it is society ourselves that is punished.  Release for most inmates is inevitable.

Approximately 700,000 prisoners every year make their way back into society.  Two thirds of those released into freedom return to prison within one year.  Then within the third year of release the return rate jumps to 70% (“Surviving Prison”).  Prisoners are released back into society with little preparation or rehabilitation.  They often come out worse than when they went in; angry, violent, illiterate, un-skilled, un-educated, and desperate.  Being freed from prison often means for the parole a return to the streets with no money, job, place to live, and essentially no plan for the future.  Many of these inmates have become institutionalized only destined to repeat offend and return to prison.  The system is great at arresting, prosecuting, and locking up criminals, but the overcrowded prisons have far too few rehabilitation programs (drug, social, educational) to make an impact.  Unfortunately we find ourselves again not working towards our own betterment as a society through rehabilitation.  The most basic G.E.D. diploma schooling along with some college courses and Associates Degrees are offered, but very few have the opportunity to complete these programs.  With less than one third of the national drug control budget going to treatment, prevention, and education programs (Manzo 13), the current system has given up on rehabilitation it seems.  Without an education and opportunities, these members of society have a sense of purpose, belonging, and security when they are incarcerated.  The same can be said about the lack of drug treatment programs available to inmates.  Lacking community support for these programs only drive the crime rate up, for these parolees are destined for a life of crime.

There are those who do not believe racism is a factor in the incarceration problem.  One of these views is held by George Stigler, Iowa’s only African American district court judge at the time of the article “Black judge:  Don’t blame racism for number of blacks in prison.”  In 1993, Iowa’s state prison population was 22% African American, but the black population of that state was just under 2%.  The honorable judge Stigler went on to say that the high number of minorities in prison was not due to a racial bias in his opinion.  The reason was due to a combination of drug abuse, lack of education, lack of jobs, and a fundamental breakdown of values including fatherhood in the African American Family unit (A7).  Although this article is from 1993, it gives an important perspective.

We as a society need to come to the realization that although prisons are a good place for criminals, we in the U.S. have a racial disparity in our justice system.  The “Drug War” has caused a shift from offering help, treatment, education, and opportunities to the incarceration of, drug offenders since the first attempts to control the drug epidemic.  The shocker is the amount of monies (hundreds of billions of U.S. dollars).that the drug epidemic fuels each year both legally and illegally.  This incarceration policy is also helping to fuel the fundamental breakdown of the family unit as well as a breakdown in the very fabric of our communities and society.

When you take a look at our penal system, a different perspective rises to reality.  Our society has let down its children and instead of providing opportunities we are now substituting prison cells.  Barry R. McCaffrey, Director, Office of National Drug Control Policy, comments:

It is clear that we cannot arrest our way out of the problem of chronic drug abuse and drug driven crime.  We cannot continue to apply policies and programs that do not deal with the root causes of substance abuse and attendant crime.  Nor should we expect to continue to have the widespread societal support for our counter-drug programs if the American people begin to believe these programs are unfair (Macallair 1).

            “Drug use is bad, but the drug war is worse” (“What’s”).  Law enforcement arrests 1.5 million people each year due to drug law violations.  With law enforcement more likely to stop African American males, and once stopped will ultimately have a search on their vehicle (Coker 857).  These searches will turn up illicit drugs if present, but just a same percentage of whites and other ethnicities use or are addicted to drugs.  Getting tough on crime has spawned the age of mandatory sentencing and mass incarceration.  There is an obvious path from poverty to drug use to gang criminalization to re imprisonment…lather, rinse, and repeat.  It is drug use which fuels injustice to the extent that a society outcry for racial reconciliation, but strangely it is more accepted because of the economic value.  We as a society need to recognize the need for a  drastic change in our responsibility to offer drug treatment, training, education, and a living wage that all Americans can be proud of; instead of the current option for poverty stricken and desperate citizens who turn to drugs, crime, violence, and gangs for survival. 


Works Cited

Aubry, Larry.  “African American prison rates soaring:  What else is new?”

Sentinel [Los Angeles, CA] 1 May 2003.  Ethnic NewsWatch

ProQuest.  Multnomah County Lib., Portland, OR.  14 May 2008

<http://0-proquest.umi.com&gt;.

“Black judge:  Don’t blame racism for number of blacks in prison.” 

            Sentinel [Los Angeles, CA] 1 Jul. 1993.  Ethnic NewsWatch

ProQuest.  Multnomah County Lib., Portland, OR 14 May 2008

<http://0-proquest.umi.com&gt;.

Blair, Chester.  “A triangular trade:  Drugs, Blacks, prisons.”

            Michigan Chronicle.  [Detroit, Mich.] 8 Jan 1997. 

Ethnic NewsWatch  ProQuest.

Multnomah County Lib., Portland, OR 14 May 2008

<http://0-proquest.umi.com&gt;.

“Census:  More blacks, Latinos live in cells that in dorms.”  CNN.com.  2007.

20 May 2008  <http://www.cnn.com&gt;.

“Chases and Takedowns Special Edition.”  Prod. John Langley.  Cops

            FOX.  24 May 2008.

“Cocaine.”  Prod./ Written  By Tom Yaroschuk.  Hooked:  Illegal Drugs. 

            The History Channel.  Documentary.  2007

Coker, Donna.  “Forward:  Addressing the Real World of Racial Injustice in The

Criminal JusticeSystem.”  Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology 

(Fall 2003): 817-879.  Academic Search Premier.  EBSCOHost.

Multnomah County Lib., Portland, OR  28 May 2008

<http://web.ebscohost.com&gt;.

Cooper, Mary H.  “Drug-Policy Debate.”  The CQ Researcher Online

28 July 2000. Clackamas Community Coll. Lib., Oregon City, OR.  8 May 2008 <http://0-library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher&gt;.

“Debunking the Myth:  More Black Men in College than Prison.”

            The Jacksonville Free Press [Fla.] 4 Oct.-10 Oct2007. 

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Multnomah County Lib., Portland, OR 14 May 2008

<http://0-proquest.umi.com&gt;.

“The Federal Prison Population: A Statistical Analysis.”  The Sentencing Project

17 Nov. 2004.  20 May 2008 <http://www.sentencingfroject.org&gt;.

Gorski, Paul.  “Multicultural Education and Equity Awareness Quiz”

            EdChange  Multicultural Pavilion

<http://www.edchange.org/multicultural&gt;

http://www.mhhe.com/multicultural. 

Linton, John.  “United States Department of Education Update”

The Journal of Correctional Education 58(4) (Dec. 2007): 318-319.

Correctional Education Association  EBSCOHost.  

Multnomah County Lib., Portland, OR  28 May 2008

<http://web.ebscohost.com&gt;.

Macallair, Daniel.  “Poor Prescription:  The Costs of Imprisoning Drug Offenders

In the United States.”  Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice 2000.

23 May 2008  <http://www.cjcj.org&gt;

Manzoc, Anna.  “The ‘War on Drugs’ as American Apartheid:  First in a

Three-part series on race and drug policy.”  Reunion [U.S.] 30 Apr. 1996. 

Ethnic NewsWatch  ProQuest.  Multnomah County Lib., Portland, OR

14 May 2008    <http://0-proquest.umi.com&gt;.

“Maryland makes slow progress in stressing treatment over jail.” 

            Alcoholism & Drug Abuse Weekly  (Oct. 2006):  6-7

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<http://web.ebscohost.com&gt;.

McRae, F. Finley.  “Report:  Drug War Targets Blacks;  One-in-20 Black Men in

Prison.”  Sentinel. [Los Angeles, CA] 21 Jun. 2000.  Ethnic NewsWatch

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<http://0-proquest.umi.com&gt;.

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“Prison Nation.”  Writer/Dir.  Robert Goldberg.  Documentary.

            National Geographic Channel.  2007.

Robinson, Bill.  “Bill’s Book:  Racial bias in the justice system.”

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14 May 2008 <http://0-proquest.umi.com&gt;.

Spiegel, Sarah.  “Prison ‘Race Riots’:  An Easy Case for Segregation?”

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Evolution of a research paper

     Looking over my research paper today, I see a big change from my first idea. The quiz, Multicultural Education and Equity Awareness Quiz, had sparked my original interest about racial inequality in the American justice system. Racial inequality is still a driving point in my paper, the economic problems surfaced.
     The real problem, I found, was that our very society has caused much of the problem, and imprisonment, the ‘War on Drugs’, and sub-sequent repeat offender problem are results of said society. That was the biggest change in development, having to re-arrange my paper to not just cover the racial injustice that the ‘Drug War’ causes.
     Throughout the course I really did learn a lot about the research paper writing. Really, the concept of research on the internet was new to me and this course, along with Ms. Stukenberg’s indepth instruction, taught me well. Although I have written many reports in my work field, this course really showed me how to apply indepth research as well as critique my sources. The structure of writing is also covered, and provides a good tool to refine skills.
     For anyone concidering this course, I would strongly recomend it. The on-line interaction with homework assisgnments and the blog were fun. The other positive was that it is hy-brid course, but also I would have to say that it means you do have to read, write, and work efficiently do to time constraints. In review; the knowledge I gained, the skills I refined, and the ability I recieved, give me no other alternative than to highly recomend both course and instructor.

Organized or chaotic – writing this paper

     As I look across my rather large great room hard wood floor (I remember it as hardwood for now it is strewn with cut and diced up papers), I admire its crown molding wall boundaries for they were the only thing holding my paper somewhat “together”.  I chose to cut up my report into sections containing separate paragraphs and somehow piece together a smooth (or smoother) flowing paper.

     It was chaotic at first, having to staple together bits of paragraphs which were annoyingly carried over onto the next page.  The giant great room floor looking more like a birds nest held together with bits of newspaper and toilet paper.

     Saving face, I pulled out my printed copy of the outline I planned earlier.  The map gave me direction for the different islands of neatly placed paper were forming so uniformly.  Not so much as mathematical in nature, but more like Terra forming as the planet moved these separate pieces of dirt and rock (papers and words) together in like islands.  There was the hot and tropical area where the real spirit of my research and writing formed, along with other areas of interest;  some mild temperate areas with important facts from my research, and other freezing cold climates where the information was off target.

     Another amazing island popped up right in the middle, a stand alone piece of paper, but one with strength and power.  Through this mess of jumbled pieces of half stapled together paper, a single light beckoned throughout my self created planet.  The thesis was born (or at least had refined itself into a strong group of words).

     Less pleasant was the actual moving around of text in my compilation to mirror that of my neatly Terra formed planet.  The islands then fit together nicely, like that of when the Discovery channel shows our Earth’s crust moving the continents together into one super continent in fast speed time.  Transforming that new structure into my word document means a lot of copying and pasting, and getting lost in my paper at times.  Late night working on the actual word document (still under construction).

     This revision tactic was very interesting as it helped give more structure, definition, and hopefully power to my research paper.  In the future I would like to try some of the other revision exercises, not because this one annoyed me or failed me, on the contrary I enjoyed it; but I would enjoy trying a different approach and possibly combining them.

Exploritory Writing

Is There Racial Inequality in America’s Justice System?

When I completed the Multicultural Education and Equity Awareness Quiz, question number eleven shocked and upset me.  It referred to the laws on cocaine and showed the different penalties from powder versus rock, even though both forms had an equal amount of the drug.  The powder form, mostly used by whites, would take 500 grams to serve a minimum five year sentence, but only 5 grams of crack which is mostly used by Latino and African Americans for the same penalty (Gorski 3).  Are some of America’s laws racially bias?  I attempt to take a closer look and shed light on the subject. 

Why is there such a disparity between the number of minorities in prison and the actual representation of their race in the American population?  Some may say it is a product of economic advantages and disadvantages.  Others may say it is a fudamental breakdown of values.  Yet, a majority would attest that the “War on Drugs” and subsequent laws have unfairly incarcerated minorities, to the point of almost targeting them.  This research paper attempts to shed light on this alarming topic.

Young African American men have a greater chance of ending up in the prison system than young white males.  There is a rise in the number of young African males in the prison system in recent years.  The states of New York, Texas, and California have experienced a drop in overall inmate numbers.  These changes are largely due to budget cuts and, most interestingly, a shift from incarcerating non-violent drug crimes to treatment programs (Aubry A7).  This change from incarceration to drug treatment plans may suggest to some that a large amount of the prison population is unjustly prisoned due to their drug addiction rather than race.  Others might say that minorities make up a large percent of the lower class population who are more likely to sell and use ilicit drugs, therefore being racially bias.

Another point of view is held by George Stigler, Iowa’s only African American district court judge at the time of the article.  In 1993 Iowa’s state prison population was 22% African American, but the black population of that state was just under 2%.  The honorable judge Stigler went on to say that the high number of minorities in prison was not due to a racial bias in his opinion.  The reason was due to a combination of drug abuse, lack of education, lack of jobs, and a fundimental breakdown of values including fatherhood (A4).  Although this article is from 1993, it gives an important percpective.

One of the more recent studies by the U.S. Census Bureau revealed that the inmate population has topped over two million.  It also showed that more of the total population was in college than prison and that there is twice as many African American men in college than incarcerated.  These numbers can be encouraging, but also have different implications when you look at minority groups as a percent of the total population compared to the prison population.  The most recent reports show that the male prison population is made up of 46% white, 41% African Americans, and 19% Hispanic.  African Americans only make up of about 13% of the total population.  While the white and black prison population has been decreasing in numbers recently, the Hispanic numbers is on the rise (“Debunking”). 

Yet another point of view on the topic is that it is not nessesarily racism in the laws as much as it is racial profiling by those who uphold the law.  The accronym DWB (Driving While Black) has been a popular spoof  by activists who believe this to be a problem.  Bill Robinson tries to shed light on the overcrowding of prisons, and says that it is a mutlitude of issues.  He goes on to describe racial profiling, drug sentancing rather than treatment, and a lack of funding for public defenders as some of the real issues (A7).  What if the current drug laws and manditory sentancing affected the middle class as much as it currently affects the lower class?  Is it the racial profiling that is to blame, or is racial profiling a product of the laws? 

Clearly a contributor to the inprisonment of minorities is due to current drug laws, whether it is manufacturing, distributing, using, trafficing, or possesing.  We as a nation recognize that this drug epidemic must be addressed and we can either incarcerate or offer treatment.  It seems that the current direction is to enforce laws and minimum sentancing.  Is it truly more cost effective to put people in jail rather than treat their addictions?  Does this policy leave minority families without a father figure in turn causing a breakdown of family values?  Are minority children at risk of following in the footsteps of their incarcerated fathers?  Do these laws unfaily target minorities or the lower class?

The challenge to answering the question of racial inequality in America’s justice system depends on which way you look at the numbers and wether  you feel class status is a form of racial bias.  It is encouraging to see college enrollment numbers rise above prison and jail admissions as a whole.  Are we minimizing the problem by looking only from certain points of view?  Does looking at total numbers outway looking at in percentages?  Do we as a nation need to tackle the prison population from a racial front or an economic point of view?  This exploratory writing assignment has helped me come up with more important questions to be answered before one can truly answer the question of racial inequality in justice.


 

 

Works Cited

Aubry, Larry.  “African American prison rates soaring:  What else is new?”

Sentinel [Los Angeles, CA] 1 May 2003.  Ethnic NewsWatch

ProQuest.  Multnomah County Lib., Portland, OR.  14 May 2008

<http://0-proquest.umi.com&gt;

“Black judge:  Don’t blame racism for number of blacks in prison.” 

            Sentinel [Los Angeles, CA] 1 Jul. 1993.  Ethnic NewsWatch

ProQuest.  Multnomah County Lib., Portland, OR 14 May 2008

<http://0-proquest.umi.com&gt;

 “Debunking the Myth:  More Black Men in College Than Prison.”

            The Jacksonville Free Press [Fla.] 4 Oct.-10 Oct2007. 

Vol. 21, Iss. 29; pg. 1,2 Ethnic NewsWatch  ProQuest.

Multnomah County Lib., Portland, OR 14 May 2008

<http://0-proquest.umi.com&gt;

Gorski, Paul.  “Multicultural Education and Equity Awareness Quiz”

            EdChange  Multicultural Pavilion

<http://www.edchange.org/multicultural&gt;

<http://www.mhhe.com/multicultural&gt;

 

 

 

 

 

Robinson, Bill.  “Bill’s Book:  Racial bias in the justice system.”

            New Pittsburgh Courier [PA] 13 Dec. 2000.  Vol. 91, Iss. 99; pg. A7

            Ethnic NewsWatch  ProQuest.  Multnomah County Lib., Portland, OR

14 May 2008 <http://0-proquest.umi.com&gt;

Is There Racial Inequality in America’s Justice System?

When you look at America’s prison population it is hard not to recognize the minority situation.  It was not until I recently took the “Multicultural Education and Equity Awareness Quiz” that realized how strongly I felt about the disparity. 

Although I have narrowed my subject matter down,  the final thesis of this research is still being pondered.  My original topic question was “Why is the prison population so inundated with minorities?”, was too general I felt.  The updated topic question “Is there racial inequality in America’s justice system”, addresses the original question with a bit more focus.   So really I am researching the disparitybetween minorities and whites in American justice, and so far the numbers I am finding are shocking.  For example even though African Americans make up just under 13% of the U.S. population, studies show that they make upwards of 40% in some U.S. prison populations.  http://www.nyclu.org/files/percentage_of_us_prison_population_and_total_us_population_by_race.pdf

A key source so far is the Ethnic NewsWatch.  The U.S. Census Bureau has also provided me with raw statistics.

Although I have been aware of this problem for years, it is only until now that I am “diving” into the numbers and looking at all the factors.  I continue to be surprised by the information turning up in this research and hope that I can inform others.