The over-representation of ethnic minorities in correctional facilities
There is a significant over-representation of ethnic minorities in correctional facilities in the United States of America. This is demonstrable through the statistics published by the Office of Justice Programs which show that between the years of 1973 to 2007 that there are significantly more black offenders committing serious violent crimes than there are white offenders. Most recently, in 2007, 10.3 people per every 1000 black people committed a serious violent crime, by comparison with 5.7 people per every 1000 white people (BJS). These statistics show that a significant portion of the people who are in correctional facilities are more likely to be black people – according to the BBC, black people account for 46% of prisoners in jail as opposed to the 36% who are white; the same article states that in 2000, 791,600 black men were imprisoned as opposed to the 603,032 black men who enrolled in college (BBC News). The implication behind this latter statistic seems to be that many younger, black men lack direction and guidance in life which would enable them to make the better choice. So, with black people and Hispanics making up nearly two-thirds of the prison population (Western 16), the question is why there are so many more ethnic minorities are in correctional facilities than white people.
There are many theories as to why this situation has arisen, largely devoted to the idea that young black men are more likely to be afflicted by poverty, involved with drugs and unemployed. Earl Bowen, a professor of African American History at Temple University suggests that the problems for young black men began in the 1980s with the advent of crack cocaine and the decrease of jobs in the industrial and manufacturing sectors (Miller). Bowen goes on to add that ““Before American corporations saw a source of cheap labor in developing countries even if a Black man dropped out of high school he could still get a good paying blue collar job. When those jobs started leaving the country we started seeing the introduction of crack cocaine into the Black community.” (Miller). The suggestion here is that having suffered a number of blows in the mid-1980s, the Black community has not fully recovered with sometimes as many as three generations of black men sharing a prison cell.
However, some have claimed that this image of black people as being part of the ‘underclass’ is perpetuated by the public school system, in which there is an unwritten caste system which sets up young people with a mind-set for life. Byron E. Price, a professor of Political Science at Southern Texas University, suggests that “the African American community should focus its energy on improving the educational system before attempting to gets laws changed to mitigate the collateral consequences of a felony conviction.” (Price). This suggestion seems sensible as it is treating the symptom rather than focusing on the cause of hyper-incarceration, according to Price. He elaborates that the links between low educational levels and high prison numbers has been proven time and again and suggests that by focusing on improving the public school system, these numbers could be dramatically reduced.
Other links have been drawn between young, black, male criminals and inner-city poverty: “fully 70 percent of men between ages 18 and 45 in the impoverished North Lawndale neighbourhood on Chicago’s West-side are ex-offenders.” (Street). In Illinois, there are 115,746 more people enrolled in university than are in prison, but also “For every African-American enrolled in those universities, two and a-half Blacks are in prison or on parole in Illinois.” (Street). These statistics seem to be self-perpetuating as these young men are getting in trouble, doing their time and then struggling to find work because they are ex-felons and so the cycle starts all over again. Couple this with the ten states who refuse ex-felons voting rights for life and you are left with a black community who are feeling disenfranchised from the world and despondent to conformity, unable to find work or respect and turn to crime and drugs as a way of gaining income and respect because there is no other option.
The conclusive evidence is that there is an overwhelmingly high over-representation of ethnic minorities in correctional facilities – particularly young black men who are struggling to move out of a perpetual spiral of negativity which begins with the caste system in school and continues on into adulthood with a desire to gain respect and money but with a lack of resources or social support to make it happen. Those men who have already been to prison are unable to find their feet outside in the real world because of their history and the unfortunate fact is that society is largely quite unforgiving. Ethnic minorities and particularly young black men are over-represented in correctional facilities because of drugs, poverty and a general lack of social standing which is inherent to American society.
“Serious violent victimization rates by race 1973-2007.” Bureau of Justice Statistics. Office of Justice Programs. N.d. Web. 20 June 2011.
Western, Bruce. Punishment and Inequality in America. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2006. Print.
Miller, Larry. “Black crime rates have long-standing causes.” The Philadelphia Tribunal 14 April 2011. Web. 20 June 2011.
Price, E. Byron. “How schools propagate the ‘underclass.’” The Atlanta Post June 20, 2011. Web. June 20 2011.
“Race, Prison and Poverty.” Paul Street. History is a Weapon. N.d. Web. 20 June 2011.
“More black US men ‘in jail than college.’” BBC News. BBC. 29 August, 2002. Web. 20 June 2011.