By Srijan Sen
Five decades since Brown v. Board of Education desegregated American public schools across the country, African-Americans now face a lifelong struggle against the criminal justice system of the nation.
Mass incarceration is the outcome of America’s war on drugs initiated by President Richard Nixon in 1971 to discourage the production, distribution, and consumption of what participating governments and the UN define as illegal psychoactive drugs. The drug policy alliance estimates the United States spends $51 billion annually on the war on drugs.
The results, however, show disproportionate crackdown of the penal system on a concentrated group of citizens across the country.
Seven million people are serving correctional time in the U.S, majority being African-American males incarcerated for minor nonviolent drug offenses.
The United States has the largest prison population in the world followed by Russia, Ukraine and Rwanda.
The U.S constitutes 4.5 percent of total global population, but 25 percent of the incarcerated population fueled by a reprehensible drug policy which still treats the possession of powder and crack-cocaine differently.
The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 signed by President Obama reduced the disparity between amount of crack cocaine and powder cocaine needed to trigger certain United States federal criminal penalties from a 100:1 to an 18:1 weight ratio and eliminated the five-year mandatory minimum sentence for simple possession of crack cocaine.
It is natural for human beings to assume repressive law is the result for social miscreants, but the logic fails to attest how drugs addicts suffering psychological dependency can be reformed and allowed back into regular citizenry. Incarceration in the United States does not allow for current or formally incarcerated individuals to revive active citizenship.
The logic is flawed. Black men are imprisoned at six times the rate of white men and it costs $55,000 to incarcerate a person for a year, but $5-6,000 to rehabilitate an individual. Dr. Bruce Western, a prominent academic from Harvard studying mass incarceration, finds prison to be all about outsiders.
“If you are not an outsider before, you become one as soon as you step in through the door,” said Dr. Western at a keynote speech hosted by UWM.
African-American male incarceration has significant disproportionate impacts on families and whole communities.
The absence of male members in nuclear, and primarily African-American families imprisons the children creating a deep lack in legitimacy between the community and state.
Author of “The New Jim Crow,” Dr. Michelle Alexander points out the disturbing stigma associated with incarcerated individuals destined to lead life as an outsider.
“Once you’re labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination— employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits, and exclusion from jury service— are suddenly legal,” said Dr. Alexander in her book.
The discussion of mass incarceration most certainly triggers the question of how to prohibit sudden bursts of violence surrounding drug users.
The answer maybe complex, but mounting studies and innumerable statics show that incarcerating individuals does not effectively solve the problem of drug use.
Mass incarceration is the easy go to method for shoving a complicated social problem under the rug. The “problem,” as it was during the height of the Jim Crow laws in Alabama, are people of color.
Racism has been effectively institutionalized. “What has changed since the collapse of Jim Crow has less to do with the basic structure of our society than with the language we use to justify it,” said Dr. Alexander.