African American Disenfranchisement
Racial Disparity in Incarceration Rates
Between 1980 and 2003, the number of incarcerated individuals in America has increased from 500,000 to 2.3 million people. African Americans constitute nearly 1 million of the total population of prisoners in the American prison system. In fact, African Americans are incarcerated six times greater than whites despite research repeatedly showing that whites and blacks engage in drug related crimes at the same rate. Even more surprising is the fact that minority populations comprise nearly 62% of all the prisoners yet they only make up a quarter of the American population.
The disproportionate rates of incarceration among the African Americans have its roots in the racial history of the country. Black Americans have been racially disenfranchised ever since the days of slavery. They were enslaved for hundreds of years and their rights were curtailed. Even after slavery was abolished, African Americans were still regarded as second-class citizens. They were denied the right to vote under the Jim Crow laws as well as facing systemic racial discrimination (NAACP, 2008).
The systemic discrimination disenfranchised the black community and it continues to do so even today. Most black youth are unemployed and uneducated. Drug cartels have taken advantage of this situation and turned the black youth into drug peddlers. The war on crime is targeted at blacks and has caused the disproportionate rates of incarceration among African Americans.
Racial Disparities in Sentencing
There is a racial disparity in sentencing when it comes to drug related crimes. Approximately 2.6 million black Americans report using an illicit drug compared to more than 14 million whites. From this statistic, we can infer that five times as many Whites use drugs as black Americans. Despite this obvious statistic, African Americans are 10 times more likely to end up in jail for drug offenses compared to the Whites.
According to the NAACP (2008), black Americans constitute only about 12% of the total population of drug users in the country. However, 38% of those arrested for drug offenses and 60% of those sentenced to state prison for drug related offences are black people even though they are less likely to engage in drug abuse compared to white individuals.
Furthermore, the racial disparity in sentencing is clearly visible when it comes to the amount of time that African Americans spend in jail for drug related offenses. Black people spend more time in jail for drug offenses approximately 58.7 months. The amount of time is almost the same period that whites spend in jail for violent offenses, which is approximately 61.7 months.
Impact of Labels
Chiricos, Barrick, Bales, & Bontrager (2007) contend that individuals who are labeled as felons are more likely to reoffend within two years of their release compared to individuals who have not been labeled as felons. The authors continue to argue that the effects of the label were more pronounced in Whites, women, and those individuals who did not have a prior conviction before the age of 30. Other studies indicate that the rate of recidivism in the country is so high that more than 60% of the individuals who are released are likely to end up in prison in less than a year.
The authors’ findings reaffirm that juvenile or criminal justice processing that leads to a conviction and a criminal record is significantly related to reoffending. This is in comparison to the cases that are handled informally and without the addition of negative labels. People who are labeled as felons lose majority of their civil rights including their right to vote. In addition, people who are labeled ‘felons’ have a diminished expectation to privacy because they are deemed deviant and a danger to the society.
Schmitt and Warner (2010) postulate that a felony conviction significantly reduces the chances that the individual will get gainful employment after his time in jail. The convictions or the felons act as independent factors to significantly reduce the employability of the individual. Employers are less likely to employ individuals who have a criminal record despite the fact that he could be on parole.
Blacks and Employment
Blacks are the most severely disadvantaged people when it comes to applying for jobs. The reason is the stereotypical nature of the American social system. For hundreds of years, numerous stereotypes about African Americans have continued to prevail and further disenfranchise the black Americans.
Many employers would not want to hire black Americans because of the notion that majority of blacks are lazy, uneducated, and are predisposed to committing crimes because of their color and background. Education is also hard to come by for the black Americans because they come from too poor backgrounds to afford to go to the right schools. Stereotypes of this nature have made it very difficult for African Americans to find gainful employment and be socially mobile.
Furthermore, the war on drugs has also contributed to the growth of unemployment among black people. Current trends indicate that one in every three black boys born from 2008 will spend some time in jail during his lifetime for a non-violent drug offence. Most of these individuals will have a criminal record, significantly reducing their chances of getting meaningful employment.
Discrimination against Former Prisoners
When prisoners are released from the justice institutions, they expect to be able to rejoin society and move on with their lives. However, these individuals and their families face numerous problems after they leave prison. The barriers are sometimes intentional, they are supposed to punish prisoners further by limiting their access to social services like higher education, and making their transition back to society harder than it ought to be.
Restricting access to higher education is one of the ways that the government and the society attempts to discriminate against former prisoners. The Higher Education Act was amended in 1998 to deny federal financial aid for higher education to anyone that has a drug conviction. Furthermore, the removal of college education in prison makes it harder for these individuals to find a job after their release or even go to college (Benioff, 2008).
Benioff, R. (2008). Tackling Employment Discrimination against Former Prisoners. Center for Civil Society. Retrieved on 14/3/2016 from http://civilsociety.ucla.edu/practitioners/profiles-in-engagement/tackling-employment-discrimination-against-former-prisoners
Chiricos, T., Barrick, K., Bales, W., & Bontrager, S. (2007). Labeling of Convicted Felons and its Consequences for Recidivsm. Criminology 45 (3): 547-582.
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (2008). Criminal Justice Fact Sheet. Retrieved on 14/3/2016 from http://www.naacp.org
Schmitt, J., & Warner, K. (2010). Ex-offenders and the Labor Market. Center for Economic and Policy Research. Retrieved on 14/3/2016 from http://cepr.net/documents/publications/ex-offenders-2010-11.pdf