Mass incarceration in the African American community is suppressing the economic growth and population of the African American people. This problem analysis will look at the issues at stake, why the issue is critical, discuss policy goals and constraints, as well as go over solution method. This analysis will also explore the incarceration rate of other countries.
II. Model of the Problem
The epidemic of mass incarceration within the African American community provides the strenuous challenge of improving economic prosperity within the population as well as sustaining the ethnic group. Several minorities across the nation share the same hardship, which is mass incarceration.
However, once the issue of mass incarceration of African Americans receives adequate attention, establishing economic success for all minorities will be mended. African Americans have been in languish for several years with mass incarceration. High prison sentences for petty crime, lack of adequate representation, and lack of resources for ex-convicts contribute to the problem of mass incarceration. Included in the issues mentioned above, mass incarceration means cheap labor for prominent business owners. Since the pro-mass incarceration side has a large financial stake in this dilemma and possesses multiple resources, the resistance against ending mass incarceration is indomitable.
July 4th, 1776 was the date the United States of America received its independence from Great Britain, founded as a capitalist society. (“The Declaration of Independence, 1776,” n.d.) In 1619, what was known as the colonial period starting with Jamestown, is now known as the United States of America. During that same year Africans were brought to the colonial period to be slaves for the settlers to produce free labor in order to make maximum profits from produced goods they were selling. Fast forwarding history to December 1865, Africans now have generations of African Americans claiming their freedom and are no longer slaves to the English Settlers. (“History of Slavery in America,” n.d.)
However, this freedom to African Americans came at the stake of a major blow to capitalism for the Southern states, who were still profiting off the labor from slaves. European Americans tried to recover the free labor that was lost in December 1865, through Jim Crow. Nevertheless, Jim Crow was removed due to racial injustice, but a new system took its place, which is mass incarceration. (Alexander, 2012, p. 191).
Following Alexander (2012), “The Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution had abolished slavery but allowed one major exception: slavery remained appropriate as punishment for a crime.” (p. 31)
The author Alexander (2012) stated that, “More than 2 million people found themselves behind bars at the turn of the twenty-first century, and millions more were relegated to the margins of mainstream society, banished to a political and social space not unlike Jim Crow, where discrimination in employment, housing, and access to education was perfectly legal, and where they could be denied the right to vote. The system functioned relatively automatically, and the prevailing system of racial meanings, identities, and ideologies already seemed natural. Ninety percent of those admitted to prison for drug offenses in many states were black or Latino.” (p. 58)
There are many scholars who have different reasons to what exactly cause the inflation of the prison population, however most can agree that the high sentencing on petty crimes, that were created out of the result of the drug war had influenced it. Beginning in the 80’s under the president Regan administration, mandatory sentencing for certain crimes were in forced. According to Hattery and Smith (2010) “These laws required long mandatory minimum sentences for simply possessing a small amount of sun stances such as crack, cocaine, heroin and even marijuana.” (p. 389). However, sentencing gotten more intense as time went on. Under the Rockefeller Drug Laws, two polices were in forced, which were: (1) “The Three Strikes and You’re Out”, which meant that if you were receiving your third felony then the judge would automatically sentence you to live in prison. (2) The differential sentencing between crack cocaine and powder cocaine. This policy was created under the impression that crack was more robust than cocaine, so the possession of 5 grams of crack will give you a felony automatically whereas the possession of 500 grams of cocaine was needed to get a felony. (Hattery and Smith, 2010, p. 390)
Many scholars believe that these polices are an attack on the African American community because crack is prominent in the African American community, whereas cocaine is more prominent in the Caucasian community. (Hattery and Smith, 2010, p. 390) Not only do the mandatory sentencing send African Americans at an alarming rate to prison but it also strips judges from doing what they are supposed to do, which is supposed to determine what is fair. Many federal judges spoke out about mandatory sentencing being unjust, as well as Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. (Alexander, 2012, p. 191).
Another problem with mandatory sentencing is that is found to be racially discriminatory towards minorities. Following Hattery and Smith (2010) “Additionally, a report by the U.S Department of Justice on sentencing in state courts found that 33% of convicted White defendants received a prison sentence whereas 51% of African American defendants received a prison sentence.” (p. 391)
In addition to the mandatory sentencing, there is also an issue with lack of adequate representation. Most poor African Americans cannot afford a poor attorney and must believe and trust that what the prosecutor says is factual. So most African Americans will pled guilty even if they are innocent. Contrary to the African Americans that do not pled guilty and decide to go to trial, often wait years before their case goes to trial. For the ones who make it to trial will see a public defender who is bombarded with various of other cases and cannot give undivided attention to their cases going to trial. (Alexander, 2012, p. 84).
In the fashion, prison labor is another reason mass incarceration is an issue. As mention earlier prison labor is known to start with slavery. After the Civil War from 1861-1865, there was a system of hiring out inmates; this was known to continue slavery. Some freed African Americans were accused of not finishing their sharecropping obligations or minor stealing. It is noted that these accusations were never proven, however they became convicts doing free labor. “From 1870 until 1910 in the state of Georgia, 88% of hired-out convicts were Black. In Alabama, 93% of “hired-out” miners were Black. In Mississippi, a huge prison farm like the old slave plantations replaced the system of hiring out convicts.” This “hiring out” system is now known as the Prison Industry Complex. (Peláez, 2019, p. 3)
It is acclaimed that at minimum 37 states have constitute negations of prison labor with private corporations. Some of these corporations include: Target, Macy’s, IBM, TWA, Hewlett-Packard, Nordstrom’s, Revlon, Nortel, AT&T, Dell, Pierre Cardin, Motorola, Boeing, Intel, Wireless, Honeywell, Compaq, Northern Telecom, Microsoft, Texas Instrument, Lucent Technologies, and 3Com. The corporations listed had an economic increase because of prison labor. During the years of 1980 to 1994, their profits risen from 392 million to 1.31 billion. Most prisoners receive minimum wage for their work, except in Colorado where they receive $2 an hour. (Peláez, 2019, p. 3) However, in private- prison prisoners are less than $2, it is .17 cent an hour. Tennessee is known to be the highest paying private prison, where the prisoners are paid .50 cent an hour. (Peláez, 2019, p. 3)
Profits were doing so well that a new business merge, importing inmates with lengthy sentences. After a federal judge ruled that overcrowding in Texas prisons was cruel and unusual punishment, the CCA signed contracts with sheriffs in impoverished counties to construct and run new jails and split the earnings. (Peláez, 2019, p. 4) 97 percent of 125,000 federal prisoners were sentenced of non-violent crimes. It is hypothesize that over half of the 623,000 prisoners in metropolitan or county jails are innocent of the crimes they are under indictment of. Most of those people are awaiting trial. (Peláez, 2019, p. 4)
The lack of resources has had a tremendous effect on the mass incarceration rates. Many African Americans leave prison only to return right back to the system because of the lack of resources available to them. According to (Alexander, 2012, p. 142) the offender could be sentence to probation, community service and may have to pay court cost. Typically, offenders are not eligible for government healthcare or welfare benefits, or educational assistance. They will lose the right to vote, they could lose their license. Offenders will not be allowed to join the military, obtain a firearm, or federal security clearance. If the offender is not a citizen of the United States, then they will be immediately deportable.
Like most systems of oppressions, they affect the community. The consequences of incarceration go past the individual being incarcerated and can be seen as a present-day expansion of slave labor and Jim Crow oppression that correspondingly uproot resources from African Americans which generated multi-generational detriment that is still occurring today. (Hattery and Smith, 2010, p. 3) Previous incarcerated mothers have a hard time proving a safe housing for the children because they are denied public housing. (Hattery and Smith, 2010, p. 8) Likewise, “the incarceration of million African American men has decimated African American families and entire communities as they are systematically bled of capital.” (Hattery and Smith, 2010, p. 6)
Through the lens of history, we have seen the change in the U.S from a racial caste system stationed utterly on exploitation (slavery), to another one based predominately on servitude (Jim Crow) following the system of mass incarceration to be defined by marginalization. Other scholars have noted marginalization to be the most dangerous. Intense marginalization, examined throughout world history, suggest the possibility of extermination. Catastrophes like the Holocaust in Germany or ethnic cleansing in Bosnia are detectable to the severe marginalization and stigmatization of racial and ethnic groups. Legal scholar John A. Powell once commented, “It’s actually better to be exploited than marginalized, in some respects, because if you’re exploited presumably, you’re still needed.’ (Alexander, 2012, p. 219)
Moreover, the US, has incarcerated more people than any other country. “A half million more than China, which has a population five times greater than the U.S. Statistics reveal that the United States holds 25% of the world’s population, but only 5% of the world’s people.” (Peláez, 2019, p. 1)
In Germany instead of locking up most of their offenders they issue of fines. Only 5 % percent serve a prison sentence and 12 % get a delayed prison sentence. (Weigend, 2016, p. 1) They give more power to the judges by giving them a sentence range to choose from depending on the crime. On petty crimes they will typical have one judge, however on more serious crimes they will have four to five judges on that case, with either a unanimous or majority vote deciding the outcome of the case. (Weigend, 2016, p. 5). According to (Alexander, 2012, p. 89) The possession of heroin will atomically get you 10 years in the US contrast to England six months.
Below is a chart displaying how the US incarcerations rates compare to other countries: (Wagner and Sawyer, 2018)
This leads me to conclude that this issue is both a market failure and government failure because the prison industry is a Quasi public good which means, that the prison industry show characteristics of a pure public and private good. (Weimer D.L, 2017, p. 247). Public prisons can be non-excludable and non-rival. However private prisons can be excludable and rival. Due the War on Drugs started by Nixon and continued by the Regan presidency, public prisons were becoming crowed and expensive. (Alexander, 2012, p. 48) With that being said, major corporations began to build private prisons. (Alexander, 2012, p. 230) Private prisons have the luxury of being built at an expediential rate without taxpayer approval. (Luan, 2018)
They commonly refused to take the most violent and most expensive prisoners. (Yates, 2018) Those prisoners go to a government facility. (Yates, 2018) Private prison is excludable by choosing the prisoners that come to the prison. (Yates, 2018) They are also rival once the prison has reached it capacity. Following Peláez (2019) “Ann Richards, followed the example of Mario Cuomo in New York and built so many state prisons that the market became flooded, cutting into private prison profits.” (p. 4)
Prisons it the U.S create a market failure by producing negative externalities and creating de-merit goods through asymmetric information. Asymmetric information is where information does exist, but it is not equally shared between the two parties. (Weimer D.L, 2017, p. 184).
Within the prison industry this occurs when people are told to take a deal or plea guilty. Most people in custody do not know their rights or are completely aware how hard their life will be when they are release as a convicted felon. The prosecutor will tell the person in custody that taking the deal being offered is the best thing to do or that pleading guilty will work better in your case. They leave out the information regarding the repercussions of what will happen if they take the deal or plead guilty. (Alexander, 2012, p. 142). However, every citizen in the United States of America has a right to an attorney to receive the information that is being left out by the prosecutor but most African Americans cannot afford an attorney and is left with the information the prosecutor gives them. (Alexander, 2012, p. 84).
As mention above mass incarceration affects more than just the prisoner. It has in impact on the family of the prisoner and the society or community the prisoner as well. Since the impact is negative, these impacts would be the negative externalities. Negative externalities are destructive effects placed on a third party by an economic transaction of someone consuming or producing something. (Weimer D.L, 2017, p. 93). With mass incarceration creating a hardship on African American families which are the few negative externalities of mass incarceration.
Mass incarceration being a de-merit good is another reason why prisons are a market failure. De-merit goods are goods that are more harmful to consumers than they realize due to lack of information. (Weimer D.L, 2017, p. 229). Most people would support the “War on Drugs Movement” or the “Get tough on Crime Movement”, not knowing that it is aiding mass incarceration. (Alexander, 2012, p. 5). Most people are not aware of the mantory sentences or the racial profiling taking place. Most people also not aware of prison labor being the one of the secret agendas for mass incarnation. With all that being said prisons are a market failure because the allocation of goods and services are not being efficient and is leading to net social welfare loss. (Alexander, 2012, p. 5).
Moreover, mass incarceration violates civil rights given to citizens under the constitution. For the public to have access to the public goods, we need the government to provide the public goods. (Weimer D.L, 2017, p. 185). When there are negative externalities, such as pollution, the citizens need the government to decrease it. (Weimer D.L, 2017, p. 186). When there are positive externalities, such as universities, same as before, the citizens need the government to subsidize it. (Weimer D.L, 2017, p. 176. However not all government intervention is best for the market. (Weimer D.L, 2017, p. 187). The goal of government is to distend welfare, if that does not occur or if the government goes against it, then a government failure has taken place. (Weimer D.L, 2017, p. 190).
Government failure emerge from government intervention to alleviate a market failure but creates more problems in doing so. (Weimer D.L, 2017, p. 24). The problems such as information failure, unintended consequences and regulatory consequences are the reasons why government failure occurred within mass incarceration. Unintended consequences cause an impact on multiple groups of people, such as poor white people. Following Alexander (2012) “Black and brown people are the principal targets in this war; white people are collateral damage.” (p. 204) Lastly, mass incarceration originally wanted to reinvent cheap labor to support capitalism, although it has accomplished that goal for capitalism, it has created numerous problems for brown people resulting in a regulatory capture. Regulatory capture is happening when the welfare of the society is overlooked for the well-being of CEO’s and mangers in certain industries. Information failure, unintended consequences and regulatory capture are the reasons why mass incarceration is also a government failure. (Weimer D.L, 2017, p. 241).
In summary, problems were intrinsic in bureaucratic supply. There were “bureaucratic failure through organizational market failures.” (Taylor & Frances, 2017, slide 21) Due to the bureaucratic failure tied with asymmetrical information within the prison market, both government and market failure occurred within this issue. (Taylor & Frances, 2017, slide 28)
III. Policy Goals and Constraints
Ending mass incarceration is the substantive policy goal. In order to start achieving that goal some instrumental goals need to be put in place such as, getting rid of all financial incentives giving to the law enforcement to arrest African Americans and other minorities people for drug offenses, along with federal grant money. Drug laws need to be re-evaluated; racial profiling must be extinguished; the federal government needs to rid the focus of drug bust in underserved African Americans communities. The federal government also needs to end the transfer of military equipment to local law enforcement in regard to the drug war. (Alexander, 2012, p. 232).
In order to help reduce selective enforcement, data collection for police and prosecutors must be required throughout the entire nation; in combination, mandatory sentencing for drug-related crimes should be rescinded. (Alexander, 2012, p. 233).
When a defendant’s representation, public defenders, are greatly outmatched in financial resources compared to their opposition, the prosecution, the engine of mass incarceration receives an unfair advantage. As a result, two things must be adopted, first, public funding for prosecutors and defense attorneys should be equal, and two, racial impact statements that assess the racial and ethnic impact of criminal justice legislation must be adopted. (Alexander, 2012, p. 233).
The devastating effect of criminalizing marijuana possession and use must be eliminated through means of legalizing the drug. Because use or possession of marijuana is illegal, it can result in citizens being incarcerated and caged as if they were animals, which should not be society’s goals and intentions of reform. However, if legalization cannot occur, viable re-entry programs need to exist for former inmates that help build a foundation of training and education so those labeled as criminals can reform themselves as productive citizens and working in jobs that carry a purpose. (Alexander, 2012, p. 233).
IV. Solution Methods
The best solution method for this problem analysis would be a multi-goal analysis. As mentioned above I have listed three or more goals needed to solve this problem analysis. Since this issue resulted in as both a government and market failure there are numerous of goals in place repair the issue and simply one to two goals will not take care of the problem.
- Alexander, M. (2012). The New Jim Crow [Kindle Android version]. Retrieved from Amazon. Com
- Weimer, D. L. (2017). Policy Analysis: Concepts and Practice [Kindle Android version]
- Taylor & Francis. (2017). Limits to Public Intervention: Government Failures [PowerPoint]. Retrieved from https://bbcsulb.desire2learn.com/d2l/le/content/489326/viewContent/5462537/View
- Taylor & Francis. (2017). Rationales for Public Policy: Market Failure [PowerPoint]. Retrieved from https://bbcsulb.desire2learn.com/d2l/le/content/489326/viewContent/5441169/View
- (n.d.). Retrieved from https://history.state.gov/milestones/1776-1783/declaration
- (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~arihuang/academic/abg/slavery/history.html
- Peláez, V. (2019, February 24). The Prison Industry in the United States: Big Business or a New Form of Slavery? Retrieved from https://www.globalresearch.ca/the-prison-industry-in-the-united-states-big-business-or-a-new-form-of-slavery/8289
- SMITH, E., & HATTERY, A. J. (2010). African American Men and the Prison Industrial Complex. Western Journal of Black Studies, 34(4), 387–398. Retrieved from http://csulb.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=sih&AN=57315512&site=ehost-live
- Weigend, T. (2016). No News Is Good News: Criminal Sentencing in Germany since 2000. Crime & Justice, 45(1), 83–106. https://doi-org.csulb.idm.oclc.org/10.1086/686041
- Initiative, P. P. (n.d.). States of Incarceration: The Global Context 2018. Retrieved from https://www.prisonpolicy.org/global/2018.html
- Luan, L. (2018, May 16). Profiting from Enforcement: The Role of Private Prisons in U.S. Immigration Detention. Retrieved April 10, 2019, from https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/profiting-enforcement-role-private-prisons-us-immigration-detention
- Yates, S. Q. (n.d.). Reducing our Use of Private Prisons [Letter written August 18, 2018 to Acting Director Federal Bureau of Prisons]. In The Deputy Attorney General. Washington D.C.