The paper focuses on mass incarceration of minorities and explores the issues that have led to the development of this problem. The aim of this research is to draw attention to this topic and discuss possible solutions that government officials may consider to eliminate inequalities and unfair treatment. A literature review is a primary research method. This choice is appropriate in this situation, because it helps to get a better understanding of various perspectives on this topic. Furthermore, provided criticism of some of the arguments facilitates the discussions and acknowledges the views of the opposing side. Findings, however, suggest that many scholars agree with the idea that the justice system is unfair towards the minorities and needs some improvement. Available evidence suggests that the War on Drugs is a central reason why minorities face disproportionate punishments. Moreover, it will be nearly impossible to achieve equality if the government does not change its stance on mass incarceration.
Keywords: mass incarceration, mandatory sentencing, criminal justice system, discrimination
Mass incarceration of minorities is a topic that has attracted an attention of many scholars in the United States. The fact that the percentages of imprisoned individuals have increased dramatically since the 90s is worrying. New York has introduced a legislature in 1973 that imposed at least fifteen years of imprisonment for individuals that possess a relatively small amount of hard drugs, and other regions have adopted similar strategies (Campbell, Vogel, & Williams, 2015). One of the theories suggests that there is a close relationship between mass incarceration and racism, and officials utilize the legislature to promote segregation. Similarly, other scholars admit that politicians support punitiveness to control marginal populations (James, 2015). Such policies as an introduction of mandatory minimum sentences by Richard Nixon and Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 played an enormous role, and have facilitated the establishment of additional laws that have led to current situation. Besides, federal government has been relatively passive and allowed states to introduce controversial bills that disproportionately target minorities such as stop-and-frisk program. The central argument is that unreasonable policies cause mass incarceration of minorities, complicate the elimination of inequalities and lead to some tension among various groups of people because of unfair treatment. This paper will analyze such issues as three-strike laws, mandatory sentencing, unfair justice system, and excessive policing in minority areas.
The literature review will focus on some of the issues in the United States that lead to discrimination of minorities and mass incarceration. It is reasonable to devote the most attention towards such topics as unfair justice system and unreasonable policing in minority areas, because many individuals regard them as the most problematic ones. This section of the paper will provide an analysis and discussion of research in this area.
Three Strikes Laws
One of the most significant issues that influenced a disproportional incarceration of minorities is an establishment of three strikes laws in the United States. These statements force the courts to treat individuals harshly after repeated offenses when it comes to sentencing. The primary intention of such legislature is to prevent criminal activities. Many scholars suggest that it is reasonable to incapacitate the individuals that are more likely to break the law. Such policies are appropriate, but only when the system punishes offenders that have committed numerous felonies. The situation in California is rather controversial, because misdemeanor offenses also lead to harsher sentences. The problem is that many individuals may have to serve a life sentence without doing anything dangerous. Fiber-Ostrow and Tucker (2013) state that judges in California base their decisions regarding the third strike law on a political climate in the region. The law supports discretion, but this research suggests that many prosecutors act unjustly. The issue with this study is that authors have disregarded possible racial bias that causes disproportionate punishments, but available information is still valuable. It is understandable that policymakers had good intentions, but it is evident that this law has numerous limitations. It is not surprising that the population questions the system, because courts disregard the circumstances that have led to a particular offense most of the time, and three strike laws complicate the situation. A person may have to serve a significant portion of his or her life after committing a misdemeanor, and this approach seems to be unfair.
Another subject matter which is worth mentioning is a role of mandatory minimums. Snyder (2015) explores the history of such policies and criticizes the way the system overlooks the needs of minorities and does not consider unique circumstances that could affect sentencing. The author argues that this legislation influences the differences in income among various communities. The way mandatory minimums damage impoverished neighborhoods is worrying, because it is clear that people in these areas require some support, and this approach has proven to be ineffective. The problem is that a researcher has focused on a qualitative analysis, but it would be reasonable to provide quantitative data to support some of the claims. Most of the statements are convincing, but definitely further research in this area is required. The central goal of these policies is to prevent the spreading and abuse of substances, but it is possible to state that punishments for such offenses are disproportional. It is necessary to understand that minorities suffer the most because of unreasonable policies associated with the possession of drugs.
The problem is that many individuals become victims of the circumstances and have to spend time in jail without doing anything dangerous or threatening for the society. It is comprehensible that one may argue that some of the actions are against the law, but it is clear that sentencing is unfair and causes non-violent offenders to lose a lot of time and not be able to support their families. Also, these laws are inconsistent, and a person in one city may face the punishment, while other states follow not so strict policies t. It should be noted that most minority groups are already at a disadvantage in the United States, and mass incarceration further complicates the situation. One may view it as one of the biggest barriers that limit the opportunities and makes it nearly impossible to achieve equality. Another aspect worthy of a discussion is that mandatory sentencing multiplies the disparities in education and income among various groups. It is reasonable to assume that the current approach helps to reduce the crime rate, but it is a questionable solution and does not address the central cause of the problem. Investment of funds into preventive measures and high-quality treatment has certain potential to produce much better results (Snyder, 2015).
Unfair Justice System
It is not surprising that most minority groups regard the current structure contradicts the accepted standards of justice because of differences in sentencing. Many individuals believe that the system forces them to accept plea agreements because they have to chance to prove that they are not guilty. Campbell et al. (2015) have conducted an extensive research to assess an impact of such variables as employment status, political ideology, and others on mass incarceration. The authors argue that current situation suggests that the justice system was designed as neutral when it comes to race, but supports discriminatory and oppressive practices. Additionally, they mention that interactions between some of the state and federal policies have led to a destabilization. It is clear that some cities manage to avoid mass incarceration by revising their stance on low-level offenders, but it can be difficult to convince most officials that such stance is appropriate. The problem is that policymakers disregard severe consequences associated with strict policies. The weakness of this research, however, is that authors do not discuss the effects of such unjust system and the ways in which it facilitates an offensive behavior.
Moreover, former felons may face additional barriers when trying to redeem themselves. For instance, they will have to deal with some obstacles when seeking an employment. Furthermore, it discourages them from focusing on personal and professional development. This situation leads to an environment where young people of color may feel that it is hard to succeed regardless of their efforts. It is especially problematic when they have to grow up without the parents. Additionally, mass incarceration of minorities damages the economy. The problem is that a significant percentage of population leaves the workplace. Besides, the government spends enormous sums of money to support correctional facilities, and it would be reasonable to invest these funds into other areas that would benefit the nation. Admittedly, federal spending grows every year at a rapid rate, and it is clear that officials do not recognize possible implications of current policies.
Policing in Minority Areas
One of the challenges is a questionable policing in minority areas. The problem is that many groups of people believe that police agents intentionally target their communities, and such claims are reasonable. It is clear that most officers try to stay neutral, but it is hard to eliminate subconscious bias if police departments do not provide sufficient training. A study by Sharp (2014) is rather intriguing, because it shows that an increase in number of people of color among police agents does not help to maintain the order. Therefore, it is possible to state that race is not the only factor that influences the way individuals perceive law enforcement officials. On the other hand, the weakness of this study is that authors devote too much attention to the role of authorities and do not explore possible reasons for excessive policing of areas populated by people of color. Minorities are frequently hostile towards police because of the complicated history, and most professionals cannot establish positive relationships with the communities.
It is evident that current approach does not work and does not protect interests of the population. Thus, the government should acknowledge the fact that criticism is justified in this case, and officials must consider solutions proposed by scholars. The problem is that many police departments are too conservative and are not willing to accept innovative approaches. The first step is to repeal or amend some of the laws that cause the most harm to minorities. Undoubtedly, it can be incredibly difficult, because policymakers will have to deal with opposition, but it is still possible to eliminate discriminatory legislation. Also, it is appropriate to reconsider current distribution of funds. The problem is that many police departments have to deal with limited resources, and it can be difficult to find a qualified professional and support training. An extreme vetting is of utmost importance in such situations because it is clear that the population does not trust the police because of the way many officers treat minorities.
The analysis of peer-reviewed journals supports the idea that some of the policies and current criminal justice system hurt minorities. It is understandable that policymakers did not have an intention to target these groups of people in most cases, but they have definitely overlooked an adverse impact of such legislation. First of all, three strike laws lead to unfair sentencing in some cases and limit the ability of individuals to rehabilitate themselves. Similarly, mandatory sentences associated with the possession of drugs are also extremely problematic and disproportionately affect people of color. Certainly, the government has tried to address some of the weaknesses of criminal justice system, but it is still unfair and needs the rapid changes. All of the mentioned issues lead to an excessive policing in minority communities and complicated relationships between police officers and citizens.
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Mass incarceration of minorities is a challenging problem, because it has occurred as a result of numerous questionable policies over the years that have produced questionable results. The most serious challenge related to the mass incarceration of minorities is the fact that it reduces the time individuals spend at jobs, and it has long-term implications. It is clear that a significant percentage of people of color that get arrested because of the possession of drugs do not threaten others, but incarceration prevents them from becoming productive members of society. One of the most acute problems is that many researchers in this area suggest that it is reasonable to make policies less strict and reduce policing in minority areas, but they do not provide effective solutions that would lower the number of offenses. It is beneficial to develop a set of policies and techniques that would assist in establishing healthy long-term relationships between minorities and police agents, because it is clear that the country is divided. The level of suspicion towards each other is enormous, and both sides believe that they receive an unfair coverage from the media. However, both questionable policies and justice system have led to such weird atmosphere when citizens of the United States cannot trust each other. It is illogical to reward those officers that catch individuals who have committed minor offenses, because it encourages them to target impoverished neighborhoods.
In summary, the presented evidence supports the thesis statement that current policies and justice system cause the biggest damage to minorities. The War on Drugs, a campaign that many presidents of the United States have supported, is the most problematic because it makes the courts to treat minor offenses as severe crimes. The issue is that officials do not recognize the huge importance of focusing on the limitation of access to such substances. Surely, it is unreasonable to blame individuals that become addicted and cannot control their actions. It can be challenging to solve this problem, but it is entirely possible. Overall, it is reasonable to concentrate on the education of population on this subject matter, because it is evident that many individuals do not have access to all the necessary information and do not understand the adverse impact of such discriminatory treatment of minorities.