` Michelle Alexander in her book, The New

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13, 2017







Mass Incarceration
and the Effects 1






     “Mass incarceration is a term used by historians and sociologists to
describe the substantial increase in the number of incarcerated people in the
United States.”

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_incarceration)  Mass incarceration
is on the rise in the 21st century.  According to Michelle Alexander, “The criminal
justice system is deliberately making felons out of black and brown people, in
particular, African-Americans.  The
criminal justice system acts more like a system of racial and social control
than a system of crime prevention and social control”.  Michelle Alexander in her book, The New Jim Crow, Mass Incarceration in the
Age of Colorblindness, “claims that mass incarceration has become the new
racial caste system in America.  Both Jim
Crow and slavery were caste systems. 
When using the term racial caste system, Alexander means it to “denote a
stigmatized racial group locked into an inferior position by law and
custom.”  She feels that this is our
current system of mass incarceration. 
(Alexander 12).  She thinks of the
criminal justice system as a collection of institutions – police, prosecutors,
judges, and prisons – that are a gateway into a much larger “system of
stigmatization and permanent marginalization. 
This system “locks people not only behind bars in actual prisons, but
also behind virtual bars and virtual walls – walls that are invisible to the
naked eye but function nearly as effectively as Jim Crow laws once did at
locking people of color into a permanent second-class citizenship.”  (Alexander 12, 13).   Where
once segregation and Jim Crow laws served as a means of racial and social
control, it is now, the criminal justice system that uses mass incarceration to
serve this purpose.  Mass incarceration
has become the new racial caste system in America. Once someone enters into
this system it becomes

Mass Incarceration and the Effects 2


more and more difficult to free one’s
self. Once released, former felons enter a hidden underworld of legalized
discrimination and permanent social exclusion. 
Mass incarceration is a new system of racialized social control in a purportedly
a color-blind system.  However, this is
not true. Mass incarceration operates using laws, policies and customs to mass
incarcerate and oppress black and brown people in America. In America we live
in a so-called color-blind society. It is no longer socially permissible to use
race, explicitly, as justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social
contempt. So, we pretend not to do it.  
Nonetheless, the criminal justice system has been used to label people
criminals and mass incarcerate millions of black and brown people in America
simply because of their race. So, rather than use race we use other ways to
discriminate against black and brown people in America.  

According to Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor,
author of From #BlackLivesMatter, to
Black Liberation, African-Americans are singled out and labeled as the
problem for the poverty and crime in their communities.  There is never any acknowledgement of the
system’s part in creating these circumstances for poverty and crime to fester
in the African-American community.  It is
always simply the fault of the lazy, good-for-nothing blacks who don’t want to
work.  Taylor, however, argues that “the
widespread and widely agreed upon description of black people as lazy cheats
rationalizes the social economic disparities between African-Americans and the
rest of the society.  It absolves the
economic and political system from any real responsibility.”  (Taylor 48). 
Evidence shows incarceration is closely associated with low wages,
unemployment, family instability, recidivism, and restrictions on political and
social rights (Western, Kling and Weiman 2000; Hagan and Dinovitzer 1999;
Sampson and Laub 1993;

Mass Incarceration and the Effects 2


Uggen and Manza 2002; Hirsch et al. 2002).
 “If indeed imprisonment became
commonplace among young disadvantaged and minority men through the 1980s and
1990s, a variety of other social inequalities may have deepened as a result.” AMERICAN
SOCIOLOGICAL REVIEW, 2004, VOL. 69 (April:151–169) “It is estimated that 5.3
million people are prohibited from voting as a result of a felony conviction.  This equates to about one in every forty-one
adults.  Nearly half of those
disenfranchised have already completed their prison sentences. This figure also
includes the disenfranchisement of nearly 676,730 women.  To put this issue into perspective, in the
2004 Presidential Election, incumbent President George Bush won the state of
Florida by 350,000 votes.  During that
election it is estimated that 960,000 people in Florida were prohibited from
voting due to felony convictions. In addition to forty-eight states prohibiting
felons from voting while incarcerated, thirty-three states ban probationers or
parolees from voting.” Kay Randolph-Back, Public Housing Policies that Exclude
Ex-Offenders: A House Divided, 2 (2007). 26 UNC School of Government Collateral
Consequences Assessment Tool available at http://ccat.sog.unc.edu/node/1667.    The
purpose for this study is to look at the effects of mass incarceration on black
and brown people in America.  I will be
studying the effects of mass incarceration on black and brown men and women in
America.  I plan to conduct a series of
interviews with prisoners and men and women released from prison to ascertain
the effects of mass incarceration on them and their families.  Participants will be 300 incarcerated black
and brown men in American prisons. I will conduct interviews over the course of
two years. The first interview will be on newly imprisoned inmates. There will
be a will be follow up assessments quarterly.  The second interview will be at the two year
mark. Higher

Mass Incarceration and the Effects 2


levels of stress, anxiety
and depression and possible violence are expected to be associated with
feelings of isolation.  In my study my research
will focus on the socioeconomic effects of mass incarceration in the black and
brown community. The study will also focus on educated African Americans and
non- educated African Americans and their relationship with the prison system. My
research will also focus on the effects of over policing in low-income
neighborhoods. My research is going to focus on the educational, emotional,
psychological, behavioral, and economical effects of mass incarceration of
black and brown people in America. My focus will primarily focus on men for
this study. My research will also focus on the racial disparities between black
and brown people and whites in education with regards to mass incarceration.  The proposed research will provide a much
needed window into the world of mass incarceration.



effects of mass incarceration on black and brown men and women in America is
important to understanding racial bias within the American prison system.



     Becky Pettit Department of Sociology
University of Washington Bruce Western Department of Sociology Princeton
University studied the effects of mass incarceration and penal inequality and
lifetime risk for black and white men based on their level of education.  Pettit and Western summarized that black men
with less education are at higher risk for imprisonment. “It was


Mass Incarceration and the Effects 5


that risk of incarceration was highly stratified by education. It has been
highly established that education in the black community is substandard to the
education that is provided in the white community. 3 percent of whites and 20
percent of blacks had served prison time by their

thirties.”  It is clear that mass
incarceration negatively effects black and brown people especially black men
more than it negatively effects whites especially white men.

crime rates may explain as much as 80 percent of the disparity in imprisonment
(Tonry 1995), a significant residual suggests that blacks are punitively
policed, prosecuted, and sentenced. Sociologists of punishment link this
differential treatment to official perceptions of blacks as threatening or
troublesome (Tittle 1994). The racial threat theory is empirically supported by
research on sentencing and incarceration rates. Strongest evidence for racially
differential treatment is found for some offenses and in some jurisdictions
rather than at the aggregate level. African Americans are at especially high
risk of incarceration, given their arrest rates, for drug crimes and burglary
When one walks through the black community one is more likely to find black men
that have been to prison as opposed to college. African Americans who are at
lower income are at a higher risk of going to prison. There is a lack of access
to proper education and also educational resources in the black community.  The

justice system has played a major role in
mass incarceration. The justice system hands out harsher sentences to black and
brown people.   “National Corrections Reporting Program (NCRP),
1983–1997 (BJS 2002). NCRP data provides information on all admitted and
released prisoners in 32–38 states. These data are used to calculate all
admissions from new court commitments between

Mass Incarceration and the Effects 6


July 16 and July 15 of the following year
with sentences of at least 1 year. We also identify all admissions during that
period that were discharged before July 15. Our adjustment factor, npx, is the
number of admissions divided by the number of admissions minus the number of

U.S. I INCARCERATION—–165 Prison has become a life event among black and brown
people.  In 1999 30 percent of black men
had gone to prison the numbers were as high as 60 percent for African American
men who were high school drop outs. AMERICAN S SOCIOLOGICAL REVIEW (2004) According
to the American Sociology Review “African American youth are 6 to 8 times more
likely to go to prison that whites.” AMERICAN S SOCIOLOGICAL REVIEW (2004) There
are clearly racial disparities within the prison system. Blacks with a lack of
education are at higher risk of incarceration. However, I don’t think that
education is the only component to mass incarceration among black and brown
people. “Research shows that over 90 percent of prisoners are men and of that
number black men are 6 to 8 times more likely to be incarcerated than whites.” AMERICAN
those that would argue that African Americans are being sent to prison at an
alarming rate due to the crimes that they commit particularly drug related
crimes. Studies show that African Americans with less education have fewer
economic opportunities and are also more likely to commit drug related crimes.  However, there are those that would argue that
there is racial component to the amounts of blacks that are being incarcerated.

crime—especially drug-related   crime—may
have fed the prison boom, but crime and imprisonment data indicate the
preeminent effect of crime control policy (Blumstein and Beck 1999; Boggess and
Bound 1997). Like research on crime, studies of criminal justice policy suggest
that race and class divisions in the risks of imprisonment have deepened. The
argument seems strongest for the war on drugs. Intensified criminalization of  drug use swelled state and federal prison
populations by escalating arrest rates, increasing the risk of imprisonment given
arrest, and lengthening sentences for drug crimes through the 1980s (Tonry
1995; Mauer 1999). Street sweeps, undercover operations, and other aggressive policing
efforts targeted poor black neighborhoods where drugs were traded in public and
the social networks of drug dealing were easily penetrated by narcotics off
icers (Tonry 1995:104–16). If poor black men were attracted to illegal drug
trade in response to the collapse of low-skill labor markets, the drug war raised
the risks that they would be caught, convicted and incarcerated.” AMERICAN S


Drugs, Incarceration, and HIV/AIDS Among African
American Men: A Critical Literature Review and Call to Action Bronwen Lichtenstein, PhD September
2009  in addition to massive incarceration rates
increasing among African American especially men, Lichtenstein  explains
that “Aids and Hiv  also disproportionately affect African
American men compared to the U.S. population as a whole. Disparities in
relation to crime and HIV/AIDS for Black men suggest that these phenomena have
elements in common, particularly given the mediating role of illicit drug use
or drug activities in both cases. A socioecological exploration of how and why
these twin epidemics intersect (and the role of drug-related activities as
mediating variables) is needed illicit drug use or to address the impact of
these epidemics on the health and well-being of  communities of color.” (Lichtenstein, September
2009) Often once incarcerated convicts can not obtain jobs or other federal
services. This leads to a higher recidivism rate and also rampant drug use in
the community.  “The role of
incarceration in this synergistic process begins with understanding how
incarceration of youth and adults differentially afflicts African

particularly those in low-income communities. 
The War on Drugs, a policy initiative of the Nixon administration
(1969-1974), had an immediate impact on such communities and on the nature of
incarceration in the United States, and is an example of new laws that compound
the distress  of disenfranchised groups”.
(Delgado & Stefancic, 2001).  Both
literature reivews state the high probability of African Americans and the risk
of incarceration for drug related crimes. This literature review focuses more
on the effects of mass incarceration on the health of African American men. The
other literature review focuses on the effects of mass incarceration on black
men without a higher education. Both articles argue that mass incarceration
effects African American communities negatively more than white and other
communities. ” Black men and their families will be deeply impacted by the
effects of mass incarceration.” “First,

Black men have
lost their voting rights after being imprisoned at a rate of 7 times the
national average (Fellner & Mauer, 1998). Second, their employment prospects
are severely affected by historically high rates of imprisonment, not only
because they are so often institutionalized, but because employers tend to
regard many African American males as suspect (Western, 2006). Holzer, Raphael,
and Stoll (2006); and Western and Pettit (2000) identified that employers are less
likely to employ Black men, including those who do not have a crime history.

(Lichtenstein, September
2009) I found it interesting that both articles really highlighted the
disparities between the incarceration rate for black and the incarceration rate
for whites. It is a real problem when African American communities are over
policed. The importance of education is obvious when it comes to avoiding
prison in the African American community. Since it is no longer legal to discriminate
against one because of their race, mass incarceration seems to be an effective
tool in legalizing discrimination. Mass incarceration is an effective tool to
oppress African American men and women with regards to education their mental
and physical health and well- being.  Neither
of the literature that I reviewed focused on African American women and the
mass incarceration rate among women. However, “Social science research has
identified that ecological factors play a role in criminal justice involvement

among African
American men. Roy (2004), for example, reported that young African American men
in urban neighborhoods are often targeted by police for searches and warrants
(the first steps in acquiring a police record), and that a heavy police
presence in these neighborhoods increased the risk of  arrest regardless of the youths’ actual
involvement in drug use or other crimes. In Freeman’s (1996) socioeconomic
study, the rise in criminal activity among young African American men
correlated with low legitimate earnings prospects, growing unemployment among
unskilled men, perceptions of low riskiness of crime, and desires to supplement
low paying work with money from selling drugs. Further,

Pettit and Western
(2004) and Western (2006) Drugs, Crime, and HIV/AIDS in Black Men / Lichtenstein
255 reported that declining wages among non college Black men over the past
20 years has increased the  risk of
imprisonment and that declines in social mobility for these men correlated with
reductions in military and educational opportunities that offset intergenerational
poverty until the 1980s. These authors suggested that mass incarceration of
young African  American men in the War on
Drugs has  become an independent indictor
of declining social

mobility and has
led to increased recidivism in a cycle of hopelessness.”  Alexander has argued exte4nsively that
studies show that there is not more drug use or even more crime in black
communities. Black communities are just over policed.   


Unwinding Mass Incarceration falseLobuglio,
Stefan F; Piehl, Anne
Morrison (Fall 2015)

focuses on the need to reduce the mass incarceration rate.  It has been argued that mass incarceration is
on the rise and most of the individuals that are imprisoned are imprisoned for
nonviolent crimes.  However, the article
that I reviewed stated that the majority of in state prisoners are incarcerated
for violent crimes.  According to, Lobuglio and Morrison “The United States Sentencing Commission and a growing
number of states have taken steps to reduce the disproportionate and
ineffective sentences adopted during the excesses of the “war on
drugs” at the end of the past century. The commission has applied some of
these reforms retroactively, and in July 2015 President Barack Obama extended
commutations to 46 federal prisoners whose prison terms would have been
completed had they been arrested under the new regime. We applaud these steps.
But there are many more incarcerated-2.2 million federal, state, and local
prisoners. What would it take to unwind mass incarceration on a broader scale?” false falseLobuglio,  Piehl, Morrison
(Fall 2015) So, there is a sense that there is an
acknowledgement that there needs to be steps towards reducing the number of
people who are mass incarcerated.