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Mass Incarceration And African Americans: Racism, Bias And Conflicts – Free Essay Example


This paper will be set up to explain how African Americans are targets for arrest and makes up majority of the prison’s population. This paper will explain many different reasonings as to why this occurs, and the effect that this issue has on people, more specifically African American people. This paper will mention and explain a theoretical framework that can possibly explain the issue at hand. Conflict Theory is used to explain why African Americans face this problem.

Mass Incarceration and African Americans

In the United States, more African Americans are imprisoned and incarcerated than any other race (NAACP. N.D). Even with laws setup to stop discrimination, African American people still face this misfortune. The black community faces discrimination with several instances; however, this is one of the most prominent areas in which the intolerance is faced, especially today. Most people will argue that if you commit a crime, you go to prison, it doesn’t matter what color you are. People would like to believe this to be true, but the racial disparities in incarceration are statistically sound. Though African American people only make up about 12% of the United States population, they constitute for 33 % of jail, or prison inmates (Pew Researcher, 2019). “The imprisonment rate for African American women is twice that of white women, and African American children represent 32% of children who are arrested (NAACP, N.D).” Although the racial and ethnic gap is shrinking in the US prison population, people of color continue to be disproportionately policed, incarcerated, and sentenced to death more often than whites. This is the highest percentage of a race that is incarcerated, being that the number of black people imprisoned is 2,306 per every 100,000, compared to just hundreds per every 100,000 for other races (Census, N.D). The mass incarceration of black people is confined of the unjust acts of police officers, judges and juries. It is questionable whether the incarceration of black people is another form of a setback, or even an enforcement of slavery in this “free country”. When one turns on the tv and sees that almost daily an unarmed African American has been shot, this type of inquiry is posed.

The main things to look at in this paper is why are African Americans targeted by police officers, what are the odds of being incarcerated if your African American and what percentage of African Americans make up most of the prison’s population. From research, it believes that people who come from disadvantages families and poor up brings, are normally the ones that make up for the mass incarcerations. The people who are coming from these disadvantage families are typically minorities.

It’s important to find the coloration between African Americans and mass incarceration because African Americans are targeted a lot when it comes to arrests and prison population. In other worlds, given a scenario where an African American and a white man gets pulled over with a little amount of marijuana, the African American male would be more likely to get arrested and charged for this offense than the white male. Why is this so? Some will argue because of racism, and from researching, they may be right. “We find that in 2010 there were 161 counties spread across 31 states where the incarcerated Black population outnumbers the number of free Blacks (Census, 2019).” This shows a clear perspective of how African Americans make up the majority of mass incarceration.

In an article obtained, the authors explain how African Americans are targets when it comes to arrest and put into prison. “In just the last forty years, imprisonment has been transformed from an event experienced by only the most marginalized to a common stage in the life course of American men–especially Black men with low levels of educational attainment (Lee, Hicken, 2015). African American people have suffered for many years being thrown into prison. As of today, African Americans make up most of the prison’s population.

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This article helps explain the main point of this paper because in the article it gives details and information on the history of mass incarceration as it has to do with African Americans. Also, this article is filled with numbers and statistics that can be used to help explain the position in the article. “Most provocatively, we show that 44% of Black women (and 32% of Black men) but only 12% of White women (and 6% of White men) have a family member imprisoned (Lee, 2015)”.

In another article that was found, the author talks about finding the issue with mass incarceration in regard to African Americans males in the United States. Four question are brought up throughout this article and they are “(1) How do individuals perceive culture influences the high levels of incarceration among African American men? (2) What are structures that individuals believe influence the high levels of incarceration among African American men? (3) What role do individuals believe they or others have in contributing to this problem? What agency do individuals believe they or others have in addressing this problem? (4) What are some communications strategies that individuals believe can be/should be employed in order to address this problem? (Peck, 2015)”

This article is helpful because it points out the problems that are associated with mass incarceration and how African Americans are constantly targeted by it. This article is filled with usable information that will support the topic of the paper. “According to Unlocking America, if African Americans and Hispanics were incarcerated at the same rates as whites, today’s prison and jail populations would decline by approximately 50% (Peck, 2015)”.

Racism and the Criminal Justice System

Statistics prove that African Americans are the main race that is targeted. Although racial profiling does happen within other ethnicities it seems to be the most prominent in the African American community. In 2015, about 26% of Americans who were fatally shot and killed by police officers were African American. 93% of men shot at are African American. Existing research shows that as of 2015, black drivers are at 4.5%, about twice as likely as a white driver at 2.1% to be arrested during a traffic stop. Hispanics (65%) are more likely than Caucasians (56.2%) or African Americans (55.8%) to receive a ticket. Caucasians (9.7%) are more likely than Hispanics (5.9%) to receive a written warning (Vittiana, N.D). The University of California’s professor Davis found that the probability of being black, unarmed and shot by the police is about 3.49 times the probability of that for a Caucasian. This information provides proof that this issue has been taking place and getting worst for a number of years. It is clear that a specific community of people are being targeted but the event will be constantly excused due to authority.

Implicit Bias of Police Officers

The Implicit Association Test (IAT), proved that police officers associate black people with threat, and even more so when they have not had a good amount of sleep (James, 2018). Considering the long, tiring shifts that police officers have, this data means that it is likely that police will pair the negative stigma to black people. It has almost become a norm to see an unarmed black male in the news that has been shot and killed by a police officer or hear of an African American person getting a harsh sentence for little crimes. In almost all of these occurrences, the police end up not guilty. On March 18th, 2018 Stephon Clark, an African American male, was shot eight times by two police officers that claimed his cell phone “looked like a gun”. The most disturbing part about this isn`t only that he had a cellphone and no weapon, but he was killed in his own backyard. Even after clear findings and no evidence of a gun, the Police Officers Association is claiming innocence of the officers, stating that this was “justified” because Stephon took a “shooting stance”. It is shocking to hear the officers are claiming innocents when this man was clearly innocent, but his black skin is what really makes him guilty. With data from the IAT, we can see that a police officer`s implicit bias was present in the case of Stephon Clark. The prejudice that stems through implicit bias could be the reason that from 2015 to 2017, 72 unarmed black males were shot and killed by police.

Prison Sentencing of Blacks vs Whites

In comparison to cases with whites vs. blacks, more blacks end up guilty for the same thing, or less, that a white person was not guilty for. Comparable cases that involving disparities in both; race and socioeconomic status was Brock Turner, a white man and former Stanford University student athlete was found guilty in March 2016 of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman on campus was sentenced to six months in jail and three years’ probation because the judge thought it would leave a negative impact on this student athlete (swimmer) but Brian Banks, an African American student athlete at Long Beach Polytechnic High School was accused by a fellow student of rape. He accepted a plea deal to avoid a 41 year prison sentence, serving almost 10 years of that sentence before being released because the accuser was later recorded admitting that the sexual contact was consensual and that she made it all up so her mother wouldn’t find out that she was sexually active. The mere fact that Brock Turner came from a family who was able to afford legal representation and Brian Banks had to accept the court appointment attorney because unlike Brock, he didn’t have the means to pay show that there is an economic disparity when it comes to fighting cases and sentencing. Brock Turner was caught raping a female, with definite proof, but only faced six months of prison because he was a good student athlete, but of course Brian Banks, who is also an exceptional athlete was sentenced to prison for years for a false accusation of rape. Without as much evidence as Brock Turner`s case, this gentleman still faced more time in prison than Brock Turner, even as an innocent man. There is no explanation as to why, or how something like this could even happen, except the fact that one was white and got a better treatment, one was black and got discriminated against, and the criminal justice system is set up to target African Americans. Though Banks was fortunate enough to be given a second chance, he still must face the agony and despair of being another black male imprisoned.

In addition, when whites are in trial for something like mass murder, they are defended with the presumption that their actions were caused by a mental illness, whereas if a black person were to do such a behavior, they would likely be treated as if they were ‘normal’, without any mental illnesses. For an example, a Georgia cop was arrested for killing an unarmed black man, where he was acquitted from the murder charge because he was going through a mental illness episode. This is not the first case where a white man has shot or killed minorities and the topic of mental illness is almost always the first thing thrown out there, and with African Americans that is rarely ever a factor. The sad truth is that many black people do face mental illness, yet this has never been enough to halt any conviction.

More recent than this case is the case with the white man who killed 4 people in a Waffle House restaurant. This white man was granted a 2-million-dollar bond, which was eventually taken away after complaints amongst many. Even with a negative history of constant wrongdoings. Had this been a black male, he would not have been treated with as much sympathy and compassion by the cops, and judges as this white man was. “Non-Hispanic blacks and Hispanics in the United States are more likely to be incarcerated than non-Hispanic whites (Vogel, 2016)

Conflict theory

There are many theories to explain racial disparity within the criminal justice system. One theoretical framework used to explain why African Americans are targets for arrest and make up most of the prison population is Conflict Theory. Conflict theory suggest that crime in any society is caused by class conflict and that laws are created by those in power to protect their rights and interests (Flynn, 2019). Coined by German scholars Karl Marx, George Simmel, and Max Weber, Conflict theory is the most popular theory mentioned when explaining race and crime. “When applying conflict theory and race and crime one would look to whether the enforcement of laws and the distribution of punishment are done in a discriminatory manner (Flynn, 2019).” For an example if one wanted to see how conflict theory explains the mass incarceration rate of African Americans in today society, you can see how laws and the criminal justice system is set up to target African Americans. In America, African Americans are viewed as threats, criminals, and etc. and would be more likely to be arrested for a crime than a white person. According to Du Bois, he believed that some states strategically enacted various laws to snare blacks into the criminal justice system so they can be returned to the labor force, which helped maintain the power and privileged status of Southern white landowners (Flynn, 2019).

Conflict theory holds that law and the mechanisms of its enforcement are used by dominant groups in society to minimize threats to their interests posed by those whom they label as dangerous, especially minorities and the poor (Flynn, 2019). That’s why in society you’ll see or hear about incidents were white officers shot or killed a black man or women because they felt threatening. According to statistics, if a white and black man was to get pulled over for the same violation, the black man will receive a much harder sanction then the white man who done the same thing.


Racial disparity in the Criminal Justice System and the constant target of African Americans by police officers is something that has been going on for a long time and something that is continuing to happen. Africans Americans has to face the fact that no matter what they do, they will be seen as a threat and targeted by the system. Conflict theory explains why Africans Americans are the targets of this misfortune which turns out to be because the government and the criminal justice system creates and enforce rules that are set out to target them. For the future, people are working on ways to fix this problem and to find a way to make rules and regulations that don’t only target African Americans, but it is fair for everyone. In an article that was found, the author talks about the framework of racial disparity reform policymaking. “A racial disparity reform is a policy that seeks to reduce distinctions in criminal justice institutions’ treatment of racial groups (Donnelly, 2017)”. This article focusses on discussing way to make sure that there is not racial disparity in the prison and to find ways to better make sure every group of people in prison get treated fairly and they all get treated the same way.

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