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Is Incarceration Becoming a New Form of Segregation?

Incarceration or Segregation?

Your name no longer matters. You no longer matter. Inmate 3846229 is who you are now, and the sad thing about it isn’t that you’re incarcerated; it’s that you became another statistic. Incarceration is becoming a popular trend in the criminal justice system. But what is the criminal justice system? It is a system of law enforcement that is directly involved in apprehending, prosecuting, defending, sentencing, and punishing those who are suspected or convicted of criminal offenses. By this definition, trials, treatment and punishments are equally distributed within ethnic groups, social classes, and economic standings. More often than not, this is not the case. It seems the poverty stricken minorities are the ones that suffer the most. In learning this, I have come to the conclusion that equal treatment through the current criminal justice system is becoming a struggle for minorities.

Sentencing for criminal cases is becoming more and more biased, depending upon your race. It is found that sentences imposed on males who are also minorities are 20-percent longer on average than those imposed on white males convicted of the same crime. A prime example of this is the Brock Turner case. The 20-year-old Stanford attendee was charged with the rape of an intoxicated and unconscious woman. Turner was facing up to 14 years in prison, but received only six-months in county jail, and was required to register as a sex offender. The judge responsible for the sentencing, Judge Aaron Persky, said the reasoning behind Turner’s light punishment was that he felt that prison time would affect Turner greatly, and that he saw Turner as virtually harmless. A few months later, Raul Ramirez, a 32-year-old immigrant, was also accused of sexually assaulting a woman. His case was almost identical to Turner’s. He, like Turner, also had Persky as his judge. The only thing different about these two cases were the people involved. Different races, different income levels, different social standings in society. Turner white, young, privileged, and a very promising athlete seemed almost superior to the Latino immigrant Ramirez, who was barely, if even, middle-class. While Turner only received 6 months in county jail, Ramirez received 3 years in prison. Same crime, same judge, yet different time. This is just one example of how two similar cases can have two very different outcomes. And it didn’t go unnoticed. People around the world saw the difference and became outraged. Now, just imagine when you add the percentages of other crimes committed. That small outrage now turns into a whole group of people asking for a reform in the criminal justice system.

Those in opposition to the idea that the criminal justice system treats minorities unfairly could argue that our criminal justice system gives everyone the chance for a fair trial. They might even throw in the fact that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. This is the truth, and I am not saying these practices are not carried out, but try and consider how fair of a chance minorities are getting when they are being racially profiled before they even speak a word to an officer. Though the criminal justice system tries its best to follow the rules when it comes to these things, often more than non-bias is shown. In certain situations where social status, economic standing and race play a more important part in sentencing than justice for the crime committed, we really have to think about ways to stop the racial disparities from happening.

If the incarceration rates of minorities continue to grow year-by-year, eventually the minorities will scarcely be found. In 2010, about 1.6 million people were incarcerated in the United States; about 497 out of 100,000 people (this is about half of 1 percent) were incarcerated. If you divvy up the population by race, you see the dramatic differences in incarceration rates. Whites make up about 64 percent of the population, but only about 31 percent are incarcerated. African Americans make up about 14 percent of society, but 36 percent of the prison population. Hispanics are 16 percent of the population but 24 percent of total people incarcerated. In addition to this, African Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated people. The minorities suffer the most. More than half of the small percentage of their populations are incarcerated. More than half of those people are in prison on some form of illegal drug possession. Not murder, not rape, not burglary: just drug possession. And this alone lands them two years and a state felony, at minimum, or a life sentence and an enhanced felony, for more serious cases.

The evidence is all there. The criminal justice system is slowly coming to a point where minorities are being treated unfairly. The numbers don’t lie. They are incarcerated more often, for longer sentencing periods, with less of a chance to get early release and probation. Some contributions to this problem are inner-city crime (prompted by social and economic isolation), an increased focus on crime, policies from the war on drugs and the three-strikes-habitual-offender policies. As you can see, a compelling case has been laid out in front of you. To say that the criminal justice system is not being unfair to minorities and needs no form or reconstruction is ridiculous. We spend so much time saying there is no more injustice in the world, yet we ignore the fact there actually is. The moment we bring attention to all the inequality in the world is the moment we can start doing something about it. 

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