Systematic Oppression

Historically, the United States has used incarceration as its primary method of punishment or rehabilitation for those accused of crimes or offenses. Consequently, America has the highest documented incarceration rate globally. Within 2008, there was a record of 743 adults incarcerated per 100,000 people. (Mauer, & King, 2007). On January 1, 2009, an average of 1 in 100 adults found in the country were contained within the prison system.  The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics states that 2,266,800 adults were incarcerated in federal and state prisons (Mauer, & King, 2007). During 2011, approximately 4,814,200 adults at the end of the year were on probation or parole. A recent 2014 published report asserts that the prison population of the United States “is by far the largest in the world” (West, 2010). The statement above is a direct result of America housing one-quarter of the world’s prisoners. Similarly, in 2008, one in every 31 adults in the country was behind bars, or being monitored. Ironically, crime rates have decreased by 25 percent since the 1980s; however, the prison population has quadrupled. The United States Bureau of Justice Statistics declared that the black people accounted for 39 percent of the total prison and jail population in 2010 (Mauer, & King, 2007). This fact is amazing considering that the US Census Bureau states that blacks only comprise 13.6% of the United States population. This paper will discuss the disproportionate incarceration rates by blacks within the prison and jail system.

Currently, the United States has experienced a growth of its prison population. The population has quadrupled since 1980. This increase has continued primarily due to mandatory sentencing laws as a response to the war on drugs. Since 1970, the prison and jail population has grown exponentially within the United States. According to Marc Mauer and Ryan S. King (2007), prison rates have risen 500% within the past few decades, which results in an estimated 2.2 million people imprisoned nationally. This growth is accompanied by an ever increasingly disproportionate racial composition, which has led to high percentages of incarceration rates for African Americans, who now constitute 900,000 of the total 2.2 million incarcerated currently. Shockingly, data collected from the Bureau of Justice Statistics states that one in six black men has been incarcerated as of 2001 (Mauer, & King, 2007). If these trends continue, then it is expected that one in three black males will spend some time in prison during their lifetime. Admittedly, the occurrence of women being imprisoned is considerably smaller than men, but as a result systemic racism, black women are more likely to be incarcerated than white women and men.

It is easy to observe that minorities within the United States are imprisoned at rates many times higher than their white counterparts. During 2009, the incarceration rates amongst African American men were almost seven percent higher than those amongst white males (West, 2010). In other words, 4,749 African-American men were incarcerated compared to 708 white (West, 2010). It is important to mention that African American females were more than 3.5 times more likely to be imprisoned than their white counterpart. According to Mauer and King (2007), racial and ethnic disparities in incarceration rates are directly influenced by state and federal sentencing and drug policies.

Since 1980, incarceration rates amongst black and white men in most age groups have increased.  On most days with the year of 2010, almost one in ten black men were imprisoned (West, 2010). Furthermore, as a result of increased turnover rates among prison populations, studies suggest that more than ten percent of black men will spend time in prison or jail during their life. It is important to mention the increase in institutionalized among black men without a high school diploma. Surprisingly, by 2010, nearly one-third of black men that dropped out of high school were imprisoned.

The American prison and jail system is defined by deeply ingrained racial disparity within its population. The national incarceration rate for whites is 412 per 100,000 residents, comparable to 2,290 for African Americans, and 742 for Hispanics (West, 2010). It is easy to observe that people of color are extremely overrepresented within the US prison system. African Americans and Latinos constitute thirty percent of the US population and 60 percent of its prisoners. Similarly, people of color are more likely to serve time in private prisons, which are reported to have higher levels of violence and recidivism.




Mauer, M., & King, R. S. (2007). Uneven Justice:State Rates of Incarceration By Race and Ethnicity. The Sentencing Project.

West, H.C. (2010). Prison Inmates at Midyear 2009 – Statistical Tables. Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics, Office of Justice Programs, Department of Justice.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s