Description: The title pretty much says it all in this one. This paper
addresses the issue of blacks in prison and explores the socio-economic causes and solutions. This paper uses many overmentally commissioned reports.
Blacks, Prison, and Institutional Racism
Criminal justice and security is one of the largest industries in the United States. Such a statistic is (and rightly so) of great concern to Afro-Americans because a disproportionate percentage of individuals under the control of the US Criminal Justice System are from the Black community. This paper will look at the alarming statistics and attempt to trace the roots of the disparity. It will then consider the affects and explore possible solutions to the expanding problem.
The Imprisoned Black Youth
Black communities throughout the U.S. are witnessing the institutionalization of their youth. Of course institutionalization is nothing new to Afro-Americans, it is something Blacks have faced since their existence in this country. In the beginning Blacks were forced into the institution of slavery. After the abolition of slavery Blacks faced institutional racism, that is, racism legitimated by the whole of society directed against the few of society. As a facet of that institutional racism Blacks are now forced to persevere the increasing trend of control by the US Criminal Justice System. Control by the USCJS includes the probation, parole, imprisonment, and death of Blacks. A study conducted by the Sentencing Project in 1989 found tat more than one-fourth of all Blacks between the age of 20 and 29 are under the control of the USCJS . This alarming figure becomes more so when you consider their are more Blacks in prison in this age group than their are all Blacks in college . This clearly reveals what is meant by the institutionalization of our Black youth. Black communities are being legally robbed of their youth by a system that locks up those who pose a threat to the status quo of institutional racism. The consequences of this are detrimental indeed. The children are the future, but what future does a community have whose children are all locked up. By virtue of robbing the Black community of their youth, the USCJS robs Black communities of their future leaders and role models . With such a condition at hand entire communities are lost and the ills of the urban ghettos are augmented. To help explain why Blacks are being locked up, and what part of imprisonment plays in institutional racism it would be helpful to first look at the roots of institutional racism.
Institutional Racism And It's Roots
Institutional racism was a term first coined by Stokley Carmichael in his book Black Power. Concerning racism, Carmichael and co-author Charles V. Hamilton made the following observation:
Racism is both overt and covert. It takes two, closely related forms; individual Whites acting against individual Blacks, and acts by the total of White community against the Black community. We call these individual racism and institutional racism.
The authors go on to state that it is the covertness of the second type, the institutional racism, that makes it so dangerous. Because institutional racism is less obvious and it is less apparent were it is emanating from (and it is emanating from everywhere) creeps up on you and overwhelms you when you are not looking . Institutional racism, though coined by Carmichael, existed long before it was conceived of in Black Power. As I have stated it has existed since Blacks were first brought to this country. The leaders of early America sought intentionally to oppress Blacks and do so legally. Of course back then they did not bother with probation, parole or even long prison sentences. Back then Blacks who went against the grain and objected to his treatment in even the slightest was simply killed. Public lynching were a crowd drawer and a crowd pleaser in the early American South. Blacks were not imprisoned as much because they were seen as either useful our useless. A good "field hands" or "house niggers" tended to their chores, did as they were told, and never caused a problem, and were therefore worth their weight in gold. An "uppity nigger" was no good to anyone and was either beaten into submission or put to death . This reveals a very important aspect about the imprisonment of Blacks today. During the period of slavery in the US Blacks were needed as workers and were therefore used as so . What are Blacks needed for now? Despite the many accomplishments of such great inventors as Granville T. Woods and Benjamin Bannicker, it would seem that White society would have no use for Blacks. During the period of slavery Blacks deemed useless were killed. In today's society Blacks are less often killed, but are very often imprisoned. And by virtue of doing so Blacks are again used. As I stated in the beginning criminal justice and security is one of the largest industries in the US. The prison system is a multi-billion dollar industry and it is rapidly increasing. So in an attempt to isolate and control the pariah, the poor Black, an economic niche was filled. There is almost an incentive to lock up Blacks because in doing so two birds are killed with one stone; the threat to status quo and its members is contained and a buck is made in the process. It seems the US has matriculated very little from the barbarism of the early 19th century. Again White society is using Blacks for economic gain, again the system is legitimated and legalized by the US Government, and again the burden on Blacks is severely great.
The Value Of Black Life
Slavery in the 90's? A scary, but none the less real condition. But what about when Blacks go beyond their usefulness. What about when the threat that Blacks pose is a greater consideration than the economic prosperity they bring? Just as in the period of slavery Blacks are killed. A study conducted by the United States General Accounting Office (USGAO) found that the death of Whites was the single greatest determinant in imposing capital punishment . In other words, you are more likely to be legally killed, if you murder a White man than if you kill a Black man. It would seem then that the value of a White life is diametrically greater than that of a Black life. To fully understand this you must look at it from all vantage points. If you kill a White you are worth more dead; if you kill a Black you are worth more alive. Another way to view the perceived greater wealth of a White life is this: a White man who kills a Black man has a greater chance of living. A Black man who kills a White man has a greater chance of dying. From every vantage point the value of White life is greater than that of Black life. This is the single most fundamental aspect of institutional racism. The belief that White life is greater than Black life is the source of the problem. So much effort is put into maintaining this status quo that Blacks find themselves time and time again put in the position of subjection they are in today, and have been in since they first arrived in the United States 400 years ago.
Looking For Solution
Solutions to the problem of the institutionalization of Black youth will not come easy. To plea for White society to stop imprisoning our future leaders would likely fall on deaf ears. Most leaders do not look past their term of government so they take the time to consider the long term implications of their legislation. In other words, leaders do not consider the results of having the future leaders of the Black communities imprisoned.
Also most do not care. In the sentencing project it was pointed out that the "get tough" approach to crime in which there was an increase of arrests, convictions and lengthy sentences has decreased victimization rates less than 5% since 1973 . Despite the statistics the "get tough" trend, which is disproportionately aimed against Blacks, has continued. What I feel the only solution is, degrading as it may be, is for Blacks to prove their worth. Blacks must prove that they are worth something to White society beyond the economic niche they help fill in prison. Blacks must prove that they are a benefit which Whites cannot do without. Once We have established ourselves as benefactors then We can begin to break down the walls of institutional racism, stop the digression of our communities, and truly advance.