America’s prison system: a perversion of justice


Dario McCarty, Entertainment Editor

Navigating the woes of poverty is one thing; avoiding ensnarement by the tangled web of ideologies that defines our criminal justice system is quite another. America, the Land of the Free, accounts for a little less than 5 percent of the world’s population — and 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated population (per the American Civil Liberties Union). Rather than trying to offer rehabilitative or preventative help to those convicted, our criminal justice system shackles poor communities to the ever-cycling mill of poverty.

This nation’s mass incarceration is predicated upon centuries of subjugation and plundering of minorities, but it is largely built on the backs of the “tough-on-crime” politics of the 1990’s—more specifically, Bill Clinton’s 1994 Crime Bill. Clinton’s crime bill, which featured harsher sentencing laws and an allocation of large tracts of cash to police militarization, compounded an already budding incarceration issue. For this reason, it is incredibly troubling to see our administration push for the death penalty for drug dealers.

“We will not hesitate to bring a death penalty when it’s appropriate for drug traffickers,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said.

This line of thinking is a trail we have followed before, and it led us to the world’s biggest incarceration crisis in history. It was this exact type of overt penalization policy that caused thousands of low-level drug users to shoulder the full brunt of state power, leaving a littering of ravaged families in its wake. Sessions’ inclusion of the words “when it’s appropriate” is especially perturbing, leaving a lot available to interpretation. When dealing in the currency of men’s lives, nothing should be left up to a single individual’s discretion. If we support this kind of totalitarian ideology, the very fabric of our country stands to be stained with the blood of the accused.

Even more damning are the statistics surrounding race and incarceration. According to a United Nations Human Rights committee report, one in every 3 black males born today will end up in prison at some point in their lives, one in every 6 Latinos, but only one in every 17 white males. Every discussion of mass incarceration is headlined by the same racist dog whistles that try and pin the issue on black and brown communities; what about black crime rates? What about what’s happening in Chicago? What about Baltimore? The truth is destitution and poverty in these inner city areas is sewn into their identities by the threads of over 350 years of institutionalized racism. From slavery to redlining to a war on drugs which specifically targeted minorities, it shouldn’t be a mystery how conditions have deteriorated as much as they have in these poorer areas. If those who so-often peddle this propaganda actually cared about this issue, they would try and resolve the problem at hand through some sort of reparations, instead of a side-long mention when it’s politically expedient.

What’s more is that the existence of this racist lens that our criminal justice system adorns is tangibly provable. In the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 9.5% of whites were reported to have used drugs in the past month, compared to 10.5% of African Americans had reported using drugs in the past month—a whole 1 percent difference! So, whilst African Americans and whites use drugs at similar rates, the imprisonment rate of African Americans for drug charges is almost six times that of whites.