As I write this Blog I feel a need to explain who I am and why I write of the topics I do. I am a 57-year-old, white, over-weight, married, self-proclaimed “Conservative” and “civil rights advocate”. If you are a regular reader of my blog you would probably question the tag “conservative”. I know I do. Over the past few years, as the “conservative movement” has moved farther and farther to the right and become intolerant of any ideas that do not match theirs, I find myself at an ever-expanding divided between their ideals and my personal beliefs. Instead of following my marching orders and getting in line with the views of a few ideologues in leadership I have actually began to listen, question and attempt to learn the truth. What has become ever more clear to me is the amount of injustice in the world and the ability of society as a whole to ignore it and claim everything is good. It’s NOT! There are fundamental beliefs in the world that are born of ignorance, unquestioning loyalties and hate that have proliferated to drive many of societies problems today. Until we as human beings, can understand that all men (and women) are created equal and have certain unalienable rights, then we will forever fall short of the potential of our race, the human race.
The United States of America is home to only 5% of the world’s population yet houses 25% of all inmates in prison. There are several things that may be responsible for this figure which I am not going to discuss today. What I am going to discuss is the inequities within this population of inmates within the United States.
According to the National Bureau of Prison Statistics, in US prisons, African-Americans are incarcerated at a rate 5.1 times greater than whites. In Federal prisons 37.6% of the population is African-American and 33.8% Latino while the two groups make up only 21.3% of the total US population. Native Americans make up 2% of the prison inmates while they represent only 1.1% of the population. Inversely, whites make up 25% of the prison population while representing 63.7% of Americas population. In 11 states 1 in every 20 African-American adult males are imprisoned. In the worst state, Oklahoma the incarceration rate is 1 in 15 for adult African-American males. A national story reported that African-American males received 20% to 50% longer sentences, for the same crimes as their white counterparts.
The easy answer for this, the conservative answer is African-Americans and Latinos commit more crimes. I do not dispute this although that still doesn’t explain the longer sentences. As I stated above, ignoring the truth is one of our fundamental faults. It would be easy to accept the fact that African-Americans and Latinos commit more crimes, therefore are incarcerated more and be done with it. IF that is true, the real question is “Why do African-Americans and Latinos commit more crimes?” African-Americans and Latinos are not genetically predisposed to commit crime.
Several things drive these statistics. A few are:
- Racial Prejudice
- Un or Under Employment
Racial prejudice accounts for the different treatment after a crime is committed. The Huffington Post reported that although drug use is reported as the same in white, African-American and Latino populations, African-Americans and Latinos are 12 times more likely to be imprisoned for the same crimes. Some of this disparity might be due to economic reasons and a greater percent of whites able to afford legal council. SOME of it, not all. Racial Prejudice plays a major role. Preconceived notions of minorities sway juries and judges to make different determinations in these cases. The fact that African-Americans serve 20% to 50% longer for comparable crimes directly points toward prejudice. Society has preconceived beliefs of minorities and acts on those notions.
Economics is also a root cause. Desperation, by definition leads people to desperate acts, including crime. The latest US Census reported that while 8.7% of Caucasians lived in poverty, 21.2% of African-Americans and 18.3% of Latinos are impoverished. The hopelessness of life when impoverished will often lead to crime. What is their to lose when you have nothing. Prison at least means a warm bed and three meals a day. A father, unable to feed his children will go to any length to provide for them. Crime can offer a way out. The ongoing, day-to-day desperation of poverty is only understood by those that experience it. To know each day that tomorrow only offers more of the pain and suffering of today offers no hope for tomorrow. Stealing, dealing drugs and crime offer a way out. Something that would never be contemplated in normal situations but in the desperation of poverty appears the only way to survive.
Employment opportunities is another factor. For third quarter of 2018 unemployment rates for all males were; Caucasians 3.2%, African Americans 6.5%, Hispanic and Latino 3.8% . While these are some of the lowest rates in several years it still illustrates the disparate distribution for minorities. This also does not take into account underemployment, or jobs with low pay and no benefits which compounds the issue. With no job there is no income. People are forced to look to hand outs and programs for their very survival. For some, a life of crime and independence of hand outs is preferred. During economic downturns the disparity increases. During recessions African-American unemployment increases by 6.4% while Caucasians increase at a rate of 4.3%. This is called the “First Hired, Last Hired” phenomenon.
In 2015 the unemployment rate of African-Americans with no high school diploma was 26% while that of Caucasians was 12%. The lack of a basic high school education directly impact the availability and quality of jobs. It is hard for many minorities to see any value of an education. They see graduates still struggling to find jobs and earn a reasonable living. At the same time they see the financial windfalls offered by crime. College is often seen as the impossible dream for many minority youths and not a path to follow. For many, the role models representing the benefits of a good education are too few. The situation perpetuates itself.
The underlying obstacles to the problem seem insurmountable. The government has made feeble attempts over the years to address this problem. The true solutions lie with the acceptance of the very causes to the problem. Until society as a whole will take responsibility for these underlying causes there will be no solution. It will continue to be a vicious circle, forever perpetuating itself. Until we admit the root causes of disparate incarceration of minorities, no prison reform will ever influence the outcome. When we all admit to the problems faced by minorities in the world and take responsibilities for our own actions, we will start making our world a better place for everyone.