Incarceration Nation

Black Men In Jail

Black men in America are incarcerated at higher rate than Black men under South African apartheid

By April V. Taylor

Nearly forty percent of the 2.2 million Americans in prison are Black men. This amounts to one out of every nine Black men between the ages of 20 and 34, meaning one in three Black men will be imprisoned at some point in their lifetimes. Beginning in the 1970s, statutes meant to lower crimes rates and deter the drug trade facilitated the explosion of the U.S. prison population, with most of the increase coming from nonviolent drug offenses.

Half of the federal prison population has been sentenced for drug crimes, with more than a fourth of those being marijuana related. In 1970, only 16 percent of inmates had been sentenced for drug crimes.

A new piece from Antonio Moore entitled “Mass Incarceration’s Failure”1 takes a closer look at the numbers behind the United States unprecedented level of incarceration and reveals that more than 800,000 inmates in the U.S. are Black men, representing a 500 percent increase since 1980.

Something few experts have paid direct attention to is the fact that, as Moore puts it, Black men have become the “sacrificial lamb” used to cover the shortfall between the number of prison-beds states are contractually obligated to fill and the fact that “as a society we don’t commit enough crimes to service the prison population numbers the states agreed upon in these contracts.” This has led to Black men in America being incarcerated at a rate of 10,000 per 100,000 when the number of Black men incarcerated during Apartheid was just 851 per 100,000.

Just as apartheid was the result of systemic oppression, the disparities in incarceration rates for Black men is the result of systemic oppression and bias that takes the form of disproportionate arrests, convictions and sentencing of Black men. As Columbia University professor Marc Lamont Hill points out, Black men are not more prone to go to prison, and mass incarceration is not the result of “some kind of cultural poverty. The fact is Black people are targeted to go to prison more.”

As Moore points out, the humanity of Black men is belittled by every aspect of the criminal justice system. “The immense gap in levying of punishment plays a major role in our social decision of who is prone to criminal behavior, even before an act is ever committed. It effects who gets stopped and frisked allowing an officer to find their common possession level drug crime, and who does not. Who is seen as integral to the home as a parent and given probation, and who is not. Who is seen as safe, and who is not. Effectively, who is seen as a valuable part of our society, and who is deemed expendable. Imprisonment inequity is one of the foundational pillars of the American mass incarceration model. In a growing sense, fairness for all seems more illusory than actual.”

KultureKritic, August 9, 2015

1 Huffington Post, August 4, 2015