The issue of mass incarceration due to drug-related crimes is a highly debated topic, especially in the United States of America because of the prevailing statistics. Today, the U.S. has 5% of the world’s total population, but at least 25% of this populace is incarcerated (Drug Policy Alliance, 2018). Indeed, the U.S. is the country that imprisons most people globally. While the rate of incarceration in the country is a problem, the debate delves further into the issue of race because people of color, particularly men; have an unusually high rate of incarceration; a statistic that is associated with the misguided laws on the war on drugs accompanied with harsh sentences. Although reports indicate that the frequency of drug use and sales among all races is relatively the same, there is a huge disparity in the criminalization of the users, whereby blacks and Latinos are more likely to be incarcerated or reprimanded than their white counterparts. Therefore, it is difficult to term the trend as a mere coincidence because it appears as if it is systematic marginalization on these minority groups.
Currently, African American men have a twenty-nine percent chance of going to prison while their Latino male counterparts have a sixteen percent chance and their white counterparts have a four percent chance. Although whites have made up majority of the population up until recent years, blacks have outweighed numbers in the prison system as the black male comprises about 55% of persons convicted for drug possession, 35% of those detained for drug possession, and 74% of individuals seized for drug possession (Alexander & West, 2012). Moreover, the skewed drug enforcement pattern continues to have a catastrophic effect on these minority groups, particularly African American men. Between the age of 20-29, one in three African Americans are presently either on probation, prison, or parole (Alexander & West, 2012). Hence, one in every five African American men have been convicted of a felony before. It is also estimated that within seven states, about eighty to ninety percent of the population serving time for drugs are blacks.
Likewise, the statistics for Latinos is also alarming. It was discovered that even though Latinos are around twelve percent of the population and sell and use drugs less than Caucasians, they represented 46% of those charged in 1999 for any federal drug transgression. As time has progressed, people of color have continued to be the primary focus of anti-drug guidelines and rhetoric. At the start of the 20th century, drug lords managed to paint a picture that African Americans were highly involved in the drug business, as “king-pins” and “dope dealers”. In 1930, nearly sixteen states had managed to deny the growing of marijuana since the main target was the Mexican society who had flooded the job market in the U.S. (Alexander & West, 2012). The formation of the Boggs Act ensured that there were stringent measures in a response to opium that was being ferried from Asia.
Since New York wanted to attain stricter drug laws, they enacted the Rockefeller drug legislation and after a quarter century, which ninety-four percent of the people who had been apprehended were Latino and African Americans. By the year 1980, the relationship between crime, drugs, and minorities had been firmly cemented in the “War on Drugs” that was revamped by Regan’s hysteria about crack (Alexander & West, 2012). In addition, the media hysteria concerning the unconfirmed crack widespread amid African Americans prompted the passing of the draconian minimum sentencing of legislation on crack cocaine by president Bill Clinton. Even though this drug had been linked to mostly white users, these issues managed to remain light when it came to prosecution and harsh sentencing on white counterparts. Ultimately, race allowed for society to evade the trade-off between societies demand to get tough on crime and its demand to retain civil rights, through unequal implementation of the law; which allowed for blacks to be targeted and marginalized.
Additionally, the war on drugs was never focused on rooting out violent offenders or drug kingpins. However, it is important to note that federal funding flows to agencies that focus on prioritizing private institutions, which dramatically increase the number of drug arrest on minority groups. Therefore, it is clearly evident that the reward of the war was offered to institutions that retained the highest incarceration rates. Besides, the federal drug forfeiture legislation permits local and state enforcement agencies to keep eighty-percent of the money, homes, and cars that are seized from the drug suspects, allowing law enforcement to directly profit in the drug market.
Therefore, it has been predicted that people of color are more likely to be apprehended for non-violent and minor drug offenses. In 2005, four out of five drug related cases were pertaining to possession charges, while just one out of five was about sales (Alexander & West, 2012). Furthermore, it was apparent that most people of color who were arrested and sentenced to state prison had no history of violence. In the 1990s, about eighty-percent of the increase in drug arrest were related to marijuana, a drug that was considered to be less harmful than tobacco or alcohol.
Primarily, the effects of the systematic marginalization of race in mass incarceration were severe, and detrimental to the black communities as many of their head-of-household and providers were being hauled off to jail and prison for very long sentences. One of the largest effects of mass incarceration was and still is the destruction of families. For example, statistics indicate that an estimated 2.7 million children are growing up in homes with one or both parents in prison (Drug Policy Alliance, 2018). Furthermore, two-thirds of these parents are imprisoned for offenses that are not related to violence, with a large percentage of these guardians being incarcerated for the violations of drug laws.
A study comparison of black, Latinos, and white parents who are imprisoned revealed that 1 in 9 African American children (11.4%), 1 in 28 Hispanic children (3.5%), and 1 in 57 white children (1.8%) in the United States have an incarcerated parent. (Drug Policy Alliance, 2018). It is unfortunate that children suffer the consequences of a system that depicts inequality, affecting the quality of life and the sense of touch and belonging that a child needs from having both parents present. Thus, it is necessary that these consequences are discussed and used to support the debate on the need to create equality within the justice system or at the very least prevent discriminatory treatment of individuals based on race or the color of their skin.
Moreover, the consequences of mass incarceration extend to the collateral factors that are associated with an extended form of punishment as a directive of the criminal justice system. Notably, incarcerated individuals are denied child custody, they lose their voting rights, they can barely attain any form of employment due to their criminal record. They do not have the credibility to access any loans, they are denied licensing capabilities to start-up their businesses, and they do not have the privilege of public housing or government benefits. All these restrictions lead to frustrations among convicted criminals even after they have finished their time because they ultimately have been demoted to a second-class status in society.
In fact, these restrictions account for the vicious cycle of crime whereby the same people who have completed their time are very likely to engage in criminal activities, leading to more offenses and being incarcerated yet again. It has been noted that One in thirteen African Americans of voting age is disenfranchised due to a felony conviction, a rate four times greater than that of non-Black people. (Drug Policy Alliance, 2018) This is merely a result of all of the restrictions and barriers that are placed upon “Felons” including the label of being a felon which ultimately hinders these individuals in all aspects of life. Furthermore, these restrictions downgrade millions of U.S. citizens to a lower socioeconomic status, usually affecting majority people of color. Again, it is an affirmation that mass incarceration may have been a result of government policy, however; these policies merely sustained its notoriety through the marginalization of a race and institutionalized racism.
Evidently, the available statistics support the ideology that there is systematic marginalization on African Americans through the war on drugs and mass incarceration. The trend is upsetting because these drug laws were and still are unrealistic. The criminal justice system is structured in such a manner that African Americans are continuously targeted which keeps them disenfranchised and disadvantage. Hence, they suffer from longer and heavier sentencing in drug-related offenses.
Moreover, federal agencies are more focused on the number of arrests and convictions they make as opposed to targeting the real issue and not the drug or the user itself. In this entire situation, families are broken and the socioeconomic effects are long-lasting, condemning the minority group to lower-class living. Therefore, it is important for the opposers of this debate to accept that actual action needs to be taken to address the problem of marginalization in the criminal justice system and what it has ultimately done to the African American community. In America, “the land of the free”, regardless of opinions, the fact remains that every person, whether white or black deserves an equal treatment and opportunity.