The United States is home to five percent of the world’s population, yet it houses ¼ of all the world’s prisoners. There is a great inequality behind these figures and it starts years before we even put someone in a jail cell.
It’s a proven fact that people without a proper education are much less likely to get a decent job. This, in turn, means a lack of proper housing and a loss of hope for the future. All of this culminates in a higher probability to commit a crime. The way that American society is structured puts minorities at a severe disadvantage, with nearly two-thirds of African American males being incarcerated. Once charged with a crime, the majority of impoverished people are unable to afford bail, leading to further destruction of families’ lives or more years of jail time added to a sentence. Even after release, the Internet makes it easy for potential employers to see a person’s criminal history, thereby magnifying the already existing bias in place for being a minority in the first place.
In addition to all of the factors already in place against the disenfranchised, there is a public outcry surrounding police-civilian relations that seems to have gotten worse over the years. Now that we can record everything on our phones, more eyes are being opened to the imbalance of treatment against minority citizens by the police force hired to protect them.
Looking back at former presidential Administrations, the timeline for how the priorities and funds shifted is plain to see. President Kennedy focused on crime prevention rather than incarceration by building urban recreational facilities. His plan was to give people hope by bringing residents together, and he incorporated the help of social workers, police, and probation officers. His goal was to avoid the stigma that showcased these populations as delinquents. The public didn’t see it that way and decided low-income youth were potential delinquents anyway. Under Johnson’s administration, the programs were defunded and social workers were replaced by the police force. The force shifted towards punishment rather than prevention.
By the time President Carter took office, social welfare programs were virtually nonexistent. In their place were more patrols and police units, along with more institutions. The Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 furthered the problem by imposing mandatory sentencing for certain crimes, increasing the prison populations. The sentences were, and still are, the definition of inequality, with shorter terms being decided for cocaine arrests versus crack, a common caste drug discrimination that puts only the poor and the uneducated behind bars, with very little chance of success once they are released.