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The American Prison System

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    The American Prison system is economically, mentally, and socially detrimental to African Americans and other minority communities. These targeted behavior of discrimination against minorities within the system leaves long term effects like poverty, and mental instability on those that have been convicted to the system and their families. Not to mention the long lasting effect on American life of the term “felony” that stops anyone convicted of one from pretty much doing anything and living a fair life in the United States .

    In America, we have something that is called “systematic racism”. Another word for this phenomenon is “institutional racism”, which is where practices and economic and political structures are used to place minority groups at a disadvantage in relation to an institution’s racial or ethnic majority. As you take a deeper look into the history of America, there are always many cases of systematic racism that may be discredited and made less of a problem through loopholes in laws and the silencing of minorities who try to speak out about these injustices. The biggest and most noticeable example of the country’s corruption is put right in front of all of the countries face but many people either are unaware of it, or turn a blind eye to it. The sole document that this country bases its values off of is a document called the United States Constitution, Written by our founding fathers in 1787. About ten years after the countries declaration of independence from Great Britain.

    As early as 1787, our great American Founding Fathers had already known their purpose for Africans in this country, and mastered the art of loopholes a very long time ago. If one ever takes the time to clearly and explicitly read the amendments that we go by and live by everyday in America, They would see the evils instantly. The Thirteenth Amendment of the United States constitution clearly states. “ Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction”. Slavery is illegal in the united states, UNLESS you are convicted for a crime and sent to jail. The one simple part of that amendment that says “except as a punishment for crime whereof the the party shall have been duly convicted” is the loophole created by the founding fathers as a way to keep some form of slavery alive. This makes the fact that African Americans make up most of the incarceration rate even less surprising, Even though blacks only make up about 12.3 percent of the total United States population.

    Being a minority in America has never been easy. Especially if you are one who is radical and all for the change for the better of the country. And if you are one who not only tries to speak out, but if you try tearing down the white supremacist wall that blocks this country from reaching its plateau, they country might even do more than silence you.There have been many great blacks who’ve inhabited this great country. Even though some may not agree with the “great” part of the statement. All the way down from Nat Turner, Sojourner Truth, Martin Luther king, Malcolm X, etc. The list goes on and on for eons. But pretty much every person on that list and pretty much every individual who has tried to expose the country’s corruption, has been silenced in some way shape or form. It is time that people in America take their level of thinking to new heights.

    People in America should start to look at these instances in history and even line them up with instances of today, and realize that there will always be unfairness and prejudice for minorities in this country because the government supports it and the government built the country on that prejudice. Why is it that America always finds a way to belittle Blacks and silence those who speak on their corruption? Is it because Africans were brought to America for one reason and one reason only? Why did the Europeans feel the need to specifically colonize Africa, and nowhere else? America is considered the greatest nation in the world but is it considered the most corrupt nation as well? When one finally has a clear understanding on some of these questions , then it will be easier for one to draw connections on why America specifically targets African Americans and other minorities within its justice system and how that behavior has long term mental, economic, and social effects on the ones who have been apart of it and the loved ones around them.

    According to the text, “African Americans and the law” slave codes were the first formal law that was designed to legally keep blacks inferior. Slave codes were originally passed by British colonial territories, Ironically enough they had just gotten their freedom from their oppressors not too many years before. The codes regulated a wide range of activities, including marriage among slaves, access to education , and travel to say the least. The Declaration of Independence ensures that everyone is entitled to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of happiness. Slavery and Slave codes laws is definitely the exact opposite of those three things, so it is not hard to see how the mental trauma and social outcasting of black people were created.

    Picture this. If you were to grow up in a world/society where everything is designed for you to fail and everything was against you (laws, education system, workforce, police, other humans, etc) would you be mentally stable? Would you be able to get up and go to work everyday so easily? Would you trust the justice system? Would you want to go to school knowing they teach the history of the country that was built on hatred of your people? Would you even want to be somewhere where you feel like you are unwanted? These are some of the questions that have to be asked and answered when trying to understand how the ills of the United States and it’s justice system has created mental instabilities in the African American communities that could probably never be reversed. Many may argue that since the time of the slave codes there have been many laws made for the betterment of lives for African Americans in America. While this is very true, everytime America makes laws to make life seem easier for blacks they still find some type of way to keep them under oppression.

    We can see the reinvention of American systematic oppression at a very pivotal time in American history. Right after the American civil war (1861-1865) confederate states immediately passed the thirteenth amendment that was previously discussed. The thirteenth amendment abolished slavery but at the same time it has the loophole that says you can legally be a slave if you are convicted for a crime. Then, after they abolished slavery the slavery also had to abolish the slave codes. So after the slave codes were abolished, the county had to create new laws to continue their oppression laws called “Black Codes”. Black codes were used for the same thing that the slave codes were used for but at a different level. The Black codes were specifically designed to prevent blacks from having the full rights of citizens and to restore the labor and racial controls of slavery in the south.

    When the slaves were emancipated by President Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation, there were a total of four million slaves who had been freed and were looking for a place in society. But one may find themselves asking, how could black communities find their place in society and thrive if the government immediately created new laws called “black codes” that would keep them at the same place that they were before the emancipation provided inferior rights and ensured that southern blacks would remain inferior to whites. Author Sonia Benson writes “the laws restricted where blacks could live and which trades they could practice. Many put limitations on labor contracts and property ownership, so blacks found themselves effectively slaves again to their employers or landlords”. Here it is easy to draw the connection of how the American prison system and systemic racism have long term effects like poverty on the black community. These “black code” laws caused millions of black families to get off to a bad start financially and some of those families still have not made their living much better to this day. Not to mention that these laws have direct and indirect effects on them. For Black people , it is already bad enough that they could only get certain jobs and only learn what the white man would allow them to.

    Later on in history, blacks may have initially felt like they may have reached a milestone when the 15th amendment was passed. The 15th amendment gave all people the right to vote in America. Once again though, blacks still had many more obstacles to climb. Even though America had given American Blacks the right to vote, southern America also came with Jim Crow laws shortly after they passed the 15th amendment. Jim Crow laws were just another loophole, or another way to keep oppression over blacks. The Jim Crow laws deeply segregated the south and caused hate groups like the KKK to show the hatred for blacks that was still so present even though laws had been passed to stop the madness. This would eventually lead to discouragement in the black man who is trying to make an honest living to provide for him and his family. It should be clear for one to see here that there are economic and mental effects to this system that cause life to be harder for blacks in comparison to whites.

    As a black person, there is always this saying that we here in our community; “We have to start 2 steps behind” meaning no matter what we do in life , we always have to work harder because systematically we always start “two steps” behind the dominant race in the country. As anyone with a blind eye could see, living the right way was not really much of an option for black people. Especially when the Black codes restrict your right to own land, carry weapons, or study certain things and work at certain places. Of course if you can’t find money one way, you have to find another way to put food on the table and provide for your family. Legal or not, whites left blacks in a position where they have to find a way because their system puts blacks in a bad position in every single category. There is a clear connection to be drawn between systematic oppression and the lingering stereotype of black peoples being labeled “criminals”. Even though it is true that large numbers of blacks have been convicted for doing criminal things, what are they really supposed to do if white America puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to education, jobs, and the government. America is literally a country that is solely built off of those three things.

    When someone takes those three things away, you have to find a way to put food on the table and provide for your family no matter if what you are doing is legal or not. Then Blacks get labeled as “thugs” and “gangsters” and “drug dealers” for just being a victim of American circumstances. This is where we see the social aspect of the long term effects of systemic racism. The country could no longer capture blacks and make money off of them, so they had to find another way to get it done. They did it by locking them up for simple cases, then flooding drugs into the community. Which led to everyone looking at blacks in a bad manner because of these large incarceration rates and it does nothing but causes more oppression.

    As time went on, blacks began to get more and more fed up with the injustices that America had constantly repeated. After the world wars that took up most of the early 90’s, many blacks felt that it was time for a civil war in america. Or at least felt that it was time that all people were finally granted full access to their civil rights. From 1896 to 1954, “separate but equal” was the law of the land. As one could possibly assume, separate but equal is not the best type of equality for anyone because the need to be separated is felt. The civil rights movement of the 1960 was made because even after about 100 years after slavery ended, blacks were still dealing with injustices in the country. Separate but equal laws had restricted blacks and regulated segregation in restaurants, transportation services, and other public facilities. The famous 1954 case of Brown Vs. Board of education reversed the segregation laws so it was a step in the right direction. But as blacks started to get more and more respect and less regulation, whites started to appear with more hate.

    Famous riots and killings of famous people like Emmett Till led to the brave souls like Dr. Martin Luther king jr, Malcolm X, JFK, etc. to join and advocate for the civil rights movement to bring full equality to blacks. The Civil rights movement may have been the most pivotal fourteen years in a history for blacks in America. Nobody in the country had ever seen one race move with so much strength, integrity, dedication, unity, toughness and comradery. It got to a point where other races were joining forces with blacks in order to ensure equality for all. But of course, once someone who is not the government gets too much power, somehow it always ends up ending suspiciously. President John F Kennedy was assassinated, Martin Luther King was assassinated, Malcolm X was assassinated, not to mention many other notable people that were a part of this very important movement. Once again, An example of brave souls who tried to make things better for the nation, but ended up dead just like the people before them. The Civil Rights Movement lasted from 1954 to 1968. Then it is no surprise that the year 1970 is where we start to see mass incarceration take place.

    Mass incarceration is the major increase in the number of people in prison in the United States that started in the mid 1970s. From the year 1980 to 2014 the number of people incarcerated increased by 500 percent. When researching the topic and reading the text “Mass Incarceration” in the CPS library database, Alexander writes “A disproportionate number of people incarcerated for nonviolent crime were people of color, particularly African American men”. The United states has been recorded to spend a whopping $79 Billion a year on corrections. In the 1970s, recreational drug use among American citizens had begun to reach an all time high. Drugs like marijuana, heroin, lsd, crack, and later on crack-cocaine had taken the nation by storm. So in the mid 1970s the public and political eye began to turn their nose up to the drugs once they saw the long term negative effects of abuse. At the same time though, after the government saw that people were making a lot of money sellings these drugs on the streets as they became harder to get. They knew they had to do something to shut it down.

    So around the year 1980 is where we see the start of the War On Drugs, presented by President Richard Nixon who was in office from 1969-1974. This policy increased incarceration by cracking down on drug trafficking, and provided funding for ad campaigns to stop drug abuse (yes funding for ads, not funding for rehabilitation and therapy). At this time there was also a lot of crack down on immigration and undocumented people in the U.S, which led to more growing prison populations. Some people connect these high grossing prison populations over the years to the high money industry of the private prison businesses. Prisoners do lots of jobs while in jail, And many prisons have manufacturing contracts with external corporations.

    Inmates who get these jobs can make up to two dollars an hour and work eight to ten hours a day. Military uniforms, school desks, DMV paperwork are often produced by prison factories as well. According to data from ( www.prisonpolicy.org) the average minimum daily wage for prisoners is 86 cents, which is down 93 cents in 2001. The average maximum daily wage has also declined from $4.73 to $3.45. Since 1980 the number of prisoners has nearly doubled every decade. These prisoners are working to create large amounts of gross domestic product for the country for very low wages that are close to nothing and terrible living. Public prisons provide jobs and revenue for local communities, while private prisons not only create jobs and revenue but also generate high profits for Wall Street investors and executives of corporations in the industry. As the industry’s primary source of profit, lucrative government prison contracts are highly sought after. In a number of these contracts, the government guarantees a certain occupancy rate, which is reportedly sometimes as high as 90 percent. Is the government using inmates as commerce?

    This is something that is traumatizing for not only the people who have been convicted of chargers but also for their family, and for every black person who crosses paths with law enforcement everyday . The targeted behaviors that law enforcement exert on minorities has become so bad that Black american parents have to give their children talk about certain things to do and not do when in the eyes of law enforcement to ensure safety. Things like not riding on the car with a hat or hood on, only listening to law enforcement and then speak, don’t make any sudden movement, don’t give off any attitude, etc. It’s sad but it’s also the truth because these are the talks that have to be had because of unnecessary harassment, senseless police brutality to young kids and adults, and the courtroom that shows no forgiveness for those who are simply victims of their circumstances. So the best thing for blacks is just to avoid law enforcement at all costs and stay out of trouble with them.

    There should never be a divide between society, and the police who are supposed to be there to serve and protect them. Because black society does not feel protected unless they are in a neighborhood that is not predominantly black, and even, most times they just feel targeted. You cannot fault the people for feeling targeted either because look at all that we have been through with this country at this point and it’s not as bad as before but it’s still not all good. Hate and greed and the two things that stop America from reaching new heights. e, then we will no longer see these targeted behaviors.

    The American Prison System. (2021, Aug 25). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/the-american-prison-system/

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