B. Mass Incarceration of African-American Males in the United States Penal System
The number of African-American males incarcerated in state and federal prisons is so startling that it is almost unbelievable. Specifically, in 2005 approximately 12% of African-American males in their late twenties were in prison or jail. The actual numbers are even more telling of the enslavement of African-American males in prisons and jails. At mid-year in 2005, of the 2.2 million individuals incarcerated, 543,000 were African-American males. Interestingly, black males in England face similar racial disparity in a common law justice system that also results in mass incarceration of black males. Indeed, the United States and England/Wales are among the industrial nations with the highest rate of individuals incarcerated in the world.
In addition, many states have invested billions of dollars in building new prisons to house the flood of African-American males who are on track for incarceration. There are no doubts that there will be a need for states to build additional prisons. The Justice Department reports that [a]bout 1 in 3 black males . . . are expected to go to prison during their lifetime, if current incarceration rates remain unchanged, and [a]n estimated 22% of black males ages 35 to 44 . . . had . . . been confined in State or Federal prison.
The government's War on Drugs has resulted in a disproportionate number of African-Americans being sentenced to prison. It has been suggested that the War on Drugs policy is a present-day Black Code that results in African-American males being targeted and sentencedto prison for extended periods of time. If this trend continues, it is projected that there will be more African-American males in prison than were enslaved between 1820 and 1860. Presently, there are more African-American males in prison than in college.
The recidivism rate for African-American males released from prison is also extremely high. Thus, the prison population continues to grow with new and returning African-American male inmates. This revolving door of imprisonment of African-American males is comparable to slaves who escaped from slavery but were easily tracked down by slave owners and returned into slavery. Because other institutional policies prohibit the employment of individuals with criminal records and the education system fails to train and educate African-American males, they often return to prison. This vicious cycle repeats itself over and over again.
1. Federal Prison Population of African-American Males
The incarceration of inmates in federal prisons continues to rise at an alarming rate. As the number of inmates in some state prisons is decreasing, the opposite is true for federal prisons. Approximately 200,000 inmates are in the federal prison system, which includes inmates in privately managed federal facilities. African-Americans represent approximately 40% of federal prisoners.
African-American males face racial disparities in the federal system as it relates to sentencing and time served. African-Americans, particularly males, are disproportionately impacted by federal sentencing policies. It is widely known and accepted that African-American male offenders are disproportionately impacted by the federal sentencing guidelines. The Federal Sentencing Reform Act was promulgated in 1984 to limit probation in the federal system, thus resulting in offenders serving longer sentences. Even with state laws that attempt to be consistent in sentencing regardless of race, African-American offenders still serve more time than whites for rape and violent offenses in state prisons.
Under the sentencing guidelines, African-Americans receive longer and more severe penalties for the use and sale of crack cocaine, compared to whites, who receive less time in prison when they are charged with the use and sale of cocaine. Indeed, whites who are arrested and charged with cocaine may be able to receive rehabilitation provided by their health care providers, in lieu of incarceration. The United States Sentencing Commission has recommended to Congress changes to the sentencing guidelines on the usage of crack and cocaine, which would have a lesser discriminatory impact on African-Americans. However, Congress has failed to take any meaningful actions. Similarly, after the Civil War, the newly freed slaves received harsher penalties than whites who committed the same or similar criminal acts. A prime example of disparity exists in cases involving the stealing of a hog by a black slave versus a white offender. Professor Finkelman describes the disparity in a Virginia law against stealing hogs, which provided a penalty of twenty-five lashes on a bare back or a ten pound fine for white offenders, while non-whites (slave and free) would receive thirty-nine lashes, with no chance of paying a fine to avoid the whipping. Similarly, African-American males received longer sentences than whites for violating the same laws.
2. State Imprisonment of African-American Males
The states with the highest incarceration rate per 100,000 residents are Louisiana, Georgia, Texas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Alabama, Florida, and South Carolina. Even more striking, the southern states have the highest incarceration rate of any other regions in the country. How ironic that the states with some of the highest rates of incarceration in the country are southern states where slavery was prevalent. The mass incarceration of African-American males in the South has the effect of creating state slave plantations.
After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and Louisiana, news reports vividly reported on the mass incarceration of African-American males, not only in local jails throughout the state, but also at the Angola Prison. The Angola Prison houses 5,000 prisoners, of which 75% are African-Americans. The Angola Prison is considered to be one of the largest prisons in the country and has had a history of being one of the worst prisons in the country. The prisoners at Angola were depicted in the Academy Award-nominated documentary The Farm. Similar to enslaved blacks, most prisoners at Angola, reportedly 85%, will never be released but will die while in prison. What makes the Angola Prison so unique is that it was previously an 8,000 acre plantation where thousands of slaves provided free labor. African-American males are disproportionately housed in other state prisons that have the reputation of abusing prisoners or maintaining a slave-like environment.
The incarceration of African-Americans in state prisons starts even before they become adults. The Justice Department reports that between 1985 and 1997 African-American inmates under 18 years old represented 58% of individuals under 18 years old in state prisons. Similarly, blacks were born into a system of slavery and remained in slavery from their childhood to an adult life of enslavement. The length of time African-American males serve in state prisons and jails has also grown. As a result of the State Truth-in-Sentencing Laws, which require offenders to serve a substantial portion of their[prison] sentence, the laws require offenders to serve 85% to 88% of their sentence, depending on the offense. The Violent Crime Control Act of 1994 provided for grants to states to build additional prisons and jails if they passed truth-in-sentencing laws. The enforcement of drug laws has had the greatest impact on the substantial increase in the incarceration of African-American males in state prisons.
A majority of states have passed truth-in-sentencing laws which have resulted in African-American males being incarcerated for longer periods of time, regardless that their behavior was good while in prison.
During the past 15 years, states have promulgated three-strike laws, which have resulted in offenders being incarcerated for life after their third qualifying offense. The State of California has used this law to incarcerate more than other states. It has resulted in more than 40,000 individuals receiving mandatory sentences under two/three strike laws. The State of California prison population is over 171,000. The State acknowledged in 2005 that prison facilities can no longer adequately and safely accommodate the large number of inmates. African-American male prisoners have been disproportionately impacted by these laws. Recent studies on the impact of the three-strike law and decreasing crime is negligible.
3. African-American Males in Local Jails
In 2002, more than 600,000 individuals were in local jails in the United States. African-American numbers disproportionately represented 40% of those in local jails, of which a majority were African-Americann males. In 2005, the number of individuals in local jails grew to approximately 750,000. The states with the highest jail populations are California, Texas, Florida, Georgia, and Pennsylvania. As in previous surveys, African-American males, particularly those in their twenties and thirties, are disproportionately incarcerated in local jails.
4. African-American Males on Probation and Parole
As the number of individuals incarcerated explodes so does the number of individuals on probation and parole. In 2004, more than four million individuals in the United States were on probation. A combination of individuals on probation or parole reached approximately five million. As with other data on correctional populations, African-Americans disproportionately represented one-third of those on probation.
5. Prisons for Profits
The mass incarceration of African-American males is part of a $20 billion prison industry. The privately managed prison system is similar to slave owners who profited from slavery. Corporations have contracted with states and the federal government to manage prisoners for profit. The numbers of private facilities continue to rise at an alarming rate. At the end of 2005, the number of inmates in private prisons was over 80,000. The use of private prisons by government, especially states, to house and supervise inmates has a long, troubling history in America. Often though, history reveals the abusive conductin human treatment of inmates at the hands of private contractors. The incarceration of African-American males supports an entire industry as it did during slavery when slaves were used to harvest cotton. The mass incarceration of African-American males provides for jobs, building contracts, medical services, and purchases of products and services. Major corporations, in particular, benefit from the millions of individuals incarcerated by charging exorbitant fees for phone usage, by selling food products to feed prisoners, and by selling uniforms. For example, in 1999, the Department of Justice reported that more than 200,000 individuals classified as staff were employed in jails and more than 150,000 were employed as correctional officers. In addition, the Federal Bureau of Prisons in 2003 employed approximately 15,000 correctional officers and 35,000 staff employees.