Saturday, June 04, 2022

Crime and Punishment: Race and Its Consequences

The U.S. has approximately 102 federal prisons, 1,566 state prisons, 2,850 local jails, 1,510 juvenile facilities, 186 immigration detention centers, 82 Native American/tribal jails, not including military prisons, civil commitment centers, mental health facilities, as well the numerous other correctional and detention centers scattered throughout U.S. territories.  Each operates independently from the other, but generally cooperates with the federal authorities in most situations. The result is a multilayered judicial criminal system.

All told, they hold somewhere around 2 million individuals. The most in the world.  Globally, one out of every five individuals behind bars are likely in a U.S. prison or jail. The majority---1 in 5---are in jail on drug charges. The average cost to house a inmate in a federal prison (in 2020) was $39,158 or about $120.59 per day. Prison, probation and parole generates a $81 billion dollar bill to the American taxpayer (the average salary of a police officer is $55,280 plus benefits or about $85,000).  

It's worth noting that much has been said of  "for profit" prison systems which allegedly attempts to make a profit on each prisoner via taxpayer dollars and use of prisoner labor (which some equate with Nazi or Soviet Era labor camps). However, the "for profit" prisons account for only 8% of all inmates.

About 71,000 are overflow population from state prisons while another 40,000 are being held at the behest of the U.S. Marshal Service and Bureau of Prisons.  Of these, the majority are housed in halfway houses or home incarceration which are being privately supervised and managed.

Approximately 13,000 inmates are outsourced from overcrowded and unsafe local jails. 16,000 are ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees, and 9,000 are youths who would otherwise be held in more expensive public detention centers.

When we look at the three percent of the U.S. population behind bars, we find that federal prisons hold about 208,000 inmates. Of those, the vast majority are being held on drug and immigration charges. 11,000 are for committing a violent crime; 7,000 for property crime, and about 59,000 on some other federal charge.

At the state level, which hold the most---roughly 1,042,000---the overwhelming majority (606,000) are imprisoned for violent crimes such as rape, assault, or murder. 159,000 are for property crimes such as burglary, car thief, or acts of vandalism. 146,000 are being held on drug and alcohol charges, including about 18,000 for DWI. Some 124,000 are incarcerated on public order charges which includes certain weapon violations, prostitution, disorderly conduct, or so-called "deviant behavior".

Local jails and detention centers house about 547,000 individuals. About 2/3 of those are awaiting trial while they remain behind bars on charges ranging from drugs, alcohol, assault, theft, burglary, or a public order charge. Typically they are regarded as flight risk or are unable to make bail. 

However, of the remaining 1/3, most are convicted and serving time on a public order charge such as prostitution or disorderly conduct, followed by property crime, which includes car theft (carjacking), burglary, or theft by unlawful taking. Closely behind comes drug and alcohol related charges, and those convicted of committing a violent crime.  A small percentage represents individuals who have violated parole (referred to as a "technical violation") without having been charged with a new crime.

Generally speaking, about 22,000 are held involuntarily due to a mental or psychological  impairment or deficiency.  Juvenile detention accounts for roughly 36,000 youths who are held on a variety of charges. Territorial incarnation includes places like Puerto Rico or Guam, and make up about 10,000 inmates. Tribal jails hold about 2000 individuals, mostly on charges involving prostitution, disorderly conduct, liquor or drugs, while the U.S. military is holding roughly 1000 service members.

As an aside, most accused military members are tried before a military tribunal. Charges typically involve intoxication, drugs, assault, or going AWOL/UA ( aka Absent Without Leave or Unauthorized Absence).  If convicted, they can face a myriad of penalties ranging from verbal or written reprimands, fines, loss of leave time, extra duty assignments, detention, loss of rank, up to a general or dishonorable discharge.

If other charges are involved, they are immediately discharged following competition of any penalties handed down by the tribunal and turned over to the appropriate civilian authorities where they may face additional charges and possible fines and/or jail time.

What about race or gender? Who faces the greatest likelihood of incarceration?  Do more women than men go to jail?  Which race is more likely to serve time in prison?

When it comes to adults (18+), 1 in 15 black males are incarcerated at some level.  It gets worse for black males between 20 and 34 when 1 in 9 are in jail. For Hispanic males, 1 in 54 over age 18 are serving time. As for white males 18+, that number is 1 in 106.

When it comes to women regardless of race or age, 1 in 265 are behind bars. Breaking it down, we find the number for black women between ages 35 and 39, the number is 1 in 100. For Hispanic women in the same age bracket, it's 1 in 297. For white women in the same age range, it's 1 in 355.

What does this tell us? Well, it's pretty obvious that black individuals, regardless of age or gender, are most likely to serve time than either Hispanics or whites (it should be noted that Asian incarceration numbers are low enough to be considered statistically insignificant). 

In fact, blacks are five times more likely to be incarcerated than whites and twice as likely than Hispanics. They are also more likely to serve longer sentences or to face higher bail than anyone else. Why are blacks, especially males, more likely to do time than any other group?

A report published by The Sentencing Project found that in 12 states, more than half of the prison population was black. Also, Hispanics were jailed at a rate of 1.3 times that of whites. Wisconsin, as an aside, had the highest rate of incarceration among blacks. The report revealed that one of every 36 blacks in Wisconsin were behind bars! The same report stated that Hawaii had the lowest racial disparity among inmates, but still jailed blacks at a rate of two to one over whites. What gives?

The majority of blacks arrested and imprisoned results primarily from drug related crimes. These cover everything from simple possession of drugs such as marijuana all the way up to more serious crimes such as manufacturing and sale of crack. It also included peripheral crimes related to drugs such as theft, drug paraphernalia, carjacking, armed robbery, burglary, and prostitution. Some of which involved gang activity associated with these crimes as well. 35% of blacks incarcerated are a gang member. Compare that to 46% of Hispanics and 11% of whites.

It's also interesting to note that while arrest among blacks had been rather consistent from 1920 onward, there was a dramatic upward surge starting in the 1970's and early 1980's, which just so happens to coincide with the second generation of the "War on Poverty", which was launched by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964, coming of age.  

One of the most notable and controversial aspects of the War on Poverty was how the newly created "Welfare State" rewarded single moms with children, thus kicking off the role of "broken" or fatherless homes. Single parents (mainly women) got more benefits and larger subsidies than those where a male was regularly present and contributed to the household income. 70% of criminals and 80% of inmates are from broken or dysfunctional homes. 85% of youths in jail or detention centers came from fatherless homes. Poverty became institutionalized.

Also worth pointing out is that this same period marked the start of forced busing in several states, which took black youth out of their neighborhoods and local schools and placed them in predominately white schools. The intent was to provide "disadvantaged" minority students an opportunity to attend higher performing predominately white schools in hope they would do better.  

In cases where forced busing was implemented, it tended to fail in raising the test scores of minority students while the scores of white students bussed to so-called black neighborhood schools remained equal to or higher than their pre-bussing test results.

As a result, academic standards were quietly lowered across the board, from elementary school through college.  The emphasis was changed from developing critical thinking skills, math, reading, and the sciences to "teaching the test" by which school districts received their funding. That hurts everyone.

 It also marked the period where discipline standards were dramatically lowered and incidents of threats and assaults on teachers and fellow students rose along with vandalism and theft. Interestingly, the average inmate is a high school dropout and can barely read at an eighth grade level. Black male students are three times more likely to be expelled for behavior issues than any other group. 

Lower academic standards naturally equated with less economic opportunities. Jobs, if available, tended to be lower paying, unstable, and with fewer or no benefits. Crimes (and the advent of gang activity) grew based a chance to earn "real money" and feel "respected".  Businesses increasingly relocated to areas with lower crime rates, thus making good jobs harder to find, along with their tax dollars. Cut backs in funding of social programs, plus public transportation, made the situation that much worse.

Meanwhile, the public's growing fear and intolerance of not just rising crime but also that of illegal immigration, which absorbed even more of taxpayer's dollars, forced authorities into making more arrested, imposing higher bail and longer sentences with fewer chances of parole.

Minorities became more dependent on overworked, underpaid, and often inexperienced public defenders with notoriously high conviction rates to defend them. Predominately white and Asian defendants, who were wealthier and better educated (relatively speaking), could afford more competent legal representation, had lower bail and were generally less likely to be convicted.

They are also more likely to obtain stable employment and adhere to parole requirements. Human nature being what it is, those perceived as being less "trouble" are processed out faster and given the most breaks, especially by an underpaid, understaffed and overworked justice system. So much for equal application of the law.

Simultaneously police departments were forced to downsize due by overtaxed citizens, forcing fewer officers to do more with less and adding to the pressure of the job. Increasingly, many police departments depend on federal grants just to operate. Not unexpectedly, the added stress and danger of the job created a "us versus them" mentality which brought the worse as we've seen lately.

Many tried to blame the breakdown of trust between the community, police, and judicial system on systemic racism and a "white superiority" complex. Racism is a factor, but not the key factor it's made out to be. Racism is not a one way street. Every group is capable of racism, which has been around since our beginning. Human beings are innately tribal, and thus racist. It's part of our DNA. It's what enabled us to survive.  However, we have, for the most part, adapted to accept humanity itself as our tribe.

The core of the problem is low academic standards. Those who tend to excel intellectually in most societies are also the ones who are most dominate. They organize society. They control industry. They write and enforce the laws. In organized democratic societies, skin color or other factors are of less importance than economic status, which is largely determined by their level of education.

A system which rewards or makes excuses for low academic performance, poor behavior, encourages a broken family unit (the building block of society) or institutionalizes a dependency or "handout" based society, creates the forces by which poverty, low productivity, and ultimately crime will flourish. The result is a society forced to deal with the mess it has created in ways it cannot sustain in the long run. 


If you want to know more, please take a look at the links below. If you enjoyed the article, please consider passing it along to others and don't forget to subscribe. It's free! Lastly please be sure to "like" us on whatever platform you use to read A/O. It helps with the algorithms and keeps our articles in circulation. Thank you!  


Mass Incarceration : The Whole Pie

Police Officer Salary in the United States

Annual Determination of Average Cost of Incarceration Fee(COIF)

U.S. Incarceration Rates by Race and Sex

The Color of Justice

Schools v. Prisons: Education is the way to cut prisonpopulation





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