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America Has the Largest Incarceration RateTerm Paper

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Crime & Inequality

There is no doubt that the United States has a crime problem. Indeed, the United States has a prison population of about two million people. While many to most people would argue that people should pay for what they have done wrong, there are others that say that the criminal justice system is very dysfunctional and/or that there needs to be more care taken as it relates to what happens to people once they get out of prison. Finding jobs and establishing a steady life is sometimes quite hard for ex-convicts and this leads some rather damning outcomes such as perpetual unemployment and recidivism. There are others that push the issue further and say that inequality and other social injustices leads to crime being the issue that it is and thus many of the criminals, the minor and non-violent offenders in particular, should not bear the brunt of an unjust society. While something could and should be done to help reform those that have been in prison, those that are concerned about ex-cons have a right to be and for more than one reason.

Literature Review

The rather mammoth size of the prison population in the United States, as mentioned in the introduction, is obviously of large concern. However, there are some ancillary and related statistics about the prison population that are just as shocking and sobering. For example, about 95% of all inmates get released at some point. Per year, this figure comes to about half a million. There are over twelve million ex-felons living in the United States. Those ex-felons make up nearly a tenth (eight percent) of the workforce in the United States. This is no small thing given that roughly two thirds of ex-felons will be charged with one or more new crimes after their release from prison for their initial offense. Of that group, nearly half (forty percent) will experience that within three years (Pager).

As broadly touched upon before, there are indeed cultural and social outcomes and experiences that can lead someone to a life of crime. It is not a certainty, of course, but there are markers and precursors that certainly make someone more likely to be a criminal in the future. Once that first proverbial domino falls, the outcomes and events thereafter are unfortunately predictable. Just a few environmental situations that can lead to felon status include broken families, living in poor neighborhoods, lack of proper social control and prior experiences within the criminal justice system. Once a person has a prison record, their outlook for future employment and other opportunities becomes rather limited so long as the crimes remain on their record (Pager).

Minorities in particular bear an alarmingly high proportion of the brunt of what is described above, at least compared to the amount of black people in the broader population as compared to the amount of blacks that are in prison. Indeed, the incarceration rate for young black males in the year 2000 was about ten percent while the same rate for whites was barely more than once percent. Of course, there are many more white people than black in the United States so blacks outnumbering blacks 10:1 in prisons is a rather shocking statistic. Beyond that, the overall chance that a black person will be incarcerated in their lifetime is nearly three in ten. This is not much of a surprise given that half of the black people in question are high school dropouts. While their criminal acts cannot be ignored, it is truly unfortunate that these men have to face difficult barriers when trying to reach economic self-sufficiency (Pager).

As noted before, the prison population is two million and that number is growing sharply. Indeed, the prison population has risen six-fold from roughly 1970 to 2000. The growing number of men that are being taken into custody raise important questions through the criminal justice system. Having a criminal record is critical when it comes to employment. This circumstance disproportionately affects black people, as mentioned before. This sharp rise has led to the United States being the country with the highest incarceration rate in the world. Given that the United States is a civilized and supremely industrialized country, that is less than something to brag about. Research has shown how aggregate effects of incarceration may be preexisting traits that make these men bad in the first place. Links have been shown that characteristics such as drug/alcohol abuse, behavioral problems or poor interpersonal skill, which can lead to either incarceration or poor employment opportunities (Pager).

Survey researchers have provided a number of hypotheses regarding the means that are causing these outcomes between incarceration and employment. These include labeling effects of criminal stigma, disruption of familiarities, influence on social networks, the loss of human capital, institutional trauma, legal barriers to employment and lastly the possibility of incarceration as a negative motivator. A study was conducted by Schwartz and Skolnick to provide a more understanding valuation of the hiring process of an ex-felon. An experimental audit design was used to observe employer behavior in real-life employment situations. When conducting the study, the focus was on three primary questions. The first was to know whether or not having a criminal history was a factor when making a hiring decision. The survey showed results that a criminal record was in fact not a determining factor. Employers were rather focused on interactional styles or other observed characteristics which can then we associated with a prior criminal record. The study helps us to see to what degree employers used information about criminal histories in the absence of validating evidence. Secondly, the study shows to what extent race is considered to be a barrier when it comes to employment. Race is playing a crucial role when it comes to African-Americans being employed over the past century. It has been argued that other factors such as location, soft skills, social capital or cognitive ability has to do with most or all of the racial disparities (Pager).

The third is to evaluate whether a criminal affects black applicants more than white applicants. Research has shown that Americans are very stereotypical about blacks that relate to perceptions of violent and criminal natures. If employers are viewing blacks as potential criminals, they would be less likely to differentiate those with criminal records and those without. This proves that blacks are at a great disadvantage to begin with and will have worse outcomes when it comes to being employed. Another possibility would be if black and white applicants with a criminal record were treated equally. This audit was brought about to examine between these predictions and outcomes (Pager).

Social peace is likely to be persistent merely if economic equality does exist.

Subordinate groups tend to be overshadowed by dominant groups due to the fact that they are in control. Subordinate groups, also known as the "minority," don't have the same opportunities as dominant groups in terms of their career, education, and health. The man who invests will have more power than the man who is solely gaining an earned income; this is because capital assets have more economic power in the long run. Capital assets also have the ability of being changed into liquidity if needed (Pager). It should be noted that lack of money does not mean inequality in and of itself. However, such lack of money and capital can certainly be or become an aggravating factor in many scenarios and situations (Lewis). Even the most recent research on the subject of crime and its relation to inequality (or vice versa) points to the idea that positive correlations between violent crime and economic inequality center on economic segregation between neighborhoods rather than discord within specific neighborhoods (Kang).

Analysis & Recommendations

As far as an analysis of the problem goes and what can be done about it, there are a couple of things that the author of this report would suggest. First, there are many criminals that are truly evil people and they are selfish to a violent and extreme degree. Those sorts of people, like rapists and murderers, need to be locked up from a public safety standpoint alone. Indeed, the punishment aspect of the prison sentence is just icing on the cake, so to speak. On the other end of the spectrum, there are crimes that are strictly property related or that are extremely minor. Good examples would be petty theft and other crimes where no one is hurt and the economic damage is minor to none. However, there is plenty in the middle of those two extremes and they need to be handled the right way. As with most things, there needs to be a metered approach that takes all of the proper circumstances into account. Someone who gets their first driving under the influence (DUI) offense should be punished but they should have their record wiped or expunged if they keep their nose clean for a year or two after their initial transgression. On… [END OF PREVIEW]

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