Research Paper: African-American Incarceration African-American Race

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[. . .] Strongest evidence for racially differential treatment is found for some offenses and in some jurisdictions rather than at the aggregate level. African-Americans are at especially high risk of incarceration, given their arrest rates, for drug crimes and burglary. States with large white populations also tend to incarcerate blacks at a high rate, controlling for race-specific arrest rates and demographic variables. A large residual racial disparity in imprisonment thus appears due to the differential treatment of African-Americans by police and the courts (Pettit & Western, 2004).

The Effect on Black Communities (from Roberts 2004)

Measuring harms at the community level is more complex than aggregating prison's collateral consequences for individual inmates. Community harms affect more than the total number of residents who have been incarcerated. Indeed, a central focus of this research is community members other than inmates, including family members, friends, and neighbors of prisoners who suffer adverse consequences that flow beyond the prison gates. Moreover, research examining the processes by which incarceration affects communities reveals that geographic concentration affects social relationships and norms in a way that cannot be captured by aggregating individual effects.

Mass imprisonment inflicts harm at the community level not only because incarceration, experienced at high levels, has the inevitable result of removing valuable assets from the community, but also because the concentration of incarceration affects the community capacity of those who are left behind. There is a social dynamic that aggravates and augments the negative consequences to individual inmates when they come from and return to particular neighborhoods in concentrated numbers.

Three main theories explain the social mechanisms through which mass incarceration harms the African-American communities where it is concentrated: Mass imprisonment damages social networks, distorts social norms, and destroys social citizenship.

The damage to social networks starts at the family level and reverberates throughout communities where the families of prisoners are congregated. Locking up someone places an immediate financial and social strain on the rest of the family. These enormous burdens fall primarily on the shoulders of women caregivers, who customarily shore up families experiencing extreme hardship: women struggling to manage budgets consumed by addictions; women trying to hold families together when ties are weakened by prolonged absence; women attempting to manage the shame and stigma of incarceration; and women trying to prevent children from becoming casualties of the war on drugs.

Mass incarceration strains the extended networks of kin and friends that have traditionally sustained poor African-American families in difficult times, weakening communities' ability to withstand economic and social hardship. By straining social networks, mass incarceration also affects communities' social norms. Drawing upon social disorganization theory, researchers have shown that weakening infrastructure threatens a community's foundation of informal social control. Disorganized communities cannot enforce social norms because it is too difficult to reach consensus on common values and on avenues for solving common problems. Mass incarceration dramatically constrains the participation of African-American communities in the mainstream political economy. This civic exclusion stems largely from the "invisible punishments" that accompany a prison sentence. Even first- time offenders are subject to the collateral denial of a host of citizenship rights, privileges, and benefits. Punishing offenders beyond their sentences raises serious questions about fairness to individuals because collateral sanctions may exceed the limits of retributive justice. In addition, sanctions that burden inmates after they leave prison diminish civic involvement by the communities to which they return. Key ways in which mass incarceration destroys social citizenship at the community level include felon disenfranchisement, labor market exclusion, and civic isolation.

Works Cited

Mauer, Mark (1999) The Crisis of the Young African-American Male and the Criminal Justice System." Prepared for U.S. Commission on Civil Rights

April 15-16, 1999 Washington, D.C.

Pettit, Becky & Bruce Western (2004) "Mass Imprisonment and the Life Course: Race and Class Inequality in U.S. Incarceration." American Sociological Review 69: 151.

Roberts, Dorothy E. (2004) "The Social and Moral Cost of Mass Incarceration in African-American Communities" Stanford Law Review, Vol. 56, No. 5, 2004 Stanford Law Review Symposium: Punishment and Its Purposes (Apr., 2004), pp. 1271-1305.

Spohn, Cassia & David Holloran. (2000) "The Imprisonment Penalty Paid by Young, Unemployed… [END OF PREVIEW]

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APA Format

African-American Incarceration African-American Race.  (2011, March 15).  Retrieved May 25, 2019, from

MLA Format

"African-American Incarceration African-American Race."  15 March 2011.  Web.  25 May 2019. <>.

Chicago Format

"African-American Incarceration African-American Race."  March 15, 2011.  Accessed May 25, 2019.