Jails exist to fulfill three primary functions. Jails hold inmates awaiting trial who cannot make bail or have been denied bail, are required to make a court appearance for any reason (since jails are connected to courthouses), and are serving 364 days or less. Prisons, on the other hand, are administered at the state or federal level and hold inmates that have sentences of more than a year, convicted of state crimes in the state that they’re in, and are held in all custody levels (minimum to death row). Among the many prisons in the United States, there are private prisons. Private prisons exist as a way for states to make money off of prisoners while the prisoners only suffer from it. The largest private corporation in the prison industry is the Corrections Association of America (CAA). They trade on the New York Stock Exchange and in 2005 had a total revenue of $1.2 billion. The concept of “total institution”, coined by Goffman, refers to people in similar situations being cut off from others leading a closed life after being out of that situation.
In the 1970s, President Nixon declared the War on Drugs, which played a large role in the increase of incarceration for drug-related offenses. It began to gain attention in the 1980s when the Reagan administration added the position “Drug Czar” to the President’s Executive Board. The Clinton administration also contributed to this increase in incarceration with mandatory minimum sentencing he put in place. Over 450,000 of the population of over 2 million prisoners (45%) are incarcerated in state and federal prisons for non-violent drug offenses. State and federal governments continue to spend billions of dollars a year to imprison drug offenders. Something that I found when doing a research paper on the War on Drugs is that the United States has actually spent 1.3 trillion dollars on the War on Drugs. I find it to be ridiculous that the United States has spent trillions of dollars on putting more people in prison, but our country continues to spend money on it because those in jail for non-violent drug offenses are disproportionately African American. This shows that the War on Drugs is implicitly racist toward African Americans. Some ways that Whites benefit from the mass incarceration of African Americans is by not being incarcerated themselves since African Americans are taking up most of the spaces in prisons. Also, Whites are more likely to have good paying jobs that wouldn’t lead them to have to sell drugs or take drugs for recreational use.
In prisons, something that people don’t consider is the gender difference between inmates. Women constitute 6-10% of the prison population and 90 out of every 1,000 men in the United States will be incarcerated in their lifetime. This gender difference is primarily related to reproductive health, childbearing, and childrearing. An example of this is the special procedures used for pregnant inmates. When you break down male inmates by race, 44 out of every 1,000 White men will be incarcerated in their lifetime while 285 out of every 1,000 African American men will be incarcerated. This number is obviously very high and it’s upsetting, but when discussing this, it’s important to understand the various racial stereotypes in incarceration. African Americans are portrayed as more violent and the ones committing the most crime. It is true that African Americans do commit some crimes more than Whites, there are also crimes that Whites commit more than African Americans. Another stereotype that is used to justify incarceration is African American mothers are crackheads. This stereotype refers to the bad treatment of African American women by the criminal justice and social service system because they are addicted to welfare and crack, meaning they deserve prison time.
It is important to acknowledge the historical events that have led up to where we are today. Between 1880 and 1930, the estimated amount of African American men that were lynched was 10,000. A majority of these lynchings were because African American men were accused of raping White women, but were lynched before they could ever get a day in court. I find it sad that during this time, Whites could have a day in court if they committed a crime, but African Americans were given a death sentence before their side of the story could ever be heard. It’s honestly so interesting to learn this, but also very unsettling.