Criminal Justice African-Americans and American Term Paper

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The stigmatization of African-Americans has caused terrible harm in many areas, and only exacerbates the perceived "problem."

T]hirty years of forced removal to prison of 150,000 young males from particular communities of New York represents collective losses similar in scale to the losses due to epidemics, wars, and terrorist attacks -- with the potential for comparable effects on the survivors and the social structure of their families and communities. (Roberts, 2004)

By destroying African-American communities and social networks on a massive scale, law enforcement officials are contributing to the very problems they purport to be fighting.

The mass imprisonment of African-Americans further spreads and entrenches the notion that African-Americans are somehow incapable of conforming to the larger society's rules and regulations. The more common the prison experience becomes in African-American life, the more normative it becomes in both African-American and majority White culture. Roberts underlines the terrible effects of this process of normalization:

Disorganized communities cannot enforce social norms because it is too difficult to reach consensus on common values and on avenues for solving common problems. Because informal social controls play a greater role in public safety than do formal state controls, this breakdown can seriously jeopardize community safety. Todd Clear found that... "When incarceration reaches a certain level in an area that already struggles for assets, the effects of imprisonment undermine the building blocks of social order." The mass movement of adults between the neighborhood and prison impedes the ability of families and other socializing groups, such as churches, social clubs, and neighborhood associations, to enforce informal social controls. (Roberts, 2004)

The wholesale imprisonment of African-American adults, and soon-to-be adults, has the effect of undermining productive social development. The hundreds of thousands of individuals who are taken out of the cultural and social landscape cease to contribute to their society and social group in any positive fashion. Additionally, they furnish a negative example about the meaning of growing up, and of the importance of adult responsibility. As well, the prevailing belief among African-Americans that the huge incarceration rates are, in fact, unavoidable - the result of White prejudice - becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy i.e., there is no need to attempt to live otherwise - all other efforts are in vain.

The mass incarceration of America's African-American population is destroying the African-American community, and the African-American people. African-Americans are increasingly viewed by the law, and its agents, as faceless members of a group that is particularly given to criminal impulses and activity. The belief that certain segments of the population are inherently criminal is an outgrowth of the Late Twentieth Century's turn away from the individualizing tendencies of that century's beginning. Formerly, criminal scientists, sociologists, and lawmakers, had sought to combat crime and antisocial behavior by endeavoring to look at what turned individuals into criminals or antisocial types. Criminality and delinquency were understood to be the result of personal experiences and personal perception. The modern group approach, on the other hand, has entirely re-evaluated the purposes of the criminal justice system. Prisons are now to be the repository of entire groups of "undesirables." These groups are undesirable specifically because they have not been integrated into the system; because, as such, they have not submitted to the imposed norms. In a nation of mass communication, megacorporations, and distant "authorities," no one can be a true individual. In order to be a good citizen - and so escape imprisonment - one must be subsumed into the universal body that is the national, or even global, organism.


Coker, D. (2003). Foreword: Addressing the Real World of Racial Injustice in the Criminal Justice System. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 93(4), 827+.


Harcourt, B.E. (2003). From the Ne'er-Do-Well to the Criminal History Category: The Refinement of the Actuarial Model in Criminal Law. Law and Contemporary Problems, 66(3), 99+.


Luna, E. (2003). Race, Crime and Institutional Design. Law and Contemporary Problems, 66(3), 183+.


Roberts, D.E. (2004). The Social and Moral Cost of Mass Incarceration in African-American Communities. Stanford Law Review, 56(5), 1271+.


Ward, G. (2004). Punishing for a Living: More on the Cementing of Prisons. Social Justice, 31(1-2), 35+.

African-Americans and Prison[continue]

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