The struggle between American values of equality and freedom and the actual reality of the social, economic, and political structures has historically proven difficult. Stratifying institutions have existed through history to keep power and privilege in the hands of the wealthy majority (white males) and fights to keep the disadvantaged group (minorities, blacks, low income) oppressed and controlled. The powerful have created institutions that contain policies and procedures to benefit only the chosen class and/or race and continue the cycle of disparities. A major way the system has kept social control is through mass incarceration. This is a problem worth our attention because it allows ...view middle of the document...
With more people heading to prison, there are less people working and spending money in the surrounding community. This creates more closed businesses, empty buildings, and less finance for the improvement of the neighborhood. The degradation of the area creates problems with low quality education, less job positions, and a social and economic network providing very little support.
Mass incarceration also severely impacts the family structure. Only 25% of African American women are married by the age of 25, compared to 50% of white and latino women (Wakefield, 2010). With 63% of federal inmates being parents (Wakefield, 2010), many inmates lose time with their children and create a single income family. Although there have not been many studies of the impact of incarceration on children, it is safe to assume that the loss of family time and support creates a harder environment to succeed in.
Once a former inmate is released back into the community they face a harsh reality of 'criminal class' stigma. Because of a convicted felon’s record, they automatically lose the right to social services such as food stamps, welfare, and housing. With the likelihood that the former inmate already has little education and skills to offer, the job market is bleak with opportunities. Once again the individual finds themselves struggling to make a legal living and often fall back into old habits to survive.
The Social Antecedents to Mass Incarceration
To explain the racial and income disparities in incarceration, the system has created many prevailing myths to maintain social control and protect the responsible people on top. The belief that the persons convicted are all individually responsible and deserving of their punishment is a widespread excuse. Mass incarceration is not an individual issue, but a macro-institutional problem that persists to retain traditional social roles. The system has incorporated public policies that limit the freedoms & opportunities of the minorities to obtain a successful role in the economy. This type of social control has been prevalent throughout history shown by slavery, vagrancy laws, and Jim Crow. Intolerance and opposition in response to these public policies reached a boiling point and the Civil Rights Movement began.
Individuals opposing the policies became active in protests; sit ins, marches, and boycotts. Although these people were just fighting for equal rights, they threatened the traditional system of social actors. Leaders of politics responded by framing the Civil Rights Movement as civil disobedience. Doing this, they succeeded in taking the attention from inequality and focusing it on the 'criminal' activity against the government and painted the picture of colored people being violent and unruly, a stereotype that still exists today.
Spurring from framing the activists as criminals came an idealistic 'tough on crime' political strategy, hidden racial rhetoric, and the Southern Strategy. Reagan and...