Diversity in Prison

Diversity in Prison

Diversity in Prison The late twentieth century is seeing a rise in racial conflict in the United States as well as on the universal stage in a broad-spectrum (Phillips & Bowling, 2002). Statistics indicate that racial/ethnic minorities, particularly black males, face a disproportionately high risk of incarceration in the United States. This determination is made by assessing the negative impact that incarceration can have on individuals, their communities, and the integration of minorities into the nation’s larger social, economic, and political landscape (Yates, 1997).

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Discrimination in the incarceration of blacks clearly stands out as today’s (Greenfield, 2011) most critical issue in the study of race, crime, and justice. The criminal justice system is rooted in a philosophy of equality and justice for all. Policymakers, practitioners, and academics must continually monitor closely for the potential for discrimination and vigorously search for its sources (Phillips & Bowling, 2002).

Crime statistics have played an important role and given discussion to the correlation between race and crime. However, this has caused controversy among the nation, and it raises debates on the causes and contributing factors to the racial incarceration percentages. The National Prisoner Statistics (NPS) program has been collecting statistics on prisoners at midyear and yearend under a Congressional mandate since 1926. The Census Bureau serves as the data collection agent for the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS).

BJS depends entirely upon the voluntary participation of State Departments of Corrections and the Federal Bureau of Prisons for NPS data (Greenfield, 2011). The NPS distinguishes between prisoners in custody and prisoners under jurisdiction. To have custody of a prisoner, a state or the federal system must hold that prisoner in one of its facilities. To have jurisdiction over a prisoner, a state or the federal system must have legal authority over the prisoner.

Some states are unable to provide both custody and jurisdiction counts. The NPS jurisdiction counts include inmates held within a jurisdiction’s facilities, including prisons, penitentiaries, correctional facilities, halfway houses, boot camps, farms, training/treatment centers, and hospitals (Elliott, Fremont, Morrison, Pantoja, & Lurie, 2008). For 2000 and 2007, estimates were produced separately for inmates under state and federal jurisdiction, and then they were combined to obtain a total estimated population.

State estimates were prepared by combining information about the gender of prisoners from the NPS with information on self-reported race and Hispanic origin from the 2004 Survey of Inmates of State Correctional Facilities. To estimate federal prisoners, the distributions of FJSP counts of sentenced federal inmates by gender, age, races, and Hispanic origin on September 30, 2006, were applied to the NPS counts of sentenced federal inmates by gender at midyear 2007 (Elliott, Fremont, Morrison, Pantoja, & Lurie, 2008).

Age-specific rates of incarceration for each demographic group were calculated by dividing the estimated number of sentenced prisoners within each age group and by the estimated number of U. S. residents in each age group, then multiplying the quotient by 100,000, and rounding to the nearest whole number. Totals by gender include all prisoners and U. S. residents regardless of racial or Hispanic origin, while incarceration rates for detailed race and Hispanic origin groups exclude persons identifying two or more races (Arvanites & Asher, 1998).

Despite decades of research, the impact that extra-legal variables such as race and income inequality have on the imprisonment rate remains unclear (Yates, 1997). Dominant sociological theories offer conflicting explanations of imprisonment. The first, which can be described as the consensus perspective, holds that imprisonment is a direct response to crime. Therefore, incarceration should be greatest in areas where crime is the greatest (Hamil-Luker, 2008). The impact of race and income inequality on punishment levels is supported by competing sociological theories.

Durkheimian theory holds that racial discrimination and income inequality indirectly affect imprisonment through crime. This is grounded on the assumption that racial discrimination and/or lower socio-economic status that reduce legitimate economic opportunities, leads to criminal activity, which, leads to imprisonment. In contrast, conflict theory suggests that these variables have both direct and indirect effects. That is, racial composition and income inequality will have a significant effect on imprisonment when controlling for crime.

This latter effect is attributed to the response of the economically and politically powerful to the real or perceived threat posed by culturally dissimilar groups (cultural conflict theory). The present study analyzes the existence and magnitudes of the direct and indirect effects of race and income inequality on the level of imprisonment. Other sociological theories suggest that when controlling for the level of serious crime, incarceration rates are directly affected by extra-legal factors.

The Cultural Conflict and Neo-Marxist theories suggest that the existing social structure produces a culturally dissimilar class of individuals, such as the impoverished, the unemployed and the oppressed minority, who pose a threat, whether real or perceived, to the interests of the economically and politically powerful (Freiburger, 2010). The relationship between race and incarceration has received considerable attention in the last several years. Arvanites (1998) reported that the percentage of the population comprised by blacks was the most important determinant of imprisonment rates.

Some theorist has criticized the specification of this model. They report that percent black has no effect using violent crime rates instead of the total crime rate and including region and education variable. Examining state imprisonment rates in 1970 and 1980, theorist say that there is are high correlations between region (southern versus non-southern states) and race, which raises some questions about findings by some theorist (Holmes & Daudistel, 1984). As with the economically deprived, racial minorities often have been viewed as threatening to the white majority.

Holmes & Daudistel (1984) reported that whites and social control authorities often view nonwhites as being more involved in crime. The presences of nonwhites are viewed as an indicator of a crime problem, and the fear of crime is positively related to the presence of nonwhites (Freiburger, 2010). As a result, cultural conflict theorists argue that law enforcement officials are more likely to incarcerate minorities than others. Minorities were more likely to receive prison sentences, get longer sentences, and serve longer prison sentences than whites (Freiburger, 2010).

At the end of 1993, African-Americans were seven times more likely to be imprisoned than whites (Greenfield, 2011). Based on this research, it is plausible to predict that minority population, independent of crime, is related to imprisonment. In one of the first studies that included jail data, the theorist examined the effect of race on the rate of state-level incarceration (state prisons) and county-level incarceration (county jails) in California. The theorist found that percent nonwhite was a significant predictor of sentences to county jail but not sentences to state prison. Using state-level data, it was investigated on he effect of race on imprisonment in 1980 and 1988. Regressing incarceration rates on percent black, percent of the population living below the poverty line, unemployment, and index crime rate, the theorist reported that percent black was the strongest predictor of incarceration rates in both years (Steffensmeier & Demuth, 2006). The second issue pertains to the manner in which the level of incarceration is measured. With the exception of McCarthy, who conducted separate analyses for sentences to both prisons and jails in California, most researchers have limited their analyses to state and federal data only.

While it is true that the majority of individuals incarcerated are found in these facilities, those studies ignore the significant number of individuals confined in city and county jails. The omission of those incarcerated in county jails significantly underestimates the actual level of incarceration in any given state. For example, in 1993, state and federal prisons in the United States confined 970,444 individuals (Greenfield, 2011) and city and county jails confined an additional 459,804 individuals (Greenfield, 2011).

The county system accounted for 32 percent of all individuals incarcerated. Thus, studies excluding jail inmates are underestimating by as much as one-third the actual number of persons imprisoned at any given time (Glaser, 2006). Given the variations in crime rates, socio-demographic characteristics and jail incarceration rates across the country, it is quite plausible that the inclusion of the additional 459,804 individuals in county jails may result in a change in the relative effects of race and economic inequality.

The incarceration rate in the United States shows no signs of diminishing. Between the end of 1993 and 1994, the number of individuals incarcerated in state and federal prisons increased by 83,294 (Greenfield, 2011). If these inmates were confined two per cell, the United States would need to build 800 new prison cells per week to accommodate these inmates (Phillips & Bowling, 2002). As society deals with such staggering prospects, it is imperative to have a full understanding of the influences affecting imprisonment.

Different sociological theories offer competing explanations. The Durkheimian view posits that imprisonment is a function of crime. Conflict theories argue that extra-legal factors such as minority populations and economic inequality will directly affect incarceration when controlling for crime. The fact that the incarceration rate of blacks is seven times greater than the incarceration of whites, and it is increasing faster than that of whites may be interpreted as evidence of the race effect (Hamil-Luker, 2008).

Several studies included only the violent crime rate, while some theorist used total crime rate. In studies where only violent crime was included, it was argued that violent crime is the most relevant because it is comprised of the most serious crimes and thus, is the most likely to result in state imprisonment. Clearly, jails confine less serious offenders. While the majority of state prison inmates (55 percent) were arrested for a violent offense (Greenfield, 2011), less than one-quarter (22 percent) of the jail inmates were arrested for a violent crime (Glaser, 2006).

Further, 23 percent of jail inmates were arrested for a public order crime while only 5 percent of state prison inmates were arrested for similar offenses (Greenfield, 2011). Since this study includes jail data, total crime data, which includes these less serious offenders, are more relevant. Because the increase in incarceration has far exceeded the increase in crime, it is clear that factors other than crime itself are contributing to the record high level of incarceration.

This clearly demonstrates that race and economic inequality are not significant determinants of incarceration independent of crime. Additional research is necessary to determine what factor or factors are responsible for the record-setting level and racial percent of incarceration in the United States each year. ? References Arvanites, T. M. , & Asher, M. A. (1998). State and County Incarceration Rates: The Direct and Indirect Effects of Race and Inequality. American Journal of Economics & Sociology, 57(2), 207. Elliott, M. N. , Fremont, A. , Morrison, P. A. , Pantoja, P. & Lurie, N. (2008). A New Method for Estimating Race/Ethnicity and Associated Disparities Where Administrative Records Lack Self-Reported Race/Ethnicity. Health Services Research, 43(5p1), 1722-1736. doi:10. 1111/j. 1475-6773. 2008. 00854. x Freiburger, T. L. (2010). The effects of gender, family status, and race on sentencing decisions. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 28(3), 378-395. doi:10. 1002/bsl. 901 Glaser, J. (2006). The efficacy and effect of racial profiling: A mathematical simulation approach. Journal of Policy Analysis & Management, 25(2), 395-416. oi:10. 1002/pam. 20178 Greenfield, L. A. (2011). Office of Justice Programs. The Bureau of Justice Statistics: http://bjs. ojp. usdoj. gov/index. cfm? ty=kfa Hamil-Luker, J. (2008). Delinquency, Incarceration and Health in Midlife: Racial/Ethnic Disparities among Black, Hispanic, and White Men. Conference Papers — American Sociological Association, 1. Holmes, M. D. , & Daudistel, H. C. (1984). ETHNICITY AND JUSTICE IN THE SOUTHWEST: THE SENTENCING OF ANGLO, BLACK, AND MEXICAN ORIGIN DEFENDANTS. Social Science Quarterly (University of Texas Press), 65(2), 265-277.

Phillips, C. , & Bowling, B. (2002). 17: RACISM, ETHNICITY, CRIME, AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE. In , Oxford Handbook of Criminology (pp. 579-619). Mike Maguire 2002. Steffensmeier, D. , & Demuth, S. (2006). Does Gender Modify the Effects of Race–ethnicity on Criminal Sanctioning? Sentences for Male and Female White, Black, and Hispanic Defendants. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 22(3), 241-261. doi:10. 1007/s10940-006-9010-2 Yates, J. (1997). Racial Incarceration Disparity among States. Social Science Quarterly (University of Texas Press), 78(4), 1001-1010.


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