The trend of mass incarcerations of offenders by such legislation as the three strikes law and mandatory minimums, create a climate in the United States that oppresses women and minorities and appeases a fearing public. Rarely do social issues create such unification among citizens, considered to be of the norm, than crime and punishment. Regardless of the roots of criminal behavior, such as poverty, unemployment, and addictions, those in the norm condone and cheer mass incarcerations against the faces that they come to view as their public enemy.
The media and public opinion-makers sometimes become polarized on the side of law without justice. Justice would include looking at the ramifications of those incarcerated, mothers and fathers, and seeing the effect that their incarceration has on their children. Alleviating poverty, unemployment, and addictions would be just in preventing crime. But, classism and racism tend to blind many to the plight of the disadvantaged and prisons with their mass incarcerations, become warehouses for the poor. Criminality in this country is a class issue.
Many of those warehoused in overcrowded prisons can be properly called ‘criminals of want’, those who have been deprived of the basic necessities and therefore forced into so-called criminal acts to survive (Rodriquez, 1993, 10). It is not to say that dangerous criminals do not exist and should not be sanctioned by incarceration. But, non-violent offenders are just as often scapegoated and herded into these prisons, regardless of the fact that they may leave families behind to live a possibly, similar criminal lifestyle to survive.
The disproportionate rates of minorities incarcerated should not be ignored either. The most astonishing and appalling factor that the three strikes and mandatory minimum sentences reveals is the conviction rates of minorities versus the arrest rates. By analyzing arrest rates versus conviction rates, we can see an obvious bias that occurs at some point in the system of the courts. Though African-Americans are more likely than whites to be arrested for violent crimes, the ratio of this does not match with the ratio of African-Americans being incarcerated.
We may say that social factors, mentioned before, may contribute to the higher arrest rates of this minority group, but the higher rates of convictions are based on bias and racism in the court system (Heiner, 2006, 128-129). In conclusion, institutionalized “isms”, such as racism and classism play a huge role in mass incarcerations. Three strikes and mandatory minimum sentences are disproportionately doled out to African-Americans.
Women may leave behind families to the very impoverished situations that led to their rise into crime. The cycle of poverty and incarceration then, simply continues. Until these factors are weighted in these laws, more families will stay impoverished and/or imprisoned.
References Heiner, Robert. (2006). Social Problems: An Introduction to Critical Constructionism. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. pp 128-129. Rodriquez, Luis J. (1993). Always Running. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. p10.