The United States are no strangers to mass incarceration when being only 5% of the world’s population while simultaneously being the home to 25% of the world’s prisoners, a majority of prisoners that populate the prisons are in for nonviolent offenses. America spends roughly around 80 million a year just to keep prisoners incarcerated. The documentary, Fixing the System presented by Vice on HBO explores the reasons behind mass incarceration and dives in on why criminal justice reform is important.
Most of the issues presented in the documentary apply to sociological concepts of deviances, like Karl Marx’s conflict theory. The American society follows a set sets up laws to have a functional society and to protect its people but is the system protecting or pursuing its own people to be thrown into an inequitable system. The criminal justice system recognizes the problem of mass incarceration, the bias that takes place and the corruption. Nonviolent offenders make up most of the prisons incarceration. Most of them are people of color, specifically blacks and latinos.
Racial profiling along with bias within the policing systems are one of the main causes of mass incarceration. Racial profiling is a recurring problem within the criminal justice system and is majorly discussed in the film. Former sergeant Michael Wood is knowledgeable of this and in the documentary, he stated that police departments mainly focused on low-income communities and arrest young black males left and right disregarding if they were guilty or not just for numbers. Having a department with the most arrest is seen as a positive thing, but the truth is it is doing damage to the lives of the common people in low-income neighborhoods.
Over the past decades, crime rates have dropped ironically arrest rates have increased. The war drugs motivated this policing as they set up to cut down the drug crime. the war on drugs theme was being tough on crime, and that resulted in playing a role in mass incarceration since it increased sentencing. Specifically, since it had a biased protocol according to drug quantity versus drug type, 100 grams of cocaine at the time was equivalent to 1 gram of crack cocaine. Unjustly the area of targeted were undoubtedly black males of low socioeconomic status. Throughout the era of the war on drugs, there were laws passed that required minimum of 10-year sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. There are numerous cases are nonviolent crimes that unfortunately result in life without parole.
Life without parole sentences for nonviolent crimes are blatantly unfair. Evidently, the system on its own established an inequitable criminal justice policy. It is clear which part of society the criminal justice system is preying on. Minorities who live in low-income communities. The criminal justice relationship with race and racism is not surprising. Research shows that black defendants are found guilty for the same crime that white defendants are found not guilty for. The race, crime and social class go hand in hand.
According to the conflict theory (Marx) society has two classes the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, and the bourgeoisie control and exploit workers for their own economic gain. Norms and laws that the American society follows were established and enforced by the upper class, the bourgeoisie. Since that's the case certainly the ones who are most prone to be wrong by the law are the proletariat. Because the law and societal norms do not apply to their benefit. The bourgeoisie arresting those who showcase deviance that threatens their own class.
The wealthy influence societal rules since they have authority over resources, the means of production, and only favor the privileged. So, when the wealthy, the bourgeoisie, commit a crime the same rules they use on proletariat do not apply. White-collar crime is reasonably one of the leading issues that occur within the system. It perfectly demonstrates how unbalanced the system is. The rich can easily get away with the type of crime, and the term criminal does not apply to them. Society gives people who are associated with white-collar crime a fresh start compared their non-rich counterparts. Criminal background checks are not helpful for ex-convicts who are seeking a new chance at life after completing their time in prison.
The term criminal sticks with them as if they have it in visibly written on their backs. The labeling theory emphasize that people start believing the label that is giving to them and start behaving as such. When society tells them that they are criminals they are going to start acting embracing that term by fulfilling the role as a deviant. It is so much easier for them to fall back into old deviant habits that caused them to go to prison in the first place, than finding a job that does not implicitly judge them by their nonviolent criminal record. The recidivism rate is high, and it seems to a never-ending cycle for the criminal justice system.
Majority of population resulting in mass incarceration are returning convicts. Prison is supposed to be a place where convicts spend time to rehabilitate, before they go back out in society. The system does not prepare them or society to accept ex-convict or give them a second chance at living. Since the documentary Fixing the System aired the criminal justice made a few changes to the criminal justice system has been made.
One being the Sentencing Reform and Correction Act of 2017. The act allows prisoner who had an unreasonably long sentence to petition a judge to reduce their sentence. Along with the petition the system will help the person rehabilitate for release into society. Although this act does not eliminate their long sentence it is a start. Reform is possible with incremental steps at time.
Fixing the System discussed, racial bias motivation, war on drugs, how unequal the criminal justice system is, recidivism, and reform. It is evident that the system does not protect and serve everyone, and reform is possible. There are plenty of factors that play into mass incarceration that can changed. Starting with society itself and the way it perceives deviance and by giving criminals who have been wronged by the system a second chance.
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