Mass Incarceration in the United States

Updated on May 31, 2017
Chernikal profile image

Chernika is currently earning her Sociology degree at Houston Community College. She is also a researcher who focus on social issues.

Numeral Comparison of Offenses Committed


Mass Incarceration in the U.S

Mass incarceration has taken a toll on our communities and economy. The cost of maintaining a prison is four times as much as maintaining a school system. It has been revealed that the United States of America has the highest rank number of those incarcerated compared to other countries. Many families are torn apart as a result of mass incarceration:

  • Studies show that there approximately 7.4 million children who has parents that are incarcerated or under a correctional supervisor.
  • In 2007, a disproportionate number of fathers incarcerated in state prison were 42 percent African Americans and 20 percent Latinos.
  • Forty-nine percent of African American and twenty-eight percent Latino men made up a disproportionate share of fathers in federal prison (Glaze and Maruschak 2008).
  • Per the Bureau of Justice Statistics, an estimated 744,200 state and federal prisoners in the United States were fathers to 1,599,200 children under the age of 18 in 2007(Glaze & Maruschak 2008).
  • An unpublished estimate from Mumola suggests that 7,476,500 children have a parent (mother or father) who is in prison, in jail or under correctional supervision (2006).

Although there are various crimes such as sexual assault, or murder crimes that calls for incarceration as a solution, what about nonviolent crimes? 1 in 15 blacks are incarcerated and the arrests of black adults on drug charges are almost 3 to 5 times higher of white adults despite of similar use rates. Blacks are more subjected to mass incarceration than whites. Race appears to play a significant role in the mass incarceration issue. Minorities are usually placed in the lower working class and below poverty which increases their chance of incarceration some point in their lives. Nonviolent offenders, particularly drug offenders, make up an increasing proportion of the U.S correctional population and are heavily represented among incarcerated parents(Western & Beckett 199, Mumola 2000).

Those who are in the higher ranking class are less likely to become a product of this so called criminal judicial system. Per the social class, those that are more wealthier(more whites than blacks) have access to better opportunities such as better schools and better job opportunities, which makes their chance of incarceration decrease significantly. Twenty-four percent of African Americans and twenty-one percent of Latinos lived or have lived in poverty. Per population numbers, minorities are 3 times as likely to become poor than any other ethnicity.

Minorities, typically African Americans, are usually the lowest paid ethnicity group and has been that way for many years. Race and social classes are often conflated with one another. Those that are in the lower working class, specifically minorities, are more likely to result in non violent crimes such as drug trafficking, to provide their needs for survival.

Should this modern slavery be justifiable for those who commit drug and nonviolent offenses? If better education and opportunities presented itself in the poor communities, then there would not be a need to commit such nonviolent offenses. If the same money that is being used to maintain prisoners could be used to better our schools in the poor communities, then the number of offenders in prisoners could decrease significantly. Such crimes do not deserve the harsh treatments of incarceration. The effects of incarceration not only effect the offender but the family of the incarcerated as well. Why should families be torn apart because of a drug offense or other minor nonviolent crimes? Children, parents, and spouses take responsibility of the burdens that comes with mass incarceration. Many families provide financial, emotional, and physical support during and after incarceration. Many offenders face a difficult time obtaining employment, housing, and welfare because of the discrimination and regulations that has been place upon them because of their background. The war on drugs was, and is, a way to maintain more offenders in prison rather than maintaining more people in our school systems to better their education, which will lead them to better employment opportunities.

Of course, there are positive outcomes for maintaining offenders in prison, especially if they have committed an offense such as murder or terroristic crimes. Some people in this world are dangerous criminals that do not deserve to remain in the general population. But do those that commit nonviolent crimes be subjected to the same harsh punishments of incarceration as those that commit a violent offense? This is where the unfairness of mass incarceration begins to take its toll on our communities as well as our economy. As mentioned before, ex-offenders have difficulty obtaining work, housing, and even welfare because of the government policies regulations. To discriminate against a nonviolent ex offender because of a mistake is not only unconstitutional, but it causes a strain on our economy contributing to the rise in unemployment and poverty. It is time to stop discriminating against the lower social class and provide build better opportunities in those communities to tackle the war on drugs and mass incarceration.


  • Mumola, C. Incarcerated parents and children. Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2000.
  • Mumola, C. Presentation for the NIDA Research Meeting Children of Parents in the Criminal Judicial System: Children at Risk, 2006.
  • Western, B., & Beckett, K. How Unregulated is the U.S Labor Market? The Penal System as a Labor Market Institution. The American of Sociology, 199, 104, 1030-1060.
  • Glaze, L.E., & Maruschak, L.M. Parents in prison and their minor children. Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, Bureau of Justice Statistics. 2008.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2017 Chernika Lipscomb


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    • Chernikal profile imageAUTHOR

      Chernika Lipscomb 

      3 years ago

      Very well said.

    • justthemessenger profile image

      James C Moore 

      3 years ago from The Great Midwest

      If I may quote from your hub: "If the same money that is being used to maintain prisoners could be used to better our schools in the poor communities, then the number of offenders in prisoners could decrease significantly." It comes down to our public policy priorities. Jesus said " For where your treasure is there will your heart be also." (Matthew 6:21 KJV)


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