By: Alyssa Diaz
In this day and age, it is more common to see another case of police brutality, minorities committing crimes, and riots when you turn on the news than it is to see good in this world. After many years of being put in the shadows, people are rising once again to fight the inequity this justice system is serving to the citizens of the United States.
The United States, which was built on the ideology of all men being created equal and liberty and justice for all, is actually the one who is (and have been since the beginning of this nation) creating the injustice.
In the coming weeks, Americans are meant to go to the polls and pick out the next president. For months, they have been hearing of reform for many of the areas that the government has not been caring about, besides for their selfish reasoning. There are meant to be reforms for the education system, the health care system, the immigration system, but the one on many peoples’ minds is the justice system.
The justice system in the United States is absolutely atrocious. There are approximately 2.3 million people behind bars. Those are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, friends who are living years of their lives behind bars that they will never get back. They are not just the ID number they are given when they are admitted into prisons. They are much more than what they are being treated like in those facilities, whether it be solitary confinement or cramped spaces because there are so many other individuals being housed there.
Now let’s look at the numbers: one in five incarcerated people are locked up due to drug charges, most incarcerated youth are locked up for “nonviolent” offenses, one in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The most astonishing of these facts is the US makes up five percent of the world population, but it makes up 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.
People are probably asking themselves, “How did we come to this?” And the answer is fairly simple, politics.
Politics have played a major role in the society we live in today from the usual taxes, to the unfair and downright insane laws passed in favor of those who share the same skin color as those making the laws.
A perfect example of this is the Jim Crow Laws that ruled the South. These laws can be found as far back as 1862, and the effects are still felt today. These laws came in a time of reconstruction after the Civil War, and they limited the rights of the black people who just got out of an incredibly low point in their history. The laws restricted their rights to voting, going to certain bathrooms, eating at certain restaurants, etc.
To take away voting rights back then was “simple”. They used tactics like the grandfather clause (the person’s grandfather had to have voted for them to vote), literacy tests, poll taxes, and even not letting them vote if they were arrested.
To take away voting rights now is similar. Those who are convicted of felonies lose their right to vote. There is an estimated 5.3 million Americans who are denied the right to vote because of their past convictions. This statistic mainly impacts men of color.
PolicePolicy.org states, “Almost all convictions are the result of plea bargains, where people plead guilty to a lesser offense, perhaps of a different category or one that they may not have actually committed.”
Some people who are behind bars do deserve to be there, but there are many others who were scared into thinking that by going to trial they lessen their chances of seeing daylight again. That is how corporate America increases the volume of prisons. The volume of prisons matters to them because they have major multi-million dollar contracts with the government.
American Civil Liberties Union, or ALCU, states, “As incarceration rates skyrocket, the private prison industry expands at exponential rates, holding ever more people in its prisons and jails, and generating massive profits. Private prisons for adults were virtually non-existent until the early 1980s, but the number of prisoners in private prisons increased by approximately 1600% between 1990 and 2009.”
The reason for this boom in the prison system is because in 1994, Bill Clinton signed the crime bill. This bill includes a federal “three strikes” policy that says criminals who are convicted of a violent felony after two or more prior convictions will serve life sentences. This “three strikes and you’re out” policy also includes drug crimes.
The provision lead to millions of people being incarcerated in the 1990’s, but the rise in mass incarceration wasn’t just to blame on the Democratic Candidate’s husband.
President Richard Nixon, who was a Republican, decided to start the “War on Drugs”. This war on drugs caused Nixon to increase the size of federal drug control agencies and a mandatory sentencing for those caught using or in possession of drugs.
Nixon’s former domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman even admitted to the “War on Drugs targeting blacks and hippies.
“You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities,” Ehrlichman said. “We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
Nixon was not the only one to target minority groups, and he certainly wasn’t going to be the last.
When Ronald Reagan came into power in 1981, his wife, Nancy Reagan, started an anti-drug campaign. She also coined the term, “Just Say No.” There was also a zero tolerance policy, which came to in the mid to late 1980’s. And from this and Bill Clinton’s policy, the number of inmates behind bars from nonviolent drug offenses skyrocketed from 50,000 in 1980 to over 400,000 in the late 1990’s.
United States prisons are not designed to help those who are brought there. They are not designed to have the best food, resources, rehabilitation methods.
There are arguably far superior styles of prisons, as seen around the world in countries like Sweden. The Swedish prison style has proven to decrease the number of prisoners in their system. The prison is designed to rehab prisoners, so they leave in better shape than how they came in.
In a Mic.com article, they explained what the “Open Prison” system means for the Swedish prisoners, “Prisoners at open prisons stay in housing that often resembles college dorms, have access to accessories such as televisions and sound systems and are able to commute to a job and visit families while electronically monitored. Prisoners and staff eat together in the community spaces built throughout the prison. None are expected to wear uniforms.”
This means prisoners are not being dehumanized. This means the Swedish are setting their citizens up for a better life when they get out. They are not constantly reminding them of the crimes that they have committed. The prisoners are working to better themselves, so they do not commit crimes in the future.
In contrast to this, United States prisons dehumanize their prisoners. They are often kept in cramped cells, solitary confinement, and without the psychological help they need. Humans were not meant to be kept away from others. People need human contact to keep sane. Though this is true, they are also not meant to kept in large numbers in small areas. Prisons are setting those going through the system up for failure and further stints in them.
Many will argue that prisons shouldn’t be cushy places for prisoners to go and chill out, but prisons should not be places that prisoners are abused mentally and physically day in and day out. Citizens would not have to worry as much about their safety if prisons were used for what they were made for, rehabilitation.
In 2012, a young black man named Trayvon Martin was walking home after buying skittles and an Arizona tea. He was followed by neighborhood watch member, George Zimmerman. Zimmerman called the police and was told not to follow Martin by the dispatcher. Of course, the man didn’t listen. What happened after that is up for debate from those who agree with George Zimmerman and those who fight for justice for Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman was armed, whereas Martin was not. He killed Martin, and when he went on trial he argued that it was self defense. Zimmerman was acquitted for his crime.
This one incident in Florida sparked a movement. This movement would be called Black Lives Matter, and they still hold strong to this day. They fight to combat the injustice against the black community when it comes to police.
On the Black Lives Matter website, they speak about their mission and what they are working towards, “#BlackLivesMatter is working for a world where Black lives are no longer systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. We affirm our contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.”
This community and millions of others rose up again in Ferguson, Mo. Another unarmed black teenager was shot dead. This time it was by a police officer. On Aug. 9, 2014, Michael Brown was killed by Darren Wilson.
The real uprising came when the prosecutors decided not to indict the police officer for this crime. There were riots, demonstrations, and protests around this. Police officers combated this by throwing tear gas into the crowd and shooting rubber bullets.
From this one case, there are more videos of police brutality. There are more calls for body cameras and justice for those who were either hurt by the police or killed. Many people have spoken up about being afraid to leave their houses if they are a minority. There is a divide between those who are meant to protect the citizens and the citizens themselves.
In the 2016 presidential election, there have been calls for reform for the justice system. The one who inherits this nation in distress is in for more than they have bargained for. It is not only in need of reform in the justice system but in many other areas- like gun laws.
The United States is faced with two main candidates in Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Donald Trump has said he is a “law and order” man. He is following in the steps of Richard Nixon, who also called himself a “law and order” man.
Law and order in politics means to want a stricter criminal justice system. In order to do this, there are going to be stricter penalties against those who commit crimes. Law and order politics includes Bill Clinton’s three strikes policy, longer sentences, etc.
We can expect an even larger amount of minorities in prison from Trump who has said that “the overwhelming amount of violent crime in our major cities is committed by blacks and Hispanics.”
Hillary Clinton and husband Bill Clinton are going around and apologizing for the incarcerations that came in response to his crime bill in 1994. It’s amazing how it takes people rising up again after many years of abuse for them to actually apologize now.
“We will finally be able to say, loudly and clearly, that for repeat, violent, criminal offenders: three strikes and you’re out. We are tired of putting you back in through the revolving door,” Hillary said in 1994.
Now Hillary Clinton has said, ” We need to end mass incarceration, use strategies like police body cameras to improve accountability, increase substance abuse treatment, and aim resources at criminals who pose the greatest threat. And we need to invest in education and job training—the foundations of success.”
We are not here to tell you who to vote for as the next President of the United States. We are here to spread the facts for those who can vote. On November 8th, we encourage those of the readers who can vote to go out and do so for those who had their rights taken away from them unfairly.