Perspectives on social inequality, criminal justice, and race in the United States: A critical analysis.

Author:Fosten, Gerald K.


This critical analysis is thematic in nature. Taking into consideration the extensive amount of research that has already been done on the effects the criminal justice system has on Black inequality, the thematic approach provides a more efficient method of critical analysis. The themes covered by the analysis are the following: (a) the criminal justice system's contribution to Black inequality; (b) contending views on the criminal justice system (prison industrial complex); (c) criminal justice system's perpetuation of the prison industrial complex; (d) conservatives and White supremacy resurgence produced prison industrial complex and Black social inequality; and (e) African Americans' responses to the prison industrial complex. In the conclusion, the general strengths and limitations of the perspectives reviewed and new potential contributions to them are delineated. This essay is therefore important because it will integrate, synthesize, and make sense of the competing perspectives on the topic.

Before proceeding with the analysis, it makes sense to first say something about the critical analytical approach employed to undergird the discussion, albeit briefly. Critical analysis involves developing a solid understanding of existing works on a topic. This is done by (a) identifying and explaining the positions of the authors and (b) providing an argument about the authors' arguments. To do so, the analyst must evaluate the theoretical, definitional, evidential and implicational/policy relevance questions in the works.

The Criminal Justice System's Contribution to Black Inequality

This section discusses the perspectives on the relationship between criminal justice system policy and legislation and socially engineered Black inequality outcomes. Research on whether or not the criminal justice system contributes to Black inequality provides opportunities for African Americans to engage in collective action are also highlighted. In addition, examining both sides of the criminal justice system contributes to Black inequality debate that persists within academia and the arguments utilized are also discussed.

Jeff Manza and Christopher Uggen (2008) explain that "civil death" (Latin: civiliter mortuus) and contemporary modern day variants of disenfranchisement laws are rooted in medieval Europe, evolving from ancient Greece's atimia and ancient Rome's infamia (Stanley & Weaver, 2014; Levine, 2009). These were a series of punishments and penalties imposed upon convicted criminals that entailed losing the right to participate in politics, as well as loosing many other rights associated with full citizenship and engagement in the polity. This is significant when considering that Manza and Uggen's (2008:140) survey findings show that contrary to popular belief, convicted felons and other returning citizens are oftentimes politically informed and engaged (Manza & Uggen, 2008:165).

Historically, topics and questions involving the criminal justice system and its impact on undesirable political and economic outcomes in African American communities were discussed by social science theorists in the fields of American Government and Political Behavior. The use of the criminal justice system and inequality has been examined in related research. Thus critiquing of the manner in which African Americans with a felony conviction engage and negotiate their inferior status in matters that relate to their ability to participate in their own selfdetermined interests needs to be addressed by further investigation (Alexander, 2010).

Jason Stanley and Vesla Weaver (2014) differentiate democratic political ideals from a state that is a 'racial democracy' as compared to a model democratic state free of racially imposed institutionalized norms. They suggest that the United States' criminal justice system intentionally administers law, order, and justice in a racially-biased and unbalanced manner, while assumingly operating under false guises of democratic political ideals and principles (Stanley & Weaver, 2014). The marginalization of one race by the unfair application of laws governing the access (and denial thereof) of democratic freedoms and notions of liberty to African American citizens to the benefit Whites and other races characterizes the United States as a 'racial democracy' (Stanley & Weaver, 2014). This parallels the principles found in the Racial Contract's Herrenvolk, democracy, which is defined by the 2011 Fifth Edition of the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language "as a governmental system in which the majority ethnic group has a say in the government, and has the right to partake in voting, while the minority races are disenfranchised."

The connections among criminal justice system policy, mass incarceration and the privatization of prison services serve as one of the primary contributing factors for social inequality because full-citizenship rights, political and economic engagements are curtailed as a result of felon disenfranchisement acting as a barrier to access the following: employment, income, housing, education, social programs and other opportunities (Alexander, 2010; Manza & Uggen, 2008). For numerous ethical reasons, some public services should be administered solely through the public sector (Moyers et al., 2012). Violation of low-level drug offenses has been an underlining cause of the phenomenal increase in prison population around the nation (Boyd, 2001). Generations of Black men have been lost to the criminal justice system and are continuing to be exploited by the larger prison industrial complex (Muwakkil, 2005; Lotke & Wagner, 2004). According to Graham Boyd (2001), the drug war has been a deliberate and disguised war on the Black community and to a lesser extent other communities of color.

In efforts to marginalize a subordinate group and continue the established social structure, the preponderance of evidence shows that the dominant group using its influence to shrink the potential size of the minority's electorate, thereby undermining the political power of subordinate groups (Alexander, 2010; Manza & Uggen, 2008). Legal barriers are enacted upon the subordinate group, such as Jim Crow laws, and other types of racially discriminatory policies, statues, and practices. Whites, for instance, implement political restrictions if they perceive that minority groups can organize and increase their political power (Manza & Uggen, 2008).

Consistent with this literature, it is argued that geography and racial demographics, dominant group's size relative to the size of the subordinate group, civic participation, cultural norms, and public attitudes are important indicators determining the dominant group's perceived threats from, and its response to, subordinate groups' ability(s) to participate in the electorate and economy (Manza & Uggen, 2008). Thus, there is a need for a study that utilizes the Racial Contract Theory and Racial Group Threat Theory (Racial Threat Theory or Group Threat Theory) to investigate the issue. This is because the Racial Contract Theory suggests that racism itself is an intentionally devised institutionalized political arrangement, of official and unofficial rule, of official and unofficial policy, socioeconomic benefit, and norms for the preferential distribution of material wealth and opportunities. The Racial Group Threat Theory suggests that growth in the comparative size of a subordinate group increases that group's capacity to use democratic political and economic institutions for its benefit at the expense of the dominant group--(if we use Racial Contract Theory and Racial Group Threat Theory (Racial Threat Theory or Group Threat Theory). The racial demographics of a state's prisons could possibly expose a direct relationship to voting restrictions when analyzing the comparative size of the non-White population and the subordinate group's potential to alter the quo (Manza & Uggen, 2008; Stanley & Weaver, 2014).

Research is growing regarding the criminal justice system (prison industrial complex) and mass incarceration's roles in the exploitive transferring and extrapolation of wealth out of African American and urban communities and into mostly rural poor white communities; and the significant negative outcomes felony convictions and prison histories have on future wages, earnings and employment opportunities for African Americans pipelined into prison towns for purposes that largely serve political gerrymandering, special interests groups and economic interests (Street, 2005; Lotke & Wagner, 2004; Boyd, 2001).

Contending Views on the Prison Industrial Complex

A significant debate raises the question about whether the criminal justice system and related exfelon disenfranchisement facilitates and contributes to African American social inequality. In their book, Locked Out (2008), Jeff Manza and Christopher Uggen affirm that the analysis and interpretation of disenfranchisement laws in the United States are shaped by the examination of democracy, race, and citizenship. Manza and Uggen classify the stance of each position of the debate over the substance and purpose of political, economic, and social participation based upon the three racial threat theories utilized: (1) group threat, (2) political threat, and (3) and economic threat (Manza & Uggen, 2008).

The right to exercise the franchise is essential to the engagement of active citizenship as an original component of the basis for democratic principles (Levine, 2009; Manza & Uggen, 2008). The center of the contemporary disenfranchisement debate primarily focuses on whether or not convicted criminals and returning citizens should possess legal rights that other American citizens take for granted (Manza & Uggen, 2008).

According to Jeffrey Reiman's article, "Liberal and Republican Arguments Against the Disenfranchisement of Felons" (2005), those arguing more from the sociological...

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