Effects of Mass Incarceration on African American Communities

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ever since reading the new jim crow by michelle alexander, the issue of mass incarceration has sparked a major interest in my intellectual curiosity. it's an issue that is evident and continuously growing which is why i decided to write an essay about it for my assignment. my essay specifically highlights the injustice of mass incarceration affecting african american males in the united states and how it has barred their growth as a race.

Submitted: April 16, 2017

A A A | A A A

Submitted: April 16, 2017



Aboya Omot

English 100

Mrs. McCartney

10 October 2016


Effects of Mass Incarceration on African American Communities

There’s no denying that mass incarceration is an ongoing crisis in our nation today. The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, despite being third largest in population. Moreover, the African American race has an exceptionally high number of males that are incarcerated as compared to the other races. Mass incarceration is a major obstacle in the economic and social growth of African American males. They are being taken out of their communities, spending an unreasonable amount of time in jail, and being released into a stigmatized society in which they are unable to truly reintegrate.

Mass incarceration is making it extremely difficult for African American males to progress economically, due to the effects that mass incarceration has both while men are imprisoned, as well as after being released. While they are imprisoned, they are unable to support their families by working, putting them in a poor economic state. After being released from jail, the chance of you finding an opportunity to make a good living are extremely limited. A prime example of this is the case of Clifford Runoalds. Imagine, you look in the mirror, take a deep breathe, and begin to mentally prepare yourself for what might be one of the hardest things you may ever have to do. Today is the day you bury your daughter. This will be the last time you will ever see your child’s body. Somehow, someway you make it to the church and are waiting for the service to begin, emotions at an all time high. But then, the church doors open and in come the police. They slap handcuffs on your wrists, ignoring your pleading cries to see your daughter one last time. You are arrested for refusal to cooperate on felony charges, but a month later the charges are dropped. “...but as a result of your arrest and period of incarceration, you lose your job, your apartment, your furniture, and your car. Not to mention the chance to say good-bye to your baby girl”(Alexander, 97-98). This is what happened to Runoalds. Although he was wrongfully indicted, he lost everything. Taking the male, who is typically the primary provider in some families, then shipping him off to prison, means you are eliminating a family’s main source of income. This leaves families in a difficult situation where they are scrambling to make ends meet. Life after prison poses a whole new set of problems. In this country, the label felon is a huge deterrent to things such as getting a job or applying for housing. According the NAACP’s Criminal Justice Fact Sheet, “African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites” and, “One in six black men had been incarcerated as of 2001. If current trends continue, one in three black males born today can expect to spend time in prison during his lifetime.” This puts African Americans at a disadvantage since they are the ones who are mostly being imprisoned. This disadvantage is hurting their chances at improving the economic state that they are currently in.

The growth of African Americans in society is becoming stagnate due to not only economic barriers, but also societal barriers. There’s a certain way that society perceives African American males already. Many think that since there is such a great number of them going to jail, they must be bad, or commit heinous acts. What many people do not realize is that the system is working against them. Because they are African American, they are “expected” to behave or act out in a certain way. This is why they are often times targeted or are looked at through a certain lens. Mass incarceration also plagues communities. Interestingly, studies conducted, “...have reasoned that contagion is an appropriate analogy for incarceration, due to the well-documented finding that proximity to an incarcerated (or “infected”) individual greatly increases the likelihood of incarceration” (Hoffman, 1). With so many members of the African American community imprisoned, this metaphorical infection is spreading at an alarming rate. Because of an internalization of these stereotypes, many young black males believe they have no choice but to succumb to these molds society has made for them; this psychological barrier is preventing them from thriving in society.

The process of reentering society is also another major psychological hurdle for African Americans. Reintegration back into society is not only of the hardest tasks to do, but also one that is nearly impossible to fully do so. Although incarcerated men did their part to repay society for whatever injustice they’ve committed, there really is no going back. In that way, the system is almost unforgiving. It’s almost as if one mistake dictates your whole life; no matter how much you try to make it right, it always comes back to haunt you. This is proven by the high level of difficulty posed just to get a decent job or housing and by the influence that mass incarceration has in communities of color. Oftentimes, many criminals released from prison actually return due to fact that they could not successfully reintegrate, pushing more and more black males back into the system.

With such a high number of African American males going through the system, it has placed a handicap on their growth as a race. Locking away all the black males acts as an impediment because they are unable to work or live in their communities, which is crucial in trying to advance not only economically, but also in society. We need a call for arms for criminal justice reform. The only way to correct this injustice against African American males is by completely changing how our criminal justice system functions in America. The first step in reformation is acknowledging that there is a problem and bringing awareness to the subject, in this case the mass incarceration of black males. Only then will the opportunity for African Americans to truly progress as a race be present.


Works Cited


Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. ,2010. Print.

Hoffman, Emily Von. "How Incarceration Infects a Community." The Atlantic. Atlantic Media

Company, 6 Mar. 2015. Web. 11 Oct. 2016.


National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). "Criminal Justice Fact

Sheet." NAACP | National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. NAACP,

n.d. Web. 16 Oct 2016.


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