Essay on The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison

12486 Words Feb 7th, 2013 50 Pages
The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison
JEFFREY H. REIMAN
American University
or the same criminal behavior, the poor are more likely to be arrested; if arrested, they are more likely to be charged; if charged, more likely to be convicted; if convicted, more likely to be sentenced to prison; and if sentenced, more likely to be given longer prison terms than members of the middle and upper classes.1 In other words, the image of the criminal population one sees in our nation’s jails and prisons is distorted by the shape of the criminal justice system itself. It is the face of evil reflected in a carnival mirror, but it is no laughing matter.

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The face in the criminal justice carnival mirror is also … very frequently black face.
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Blacks are (proportionately) more likely than whites to live in such inner-city areas and thus more likely than whites to be arrested on drug charges.7 But one very important reason that blacks are more likely than whites to live in disorganized inner-city areas is that a greater percentage of blacks than whites are poor and unemployed. What might at first look like a straightforward racial disparity turns out to reflect economic status. 3. Blacks who travel the full route of the criminal justice system and end up in jail or prison are close in economic condition to whites who do. In 1978, 53 percent of black jail inmates had pre-arrest incomes below $3,000, compared with 44 percent of whites.8 1983, the median pre-arrest income of black jail inmates was $4,067 and that of white jail inmates was $6,312. About half of blacks in jail were unemployed before arrest and 44 percent of whites were.9 In 1991, 30 percent of whites in the prison population and 38 percent of blacks reported full- or part-time employment during the month before their arrest.10 4. Some studies suggest that race works to heighten the effects of economic condition on criminal justice outcomes, so that “being unemployed and black substantially increase[s] the chances of incarceration over those associated with being either unemployed or black.”11 This means that racism will…

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