Martina De Leon
AP Lang E
9 March 2018
The Land of the Free: Behind Bars
Black Lives Matter. Whether your opinion on the movement is positive or negative, most people know exactly what that phrase means. Recently, there has been a lot of controversy over police brutality. People complain that African Americans are being pulled over or stopped for often unreasonable causes and are then treated with unnecessary brutality. These encounters have resulted in many deaths of African American youth and sparked the Black Lives Matter movement. This issue is symptomatic of the bigger issue of mass incarceration and the carceral state in the U.S. The United States holds 5 percent of the world’s population, yet it is home to 25 percent of the global prison population. Mass incarceration, “the major increase in the number of people in prison in the United States that began in the mid-1970s”, is considered to be a pervasive issue in the American criminal justice system. Between 1980 and 2004, the amount of prisoners rose 500 percent to 1 in 31 adults, or 2 to 3 million people. There have been several factors that have led to the current carceral state, but its roots are found in the Nixon administration. During this era, Nixon passed federal policy that severely cracked down on drug trafficking and increased incarceration. In addition, he passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 which set mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes. Since this period, the number of prisoners has nearly doubled every decade (“Mass Incarceration”). The enormous prison population has had major repercussions both socially and economically by tearing apart families and imbalancing the federal budget and the job market. In several ways, those especially affected by the carceral state are people of color.
Mass incarceration, especially with the government trend towards detaining and incarcerating illegal immigrants, has torn apart families, and has thrown them into vicious cycles of crime and poverty. Mass incarceration doesn't just include people physically in prison, it includes anyone under government control like parole, jail, and deportation or detainment. The biggest example of this is illegal immigrants. In the 1970s, people began to argue that undocumented aliens posed a potential threat to national interest: Illegal immigrants affronted the sovereignty of the United States, suggesting it is incapable of controlling its borders; the presence of families afraid of being found created a large number of people who would not fight for their rights; and they overtook the unskilled job market. In 1986, Congress passed the Immigration and Reform Control Act, an attack on undocumented immigration. In 1996, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act resulted in massive deportation of immigrants. Currently, under the Trump Administration there have been several measures proposed and enacted that has led to further incarceration of immigran...