IT’S A FACT that African-Americans are disproportionately represented in America’s prisons. In state prisons, where the majority of prisoners are held, African-Americans are incarcerated at 5.1 times the rate of white Americans.
But what remains an open question is what explains this racial incarceration gap; what needs to change to eliminate that gap? Is it a racist economic system that produces a disproportionate population of impoverished African-Americans who then are ground up by a criminal justice system that targets the poor? Or is it better explained by racial bias in policing and sentencing?
A new report from the People’s Policy Project argues that while both exist, it’s economic oppression that matters most — or, at least, matters first.
The research suggests that one of the best ways to reduce the total prison population would be to embrace social democratic policy that would address poverty, the education gap, and other class divides.
“One implication, at least to me, is that policies aimed at alleviating class disparities may be the most effective way of helping black people, and all people, subject to being ground up by the criminal justice system,” researcher Nathaniel Lewis said.