Are we moving backwards?

BY HENRY HONEYWOOD

During my short time in America so far, I have taken modules in Urban Crime and Justice and in Criminal Justice Reform. Through studying these modules, I have gained further knowledge and can now truly appreciate America’s problem of mass incarceration and the deep underlying structural racism that exists here today; whilst watching the election results trickle in, the aforementioned issues kept coming back to me. A candidate who has expressed clear xenophobic, sexist and racist remarks has been elected into the highest office of this country. The feelings I have experienced around University is that everyone realises what a big step backwards this is. I feel that there were a vast number of shy trump supporters, those people who do not tell pollsters their true voting intentions and thus cause predictions and poll results to be wrong. Whilst this makes for upsets, the more disturbing fact is how many people in America still hold views similar to, or the same as, Trump. It was not a close win for Trump, he managed to take many swing states thus highlighting just how many people hold these views.

The main theme that came to me from my classes is that, whilst we may have overcome some explicit barriers for minorities since things like the Jim Crow Laws, there are such underlying structural problems for minorities, and still many who hold deep-rooted prejudice views in America. It is a worry that as a population we have become less overtly racist or xenophobic but have resigned to hiding these views publically and expressing them through the forms of participation that cause damage such as presidential elections.

Hillary Clinton was the first presidential hopeful to discuss criminal justice reform in a number of years. She talked about mass incarceration, however she has only proposed mere politically acceptable solutions such as body cameras for police and increased substance abuse treatment – but at least she has brought the topic to the forefront of politics.

The problem of mass incarceration hits at three of the 21st Century’s most prominent problems and the cause of many of our issues – poverty, hopelessness and unemployment. As we have moved through the period of modernisation, the wealth gap has increased dramatically so that now the top 1% has 35.6% of all private wealth, more than the bottom 95% combined (Inequality – Institute for Policy Studies ). This causes such inequality and poverty which then produces a population who have little in terms of life chances; the political elites allow them to be trapped in a system of mass incarceration, which apparently is their solution to the problem. We have created a culture of using jail and prisons as a means to reduce poverty. Instead of dealing with the main issue of inequality and lack of opportunity, the western world has turned to a system of incarceration nowhere more obvious or greater than America.

Michelle Alexander expresses the idea that mass incarceration has become the new Jim Crow in her book, ‘The New Jim Crow’: “….we use our criminal justice system to label people of color ‘criminals’ and then engage in all the practices we supposedly left behind. Today it is perfectly legal to discriminate against criminals in nearly all the ways that it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans.” (Alexander, 2012).

Donald Trump sadly encompasses everything non-Americans dislike about America. This is a very sad culmination of a political system so many have become disillusioned from. So disillusioned that they will vote for a Presidential candidate that espouses such negative views as he does. This is not what this country needs in order to start to solve the problem that is underlying most problems in society, that of unemployment, poverty and hopelessness. In all this negativity my only hope is that this will turn into something that causes such shock that it will truly make for real meaningful change, but this is only a hope.

 

Bibliography

Alexander, M. (2012). The New Jim Crow – Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (Revised Edition ed.). New York, New York , US : The New Press.

Inequality – Institute for Policy Studies. Facts and Figures in 99 to 1. Retrieved November 10, 2016, from Inequality.org: http://inequality.org/99to1/facts-figures/

 

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