“The Invisible Woman, Gender, Crime, and Justice” begins to detail some of the pernicious defects presently taking place inside this country’s Criminal Justice System in addition to the substantial tolls these failings extract from the ill-fated parade of our fellow citizens who one by one become entangled in its web are ensnarled then later un-rehabilitated and now worse off than they were beforehand are spat back out once again becoming grist for the systems mill. If the data is correct this is an all, too frequent occurrence that takes place more so as an artifact of prevailing social politics and policies vs. any single individual’s proclivity towards crime. In other words, what we have here in America is not really so much of a “crime” spree as it is an “incarceration” spree.
However, “The Invisible Woman” is not to be confused with “The Invisible Man” which simultaneously is both a tale of hegemonic masculinity as well as the story of a lone white male character named Mr. Griffin who subsequent to discovering a method for producing invisibility makes him-self vanish. Whereupon in a twisted self-absorbed conviction that his “imperceptibility” somehow translates to omnipotence he sets, off on a “Reign of Terror” to frighten the nation, (The Invisible Man, 1933).
Nevertheless, Mr. Griffin’s “Reign of Terror” pales in comparison to the duplicitous state of play in this nation’s putative system of justice including its progeny the criminal justice system and its progenitor America’s vaunted political system. In which, a decidedly homogenous kaleidoscopic of patriarchal self-vindicating white male egoist elites as well as a few token females and minority persons use their influence and power to protect and preserve the extant social formation described by Mike Donaldson in his essay about gender systems and the formation of social-constructs. Mr. Donaldson does this in terms what he calls non-autonomous gender systems or to be precise “Hegemonic Masculinity”. Additionally he asks the reader this question “why, in specific social formations, do certain ways of being male predominate, and particular sorts of men rule?”
Mr. Donaldson, “If there is an independent structure of masculinity, then it should produce counter hegemonic movements of men, and all good blokes should get involved in them. If the structure is not independent, or the movements not counter-hegemonic, or the counter-hegemony not moving, then political practice will not be centred [sic] on masculinity … and what do we men do then, about the masculine images in and through which we have shaped a world so cruel to most of its inhabitants? — the ways in which the ruling class establishes and maintains its domination. [Their] ability to impose a definition of the situation, to set the terms in which events are understood and issues discussed, to formulate ideals and define morality is an essential part of this process. Hegemony involves persuasion of the greater part of the population, particularly through the media, and the organization of social institutions in ways that appear “natural”, “ordinary”, “normal”. The state, through punishment for non-conformity, is crucially involved in this negotiation and enforcement.” (Donaldson, 2012)
In essence, Mr. Donaldson is telling us that on the one hand that non-independent patrimony will not work to cure itself, whereas on the other that the non-independence of patrimonial systems would likely appear to be a “given” in that it is these very kinds of systems that have persisted over time despite innumerous occasions for change as various tumults and fluctuations of social-structure and related nation-states have occurred the world over throughout history. Moreover, I would go so far as to say he is arguing that at least on some level a plurality of those belonging to such non-independent patrimonial systems are cognizant of the systems overall nature and goals.
Power then is genderized. Else, what are we to make of the fact that essentially all social-constructs, agencies, and institutions boast patriarchal stripes that are clearly visible to anyone wishing to see?
Early in her book Ms. Belknap notes that even those who by definition are seeking to establish causal connections and facts regarding crime and its causes have shown an astonishing ability to leave girls and women out their criminological studies and furthermore that when researchers dained to include girls and women more often than not the scheme of the attachment was usually chauvinist and stereotypical. Indeed, she points out that until recently criminology was a decidedly male dominated field that still resists a sincere discussion about the “invisibility” of girls and women in the study of crime, (BELKNAP, 2008).
While not precisely on topic, the following recent remarks and positions may afford some context vis-à-vis the probable nature of the “genderization” of the criminal justice system. Because the criminal justice-system is both a product of and exits within the greater framework of American society it only seems fitting to include some fresh examples of some of the kinds of thinking taking place on the national stage by various members of America’s elites and lawmakers.
Congressman Todd Akin (R-MO), “Well you know, people always want to try to make that as one of those things, well how do you, how do you slice this particularly tough sort of ethical question. First of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.” (salon.com)
Rep. Joe Walsh “some girls’ rape easy” and “pregnancies are never life-threatening”. (Jaco Report)
A remark so shocking to the consciousness it prompted the following response, “On Tuesday night (Oct. 22), Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock made the most compelling case for atheism this Episcopal priest has ever heard”, Rev. Susan Russell, Episcopal priest and activist from Pasadena, California, (huffingtonpost.com).
Sadly, the list goes on. Leaving one to wonder how is it, that such callous and obtuse persons’ as these are able to maintain such a low need for cognition. But more importantly by what means is it even possible that sufficient numbers of the general-public lend an ear to this tripe so as to make it possible for these misogynists’ to not only show themselves in public but also even more incredibly ask for and receive positions of leadership. Perhaps that is a discussion for another time, or is it? I suspect there is a linkage between this kind of thinking and the goings on in our public institutions.
The view of girls and women as having a “monolithic experience” leaves out the obvious fact that in addition to their gender girls and women come from myriad backgrounds, classes, cultures, and “race’s”. Yet most likely, it is precisely this myopic perspective that drives current policies in the criminal justice system and its treatment of women. A situation, that depending on one’s point of view may or may not need redressing.
You know like say for instance if its, “a legitimate rape”, and even though “some girls’ rape easy”, “it [must be] something that God intended to happen”, but not to worry because “pregnancies are never life-threatening” and if it’s God’s will well then it’s got to be good right…??? Maybe, I just don’t get it.
Hence, the fact that girls and women come from myriad backgrounds, classes, cultures, and “race’s” means it is only logical (if one sincerely aspires for the truth) to attempt to understand girls and women’s “experiences” in light of this diversity. The concept of “multiple consciousness”, the idea that each of us is born with more than one identity is one such approach.
In “The Invisible Woman, Gender, Crime, and Justice”, Ms. Belknap notes the five major “strains” of feminist theory as well as some of the criticisms these have received from politicians, academicians, and the media. Since feminist theory essentially seeks to identify and expose culturally based gender inequalities in addition to promoting gender parity it comes as no surprise that those “invested in perpetuating gender distinctions” have little trouble finding ways to discount and discredit it. Yet as the author points out feminist theory tends towards inclusion not exclusion, meaning its holistic approach would be more likely to benefit both genders rather than just one, (BELKNAP, 2008).
From the invisible to the eye, or the invisible to the mind the issues surrounding gender crime and justice, if addressed can only benefit us all. “Alle, alle auch sind frei”, or for the non-polyglots among us… olly, olly oxen free. Come on out girls we (men) are lost and need your help to find our way.
BELKNAP, J. (2008). Invisible woman, the, gender, crime, and justice. (Third ed.). Belmont: Thomas Wadsworth. (BELKNAP, 2008)
Donaldson, Mike, Author Affiliations1.University of Wollongong Volume 1 / 1974 – Volume 41 / 2012 SpringerLink Date, Monday, January 17, 2005
Jaco, Charles. “The Jaco Report: August 19, 2012”. Fox News. Retrieved 20 August 2012.
The Invisible Man, a 1933 film directed by James Whale and produced by Universal Pictures.
- What About the Men? Why Our Gender System Sucks for Men, Too (drhiphop85.com)
- Spokane City, County join forces to revamp criminal justice system (krem.com)
- UN expert: judicial corruption threatens rule of law (jurist.org)
- “Effects of change in California criminal justice system difficult to discern” (sentencing.typepad.com)
- Social Media and the Criminal Justice System – Friend or Foe? (melbournecriminallawyersblog.com)
- Judges Confirm That Bail Bond Agents Play An Important Role In The Criminal Justice System (prweb.com)
- UK News: Warning over child custody deaths (walesonline.co.uk)
- Why Won’t The Candidates Talk About Prisons? (article-3.com)
- Warning over child custody deaths (standard.co.uk)
“Justice is a concept of moral rightness based on ethics, rationality, law, natural law, religion or equity. It is also the act of being just and/or fair”, (Konow, James. 2003).
The juvenile justice system was created as an attempt to address the unique differences between young persons and adults. Generally it is thought that young persons are less capable of taking care or responsibility for themselves than are adults. The concept of in loco parentis, Latin for “in the place of a parent” came about as a response to the growing problem of displaced and abandoned children who joined together with other such children to survive. Over time exploitive abusive practices such as the “binding-out” of children as unpaid-workers or their incarceration in “houses of correction” gave way parens patriae Latin for “parent of the nation” in which the state is seen as having responsibility to help in cases where the individual is unable to assist themselves. The idea was rehabilitation vs. retribution. The juvenile system was designed to more flexibly and adequately deal with young offenders in the hopes of reintegrating them with society (Krisberg, 2005). However, “Research shows that incarceration does not rehabilitate juvenile offenders” (the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice).
What do the “Super-Predator”, the Wolf-Man, Vampires, and the Juvenile-Justice-System all have in common? Answer none of them exist. The first three are all the products of superstition, folklore, and mass-media driven hysteria, the last is another figment of our imaginings intended to help us sleep at night by at once by providing an illusion of protection from a fictitious colored boogeyman and further, emotional refuge from our proper accountability with regard to the inequities tolerated in these systems (Krisberg, 2005). Still, the list remains somewhat descriptive of reality in that one of the mythical creatures above isn’t “white”. On the other hand its DNA is “white” in that it is the spawn of many “white-persons” fear of racial minorities namely “colored-persons” whereas the other two are commonly considered simply to be irrational fears about other “white persons” with some kind of condition.
Let’s try them as adults, yeah that’ll work.
“Criminal behavior is the product of a systematic process that involves complex interactions, between individual, societal, and ecological factors over the course of our lives”. If this statement is accurate then it would follow that persons, especially young persons from disadvantaged backgrounds and areas would find themselves disproportionately involved in the CJS due to a particular culture’s social-structure and its dominant theory of crime. In addition the more inequalities a society tolerates the more certain it is that some of the disadvantaged will commit crime. In other words doing better comes from knowing better and the definition of better depends on what its better than and that depends on who you are and where you are starting relative to others in that society. Further still is that persons having little social and or cultural capital once involved in the CJS are less likely to effectively negotiate the system, constructively influence their own outcomes or obtain help from outside it, therefore they are more likely to be contemptuous and hostile to the system and those administering it. Likewise those controlling and working within the system are more likely in turn to become biased and judgmental in regards to minorities, and as a result consider them less worthy of their efforts or compassion.
Similarly because they are perceived as threats by the dominant social order, minorities are arrested, convicted, and sentenced in an unequal lopsided manner. From street cops to youth tribunals to adult courtrooms, minorities (who make up the majority of the poor and underprivileged) remain the chief targets of social-control in America.
Ironically the idea of getting “tougher” on juveniles and children utterly fails to recognize a truth most “reasonable and rational” parents already know that is, most juveniles and children lack the capacity to fully comprehend the meaning and consequences of their actions consequently and due largely to this fact they are even less likely to be “deterred” than are adults by prospects of harsh punishment at some later date for their current actions in the here and now. Does anyone really believe that juveniles and children calculate the expected utility of crime before they act? Never mind that a majority of the data shows attempts to lower adult crime and reduce recidivism by means of deterrence (protection/avoidance strategies) [alone] haven’t/don’t/aren’t and won’t be effective in the long run despite an “adults” allegedly superior capacity to integrate future risks into their real-time decision-making, i.e. to calculate the expected utility of crime. In his essay on deterrence theory Daniel S. Nagin quotes Todd Clear (1994) as follows, “this ongoing attempt to use the correctional system as an instrument for inflicting pain [is in truth] a penal harm movement”, [vs. a penal anti-crime movement] (Daniel S. Nagin, Carnegie Mellon University, Deterrence, Scaring Offenders Straight).
To fix the problem of the disparate treatment of minority juveniles by the CJS it would first be necessary to resolve many of the underlying patterns and reasons motivating such criminal behaviors, a partial list of these incitements include, specific systemic institutional prejudices, in addition to the more generalized social, educational, economic, and environmental inequalities found to varying degrees in the prevailing culture. As well it would be essential to arrange for consistent effective outcome based long-term family and community support in these disadvantaged populations for the duration needed to achieve these goals.
Krisberg, K. B. K. (2005). Juvenile justice redeeming our children. California: Sage Publications.
Konow, James. 2003. “Which Is the Fairest One of All? A Positive Analysis of Justice Theories.” Journal of Economic Literature 41, no. 4: page 1188
- Georgia looking at ways to reform juvenile justice system (onlineathens.com)
- Florida is poorly equipped to deal with juveniles accused of murder (jacksonville.com)
- Juvenile Justice to privatize last five residential programs (tbo.com)
- Georgia looking at ways to reform juvenile justice (edweek.org)
- Juvenile Justice Expert James Bell Argues Nation is “Clueless” About Abusive System (prweb.com)
- Report: local youth programs need more funds, oversight (amarillo.com)
- Restoring Rehabilitation to the American Juvenile Justice System (jurist.org)
- Abandoned Youth (deafinprison.wordpress.com)
Ipsa loquitur… “The thing speaks for itself.” When does race matter?
I wonder, when [doesn’t] race matter? From the time of the first colonists to the birth of the nation and the adoption of a decidedly well-intentioned but imperfect Constitution, to the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment post bellum, as well as the host of overtly incongruous Supreme Court rulings both preceding and following this self-inflicted bloodbath over creeds regarding the implication of what is or isn’t self-evident apropos the meaning of the word “all” in the phrase, “… [all] men are created equal”, right up to our present-day ideological cold war between the proponents of the deterrence i.e. lex talons as opposed to the proponents of change founded on outcome based policies and programs… race has not only mattered, it is nearly the only thing that does matter.
Yet in view of the statement put forth by the Second Continental Congress, it would seem to be perfectly clear as to the aims and motives for this document vis-à-vis achieving the right to a “separate and equal station”. They said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that [all] men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”, the Declaration of Independence (“Digital history,” 2012). So how is it that the implication of this one small word is responsible for the ziggurat to obfuscation, duplicity, acrimony and misery that have followed? The answer lies in the motives of those who wish to reshape the all-inclusive self-evident meaning of the word all to fit their own exclusive ends and sensibilities.
David Cole, points out that “all-white juries have been the norm in the America CJS for most of our history, the highest court in the land has repeatedly disavowed jury discrimination, yet racially based discrimination in jury selection remains a pervasive part of our CJS to this day. So how can all these facts be true at the same time” (Walker, Spohn & Delone, 2012). If one eliminates all the probable reasons for some condition or occurrence, only the improbable however unlikely, remain. Since it is inconceivable that the body politic i.e. the state and federal legislatures, plus the state and federal courts in addition to the Supreme Court itself are not all aware that an incongruity exists between what is legally permissible vs. that which is in fact openly taking place throughout this nations courtrooms there can remain only one explanation improbable as it may be, the authorities want it so. If they did not… it would not be thus.
So how do we achieve “color-blindness” in our CJS when its causes are almost certainly rooted in the systemic inequalities engendered by our past and current social structure? A social structure whose dynamics and features reflect the ongoing influences and mores of those in positions of dominance and whose motives and actions are and have ever been more concerned with their own power, welfare, and interests, in contrast to egalitarianism as is unmistakably demonstrated by history as well as the current state of affairs… the oft lauded principles embodied within the Constitution notwithstanding.
How do we address the implications of statements like the following in response to the answer of an inmate when asked if he had an attorney when he was before the court, “No, I had a public defender” (pg. 203). Or that of the Birmingham Age-Herald upon the conviction and sentencing of Haywood Patterson to 75 years in prison whom observed “the decision represents probably the first time in the history of the South that a Negro has been convicted of rape upon a white woman and been given less than a death sentence” (pg. 197).
Not to mention the combined 104 years the “Scottsboro Boys served in prison for a crime that many believed was almost certainly a hoax (pg. 197)” or the lynching of Ed Johnson (pg. 269), the six years Clarence Brandley sat in death row (pg. 200) as well as the hundreds if not thousands of other wrongly accused, arrested, and convicted persons whom have fallen victim to discernible overt or implicit laws, policies, decisions, discretions, and the subsequent abuses of power that ensue from a system with an inherently biased racial nature.
“The perfect is the enemy of the good…” Voltaire, from “La Bégueule” (Contes, 1772) (Arouet, 2012). No doubt, we could… should we choose … breathe somewhat of a sigh of relief, guarded though it may be. Clearly, many glaring examples of racism that were once the norm have been addressed by the courts and the public. Nevertheless, issues of racism persist in American society and in its CJS. Thus discrimination and its inherently destructive effects needlessly continue to plague many segments of American society directly while its’ further malignant consequences continue to infect the whole. Despite Voltaire’s sagacious observation, regarding perfectionisms tendency to hobble progress the very lethal nature of racism demands that we attack its’ every instance in order to ensure and effect our continued “Safety and Happiness” (“Digital history,” 2012).
Arouet, F. (2012, July 07). Voltaire. Retrieved from http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Voltaire
Digital history. (2012, August 24). Retrieved from http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/learning_history/revolution/declaration_of_independence.cfm
Walker, S., Spohn, C., & Delone, M. (2012). The color of justice, race, ethnicity, and crime in america. (5 ed.). Wadsworth Pub Co.
- Candide (earthpages.wordpress.com)
- Classic Literature: Francois-Marie Arouet (1694 – 1778) aka Voltaire (cmoneyspinner.wordpress.com)
- François-Marie Arouet, AKA Voltaire (paulinaczarnecki.wordpress.com)
It’s interesting that a nation claiming to extol doctrines of equality and justice has at the same time such trouble in dealing with the glaringly obvious fact that this “just aint the case”. Every day injustice disparity and discrimination “routinely” take place within its very own political institutions, courts, law enforcement agencies, bureaucracies, businesses, banks, colleges, schools, media… and the list goes on until finally ending in the hearts and minds of the very citizens that these principles were fashioned to protect. Then as is so often the case when injustices and suffering happens to others, not affecting me or mine they pass with little notice, to be filed under “not our concern”. “Out of sight and out of mind” the saying goes which is fine for many things… but a formula for disaster with [others] and this issue is one of those.
Anyone familiar with this nation’s history knows of or has even read the first ten Amendments to the US Constitution also known as the Bill of Rights. This document lays out the framework and guiding principles protecting our civil rights. It does this mainly by way of “negative-rights” that is to say rights to be free from something or [not] have things done to us or our property thus protecting us from certain governmental actions or inactions. And despite the fact these rights are guaranteed us in this document they are not necessarily provided to us. For example the constitutionally protected right to bail for all US citizens vs. what actually happens when bail is provided according to certain standards such as being employed, although every defendant is considered eligible for it, only those with employment are freed to await trial. Meaning those without employment remain incarcerated despite not having been tried, or convicted of a crime.
Further instances include “justly enacted unjust laws” such as can be found in the Constitution upholding and protecting the “de jure right” to own slaves which remained in force until Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution in December 1865. Or in decisions such as Plessy v. Ferguson 163 US 537 (1896) which held up the “right” of private citizens to discriminate based on the doctrine of “separate but equal”. Back then in many southern states the lynching of African-Americans was a common occurrence… a cold-blooded murder for which virtually no one was ever arrested or tried let alone convicted.
Thus the guarantees in the Constitution are more like abstract ideals which for many depending on their situation may or may not actually apply. You know like those credit card offers guaranteeing one is pre-approved, you can send it in but the guarantee is only good if you meet their criteria.
Rule according to higher law. (2012, August 26). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 23:39, September 8, 2012, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Rule_according_to_higher_law&oldid=509182352
- Defining Equal Protection (blogs.lawyers.com)
- Plessy vs Ferguson Case Study (freecasestudy.wordpress.com)
- Ryan Walters: The Thirteenth Amendment ‘Exception’ to the State Action DoctrineMichael Ramsey (originalismblog.typepad.com)
- Brown v. Board of Education and Equal Protection (blogs.lawyers.com)
As I see it Conflict Theory, specifically the pluralistic conflict model described by Akers and Hawkins, (Akers & Sellers, 2009) best describes how institutions of wealth and power, (and the resultant accrued mores specified as [official] norms and their grievous counterparts deviancy (i.e. codified criminal definitions) as well as the basal causes of “persistent-poverty” are conserved and transmitted generationally by means of the social structures which have been created and are controlled by the dominant class(s) in a given society… such that once established the distinct boundaries marking class strata become nearly impassable in terms of climbing thru them.
In spite of significant efforts at social reform and what many refer to as the emergence of an “African American middle class” not only has the gap between the wealthiest and poorest Americans seen an overall increase it has at the same time been accompanied by key differences with respect to such correlated factors as race and ethnicity. A reality undoubtedly caused by “long-standing socio-economic inequities” between various racial and ethnic groups throughout this country’s history, making it therefore much more likely a product of method versus one of chaos. So if Cornell West is correct, “structures and behavior are inseparable hence institutions and values go hand in hand” there remains only one explanation for the preceding and current social structure. It is intentional.
Particularly telling are the factors leading to the formation of what has been termed “the underclass” previously known as the “dangerous class” whose members were once peasant farmers that had been evicted off their small plots to make way for “a larger capitalist pasturage system.” Now homeless they migrated to various population centers where they were quickly seen as a threat to the middle and upper class business and land owners of 16th and 17th European cities who fearing this influx of displaced persons enacted “Poor laws” in hopes of protecting their wealth (Krisberg, 2005). Ironically now just as then the dominant culture sets the conditions which generates the under/dangerous class(s).
In fact today’s factors such as the bad (i.e. ineffectual schools), the secondary market jobs alongside increased opportunities for differential associations, the detachment from the values and aspirations held by greater society, the inadequate social buffers and diminished collective efficacy, i.e. really a dearth of the social and cultural capital required for well-being are not so different from those of the 16th and 17th European cities, nor is today’s response by members of the upper and middle classes.
This dearth of social and cultural capital present themselves as sets of conditions explicitly confined to a particular area or areas that are not currently nor have ever been hidden or unknown to the public at large… (In fact we have many useful sometimes colorful names for them like slums, ghettos, projects, shantytowns, favelas, and the like, they are also known as hotspots, hangouts, territories, case makers, roughs, the no-go, the street etc. all depending on one’s perspective.)
…factors owing their existence to “a given [unalterable] collective social circumstance a person or persons finds themselves known as Social Structure.
(Walker, Spohn & Delone, 2012).”
Krisberg, K. B. K. (2005). Juvenile justice redeeming our children. California: Sage Publications.
- Jewel on Merit & Mobility (lsolum.typepad.com)
- Middle class, whatever it is, targeted by candidates (lifeinc.today.com)
- Why Affirmative Action Pisses Them Off (racefiles.wordpress.com)
Conflict theory offers the most comprehensive explanation for the disproportional involvement of racial and ethnic minority’s involvement in the CJS and apparent criminality. Recount the story of Raymond Tyler who was released from prison after serving nearly 30 years of what I am assuming was a life sentence for crimes he did not commit (his exoneration having been based) on irrefutable DNA evidence. His conviction for these [black on white] offenses was based on the “eyewitness” testimony of the victims, who being only 11 and 12 years old are legally defined as children. Other exculpatory testimony was apparently disregarded presumably because it came from Mr. Tyler’s friends and therefore could not be trusted unlike the “eyewitness” testimony of the victims whose veracity despite their age and the traumatizing nature of the event itself, should have given a “reasonable” person pause. In addition there was no damning physical evidence of Mr. Tyler’s involvement or guilt. Meaning Mr. Tyler was in fact just another in a long line of victims, scapegoats, straw men, and other entities of collateral damage produced by the ongoing conflict between those with power and those without it. History provides numerous examples of this conflict as well as the many different factors and facets of its nature. Exhibit one is America’s own history which includes the oppression and “extermination” of this continents’ aboriginal persons who due to an error in judgment became known as “Indians”. Clearly in this case the ensuing events ultimately led to a struggle for power and eventually survival for members of the weaker group whom even upon their defeat continued to be defined as deviants by those with power thus needing further control, segregation, and re-socialization. Exhibit two, the de jure institution of slavery in a nation founded upon ideals of the Age of Reason otherwise known as the Enlightenment such as “inalienable rights”, the Rule of Law, impartial justice, and egalitarianism, and which had no less just fought a war in hopes of “freeing” itself from “tyranny and oppression”. Could/would anyone today really try to make a case for a slave owner vs. an enslaved person arguing for his freedom? Perhaps, nonetheless most of us would reject the “right” of a slaveholder attempting to claim ownership of another human being. Yet many of us uphold the right of “society” to force its values and laws on others wishing to reject them based on the “greater-good”. Interestingly this is essentially the same argument used to defend de jure slavery in colonial times then later during Jim Crow and it’s the same argument used now to make Constitutional end runs around many of today’s issues.
These and many others examples plainly make the case for conflict theory and it’s dynamic of the have’s dictating to the have-nots what [is] good or bad, right or wrong, legal or illegal. All in terms ultimately designed to protect the interests of a shifting group of elites who hold the reins of power. However unlike a pure dictatorship, to ensure its hold on power a democracies collective body of norms, mores, and laws must contain enough overlapping values at any one time to provide cohesion amongst a plurality of the members of the dominant culture thus appearing to be a republic in nature while in truth it is likely more a plutocracy. The simple reason for the disproportional minority/ethnic involvement with the CJS lies in the near certainty, that it is these groups and the persons who make them up that comprise those having less power and as such they have been and are structurally discriminated against, labeled, controlled, and disenfranchised by those who do (Walker, Spohn & Delone, 2012).
- The Durability of Race (racefiles.wordpress.com)
- Danette Clark: ‘The Reparation Agenda: Obama’s Race Rhetoric literally scripted by Reparations Movement and international law’ (rbo2.com)
- Building Cultures: Social Classes, The Lowest Rung (Part Two) (gnomestew.com)
- ‘Master’ Jefferson: Defender Of Liberty, Then Slavery (npr.org)
- A tipping point in the fight against slavery? (bbc.co.uk)
- Slave Farms in the 21st Century: Reflections on the Socio-economic and School Pipeline to Prison (dogmaandgeopolitics.wordpress.com)
- Slavery’s Legacy (wnyc.org)
- Will ‘White’ and ‘Black’ Lose Their Meaning? (theroot.com)
“Some so-called criminals – and I use this word because it’s handy, it means nothing to me — I speak of the criminals who get caught as distinguished from the criminals who catch them–some of these so-called criminals are in jail for their first offenses, but nine-tenths of you are in jail because you did not have a good lawyer and, of course, you did not have a good lawyer because you did not have enough money to pay a good lawyer. There is no very great danger of a rich man going to jail.” — Clarence S. Darrow, Speech to inmates at Cook County Jail, 1902
What if one out of every ten adult white males from your community was either in jail or prison, what impact would that have on the community? According to the Sentencing Project “more than 60% of the people in prison are now racial and ethnic minorities due to the disproportionate impact of the “war on drugs” which has almost exclusively been waged in America’s poorer areas i.e. communities of color (sentencingproject.org).”
According to Adam Liptak columnist for the New York Times, “The United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population. But it has almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners. “China, which is four times more populous than the United States, is a distant second, with 1.6 million people in prison (Liptak, 2008).”
Adam Gopnik of the New Yorker Magazine puts it this way, “More than half of all black men without a high-school diploma go to prison at some time in their lives. Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country today—perhaps the fundamental fact, as slavery was the fundamental fact of 1850. In truth, there are more black men in the grip of the criminal-justice system—in prison, on probation, or on parole—than were in slavery then. Over all, there are now more people under “correctional supervision” in America—more than six million—than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin at its height (Gopnik, 2012).”
If as the Sentencing Project points out, “The United States is the world’s leader in incarceration with 2.2 million people currently in the nation’s prisons or jails… a 500% increase over the past thirty years” and “More than 60% of the people in prison are now racial and ethnic minorities. (Thus “for black males in their thirties, 1 in every 10 is in prison or jail on any given day)” as well as the fact that… “These trends have been intensified by the disproportionate impact of the “war on drugs” in which two-thirds of all persons in prison for drug offenses are people of color” (sentencingproject.org)… the impact on these communities has to be disastrous.
An individual’s well-being is tied to a society’s social-structure which in turn defines a person’s access to its social as well as cultural capital. The extent and availability of these elements (i.e. social and cultural capital) are principally tied to the communities’ people live in. Nearly all the data show that persons who come from wealthy functional communities have a higher likelihood of success and well-being than those from poorer dysfunctional communities. However whether or not a community is functional or dysfunctional largely depends on the kinds and qualities of the families living there specifically are they stable or unstable, do they mainly consist of single or two parent homes, are the parents employed, are they high or low-income earners, are they educated, do they have legacy and the like. The fact that minorities represent over two thirds of those currently in prison has and is having direct effect on the communities where they once lived if for no other reason than it escalates the numbers of single parent homes.
Arguments and justifications rationalizing current policies and enforcement strategies seemingly miss the obvious point namely, it is the effects of these policies and enforcement strategies themselves that are largely to blame for creating and perpetuating the very conditions they are purportedly designed to combat.
It is little wonder to most of us that children coming from wealthier communities and stable homes tend to do well and be law-abiding. So why on the other hand is there such confusion, finger-pointing, and disdain in regards to the outcomes of children from poorer dysfunctional families and communities, doesn’t it only makes sense that when their families are ruined and their communities are left to decay from the inside out that these children will not do as well, and not be as law-abiding. And are they really to blame for a social structure they didn’t create and from which they have no escape.
Is punishment for what are essentially “victimless” crimes so vital to the “war on drugs” and its proponents’ that it’s worth the price of millions of shattered homes and tens of millions of destroyed lives? How many more should we be obliged to sacrifice in the name of deterrence with its false economy, mendacious procedures, and seemingly endless capacity for vindictiveness before someone realizes it’s only making matters worse not better?
The question comes down to this, is it better to be self-righteous, or is it better to simply be right? And knowing this how can we then continue to set and follow such ill-advised policies and implement such self-contradictory strategies? If we want to lower crime perhaps we should do things that we know will actually work rather than continuing in King Pyrrhus’ footsteps. Or vis-à-vis our “war on drugs” the more victorious we are… the more likely it is that our victories will undo us.
Interestingly one of the central features of a dysfunctional family is a tendency to blame the victim for the situation, disorder, or result(s). Seemingly resembling the current situation where those with little choice over their surroundings or futures are held to account by those who essentially have put and keep them there.
Retrieved from http://www.sentencingproject.org/template/page.cfm?id=107
Liptak, A. (2008, April 23). U.s. prison population dwarfs that of other nations. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/23/world/americas/23iht-23prison.12253738.html?pagewanted=all
The caging of america. Retrieved from http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/bios/adam_gopnik/search?contributorName=adam gopnik