Here is a paper I did in 2018 on “Mass Incarceration”.

It is in the “pyramid” style inspired by the movie the “13th”.

This is how it has all been kept in place.

Well a brief summary of it anyways.

Feel free to share.


Darran Bruce

English 102 – Winter 2018


Final paper- Pyramid


“Locked Out”

“It makes a lot more sense for us to be investing in jobs and education rather than jails and incarceration.” – Bernie Sanders

Mass incarceration in the United States has grown four times its population since the 1980’s. The number of inmates since the 80’s has increased from 500,000 to over 2.2 million in 2015. When compared to the rest of the world, the United States has the highest rate of incarceration at 724 people per 100,000. Next is Russia at 615, and South Africa at 334. England is in the middle with 148 per 100,000 people. In the United States, the African Americans are incarcerated at five times the rate of whites. In 2015 African Americans and Hispanics made up 32% of the United States population but accounted for 56% of the US prison population.

Position – 

The War on Drugs

In 1971 Richard M. Nixon was the President of the United States. Nixon declared that drug abuse was “public enemy number one”. This “war” has been echoed by many Presidents of the US over the past 40 years. Drug consumption, primarily opiate (34%)  and cocaine (25%),  have risen considerably during this time frame. In the United States there has been an epidemic in the inner city areas. In the 60’s and 70’s heroin addicts were male, disproportionately black, and very young. Laws regarding drug offenses became tougher and law enforcement used the ‘war on drugs” as a rally cry to sweep through inter-city areas arresting people of poverty, predominantly African American and Hispanics, and incarcerating them for lengthy sentences on small, first time, offenses. The start of this “movement” came in the way of New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller. Up until 1972 he saw drugs as a social problem, not a criminal one.  Then in 1972 his stance changed to a harsher tone. “For drug pushing, life sentence, no parole, no probation”. Verified by one of his closest aides, Joseph Persico, said the governor had heard about this new, zero-tolerance approach to crime while studying Japan’s war on drugs. This change in attitude led to something never done before, mandatory sentences for dealers and addicts, even for those caught with small amounts of marijuana, cocaine or heroin. This is when the “Getting Tough” movement was born and politicians, like Nixon, would use it as a rally cry to influence voters and launch the “War on Drugs”.

Changes in Policy – 

With the rally cry of “War on Drugs” America’s sentencing policies, practices, and patterns changed dramatically over the past 40 years . These policy changes came in the form of three distinct phases rolled out over several decades. In the 1970 there was criticism of “indeterminate” sentencing that led to setting standards. Starting around 1975 and up into the mid 1980’s there were reforms proposed to make sentencing “fairer”, more predictable, and constant. From the mid 1980’s to the mid 1990’s sentencing lengths for drug and violent crimes became harsher and easier to impose. This came in the form of mandatory minimum sentencing, three strikes, truth-in-sentencing, and life without possibility of parole. The third phase, mid 1990’s to the present, had been a period of “drift”. There has been very little to make any changes to either the sentencing of offenders or to the penalties associated with crimes. Because of these changes the prison population has gone from 330,000 in 1973 to a peak of 2.3 million with over 50% being for nonviolent offenses.


The “War on Drugs” and changes in policies over the last 40 years have led to many consequences for those that have been, or still are, incarcerated. One of the key consequences for inmates upon release is the disenfranchisement they experience in society. They lose most of their rights as a US Citizen, the right to vote being one of them. The number of US Citizens that are currently unable to vote is 6.1 million. When this is drilled down and looked at by race one out of every thirteen African Americans has lost their right to vote due to felony disenfranchisement laws. Not having the right to vote means not having a fair voice when it comes to certain policies, like prison reform. 

Only two states in the U.S. (Maine and Vermont) do not strip felons of their voting rights, while at least 11 states permanently disenfranchise felons. In these 11 states convicted felons permanently lose the right to vote. Convicted felons can also lose many other rights to basic services such as food stamps, financial aid, public housing. They are also unable to attain a license to practice certain professions such as real estate, [accounting], plumbing, and barbering. This disenfranchisement makes it very difficult for the person trying to re enter back into society and become a productive member of that society, contributing an equal share and having an equal say. 


Hyperghettoization is the extreme concentration of underprivileged groups in the inner cities. When you take a particular group of minorities or people of the same class, typically lower class, and put them in highly concentrated areas the consequences are devastating. Everything from unemployment, housing, and education declines while crime rates in these areas move upward. When an inmate is released from prison it is usually these “hyperghettoized” areas they will return to and fall back into a life of crime since they will have lost several privileges barring them from living elsewhere.

According to Loïc Wacquant simply living in the ghetto makes one suspect and thus harms one’s social and cultural standing and prospects in society. This “guilty for life” is literally branded on the forehead of each person when released from prison and let back into society only to return to the same area from whence they came. A cyclical pattern is developed and there is a high chance the person will be incarcerated for a crime again and put back into the prison system.


Ta-Nehisi Coates says “There’s a long history in this country of dealing with problems in the African American community through the criminal justice system.” The approach that has been taken is working “as intended”. The answer that has been provided to the African American, and other non-white cultures, criminal problems in the US is mass incarceration. The criminalization of social problems, unemployment, drug addiction, and mental illness in the African American, Hispanic, and other non-white cultures is not treated the same as in other communities. Crime will exist within these communities because they are prone to criminal behavior and thus increase the prison population due not to their race, but because of who they are and what environmental surroundings they are placed in.

Lance Hannon suggests that it is not race, but poverty that is leading the rise of the prison population over the last 30 years. “The persistence of poverty in the face of economic growth…has been quite rapid.” When an impoverished area is examined the facts point to higher criminal behavior being exacerbated by a lack of employment, education, and support for drug rehabilitation. “The rise in imprisonment can affect various dimensions of poverty not only for the individuals imprisoned, but also for their families and communities.” It is not about race, but about an environment that creates a “durable inequality”, an environment that will ultimately create crime. 

The ACLU has a different picture on this.  They state that “there are more black people [and other minorities] under the control of prison and corrections departments today than were ever enslaved by this country” with blacks being incarcerated 10 times that of whites even though whites commit more crimes. Unfair sentencing due to mandatory minimums for the smallest offense coupled with the lack of an adequate defense for blacks in the criminal justice system lead to systematic targeting of minorities. Mix those two with racial profiling and the case for targeting blacks and other non-white minorities is clear. The mass incarceration system is rigged towards people of color in America.

Call to Action statement – 

Where do we go from here?

Decriminalize hard drugs

One of the leading factors that so many American’s are ending up in the prison system is due to the current drug laws that exist. Before the 1980’s people who were caught in the possession of drugs were not incarcerated. The War on Drugs in the eighties saw a whole series of laws being passed changing sentencing for drug related crimes and immediately prison populations started going up. The disparity in where 500 grams of powdered cocaine is equivalent to 5 grams of crack cocaine being treated as the same crime is a contributing factor to the inequality of the justice system. Most “street dealers” never have access to this amount of powdered cocaine and if they are caught with a small amount of the “crack” version it holds the same penalty even though it is generally a less potent substance. The long term damage extends not only to the prison population but also to the inner city areas where these people are released back into. They often fall victim to recidivism. A cycle of returning back to a life of crime to survive because they are stripped of basic fundamental American rights. 

Restore voting rights

In addition to losing many rights as an American Citizen the biggest one that a person convicted of a crime can lose is not having the right to vote. In a democracy this can have dramatic repercussions when it comes to policy change. Not having a vote sends a message that a person is not an equal member of society and their voice has little to no weight at all. There are currently 12 states that allow felons to restore their voting rights and two that never take away the right. Three states, Kentucky, Iowa, and Florida permanently revoke voting rights from people convicted of a felony. Advocates, like Perry Hopkins, that want to restore voting rights for people that have been released from prison and completed their probation clearly point out that people “feel disenfranchised, ostracized, alienated, and helpless.” The American Probation and Parole Association believes that “civic participation is integral to successful rehabilitation and reintegration.” 


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10 Travis, Jeremy. “The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences.” The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences




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17 Recoquillon, Charlotte. “Democracy’s Punishment: Felon Disenfranchisement.” Humanity InAction. Accessed June 16, 2015.







24 DeFina, Robert H. and Hannon, Lance, The Impact of Mass Incarceration on Poverty (February 23, 2009). Crime and Delinquency, February 12, 2009. Available at SSRN: