Expansion of the prison system and incarceration rates and the disenfranchisement of a demographic

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The Pennsylvania State University

SOCIAL PROBLEMS

Writing assignment #1

Course: SOC 005
Lecturer: Michael Massoglia
Student Name: Keisgner E. Alfaro R.

02/23/2010

Expansion of the prison system and incarceration rates and the disenfranchisement of a demographic
During the course of the SOC005 lecture series we have studied and discussed various social problems thatare present in contemporary society. In the following paper I will focus on the complex mater of incarceration, namely the characteristics and reasons behind the expansion in the prison system and the increase in incarceration rates. Also, because of the particular effect of incarceration on minorities, especially on the African American community, the issue of racial disenfranchisement will beaddressed. When discussing racial disenfranchisement, I will give some emphasis on the unintended consequences of incarceration and how policies help perpetuate a circle of poverty and inequality at a systemic level.

We have studied incarceration as a response in policy to minimize and control crime. We have learned about the scope and the unintended consequences of the incarceration systemin discussion form and through this we have found that these problems have repercussions in many aspects of an individual’s life and society as a whole; be it health, the race relations dialogue of the country, labor and job possibilities, public perception and stigma, the family dynamic, failures in the educational system, etc. In this paper I will further develop some of the particular beliefs,specific laws and policies that surround this issue and point out some of the distinguishing characteristics of the incarceration dilemma.

It is important to study the effects of contemporary incarceration because of the relatively recent developments within the system both at the policy and infrastructural level. Ever since the country’s initial efforts to reduce crime, violence and drugsin the early 1970’s, the number of prisons and prisoners has at a minimum tripled. At the same time we see an over representation of minorities in the incarcerated population; approximately 70 percent of the prisoner population is black, and this racial group is only 6% of the U.S. population. Presently, there are around 1.5 million African Americans imprisoned and another 3.5 million other malesof the same race are on probation (Nealy, 2).
When evaluating the dramatic increase in the prison system, we see that one of the driving forces behind the push for prison construction is a popular belief that says that the creation of prisons spurs economic growth. In recent times, when it comes to state and local development schemes, one finds prison construction at the center or at leastas one of the major components considered for growth and expansion of small counties and towns. Despite this popular belief, there is no significant evidence that can support prison expansion as the responsible element for economic growth (Hooks, Mosher, Rotolo, Lobao, 7). Shedding this popular belief would be an important milestone towards creating better incarceration policies becausecurrently, we have seen an increase in small towns and counties competing amongst each other to attract the construction of new prisons. Once a prison is built, there is always pressure to fill it.

Responsible for this recent trend of prison competition and advocacy are many factors, one of the most important of these is the modern political system. We have to further analyze and recognize thatthe political climate motivates and sometimes even compels incumbents and potential leaders to overstate and sometimes take credit for economic benefits to local areas. When revising the incentives that leaders respond to in this subject, we identify that it is in fact through local economic development that their legitimacy and performance is evaluated.

The economic effects of building a...
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