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What is the purpose of prisons?
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Incarceration hurts minority communities most

Minorities are often disproportionately incarcerated and have high rates of recidivism.
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The impact of the prison industrial complex on people of colour in the USA has been a hot button topic recently. With the prison population numbers climbing ever upwards, and the country's race relations increasingly strained, this is an important and valuable argument to consider.

The Argument

Minority communities are a disproportionate percentage of the prison population in the US. These are often communities that have been historically disenfranchised and have high levels of poverty and unemployment. What’s more, the crimes they commit are often the ones most quickly and easily prosecuted by police departments. Searching 20 young black men to find one of them in possession of drugs is significantly easier than attempting to uncover money laundering schemes or other white collar crime. These communities’ distrust of the state and connections within law enforcement of criminal justice in general means that getting them convicted is often easier. Add to that the policy of increased police presence in minority communities, and the racialised policing of the war on drugs, and you have minority communities overrepresented in the prison population. The impacts of going into a punitive prison system are particularly insidious for minorities. It traps entire families deeper within the cycle of poverty, which is often the reason these communities are disadvantaged in the first place - the systems of slavery and institutionalised racism kept families in situations of little education and few economic opportunity. If your parents are serving long prison terms with little hope of legitimate work afterwards, the impact on your life is going to be immense. There is decreased parental support, minimised income to afford books or school trips, never mind the ability to afford a college education. Punitive incarceration policies therefore only widen the gaps between wealthy majorities and poorer minorities, which is hugely negative for both the minorities but also for societal cohesion as a whole. This means there are worse outcomes for society in general, that could have been avoided with a more rehabilitative prison system that does not punish minorities for being victims of economic disadvantage and systemic racism.

Counter arguments

This isn’t necessarily an argument against the prison system being punitive. Rather it is an argument that points out that the criminal justice system needs to be better at solving racism within its ranks - at every level. Maybe that means recognising that some districts are policed more heavily, or that some people are given longer punitive sentences than others. Nowhere in this argument does it say that it is the punitive system is at fault - rather that it is unfair for minorities to suffer the brunt of the suffering, hence widening racial inequality.


Minority communities are more likely to be in situations of economic deprivation Economic deprivation makes it a lot more likely that you will be imprisoned for a crime Once imprisoned in a punitive prison system, prisoners quality of life becomes worse in the long run. Minority communities are more likely to be imprisoned and have worse outcomes for themselves and their family in the long-term.

Rejecting the premises

Minority communities are more likely to be imprisoned and have worse outcomes for themselves and their family in the long-term. Even if this is true, we reject that this is a sufficient reason to favour a rehabilitative reason. So far, we only agree that it is unfortunate that such prejudice exists. We do not agree that the way to fix such prejudice is by changing the prison system.


This page was last edited on Monday, 20 Jan 2020 at 11:22 UTC

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