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Effects of Economic Disparities on Minorities Incarcerated

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 3956 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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Are economic disparities the leading cause of the increased minority population in the prison system?



Economic disparities are the leading cause of minority incarceration. The main focus of this study is to analyze the economic inequalities being the primary cause of mass imprisonment among minorities within the criminal justice system. This research is mainly based on data obtained from a study conducted by the Sentencing Project, where arrest rates appear to make a correlation between race and crime and is scrutinized as being one of the major parts in the concentrated poverty issues. In this case New York arrests rate ranked at 34 percent among African Americans and Hispanics (Mauer, 2018). Most arrests lead to a conviction, in which this percentage will lead to a much higher comprised minority makeup of all incarcerated people in the U.S. criminal justice system.  Throughout this study new policies will be examined, as well as the implementation of reform programs. Hence, these new policies would adjust the disproportionate rates of incarceration on offenders and communities, and the recommended reform programs would reduce unwarranted racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

Literature Review

Wealth Gaps Between Races

 The United States policy makers are challenged and are confronted with the black-white inequality growth earnings. According to Traub, et al. (2019) the U.S. racial wealth gap is significant and is driven by public policy decisions. This argument leads to the assumption that there is an underlying systematic racism which affects the employment rate, economic outcomes, and housing within the racial wealth gap. In the analysis of the Survey of Income and Program Participations (SIPP) data, in 2011 the median White household had $111,146 in wealth holdings, compared to just $7,113 for the median Black household and $8,348 for the median Hispanic household (Traub, et al; 2019) As the racial wealth gap continues to rise, the concern is that the wealth gap will place a limitation on further gains in minorities households by reducing the opportunities for upward mobility.

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 Addressing racial wealth inequality will require the implementation of another major public policy intervention to build back minorities wealth. Wealth is a very crucial and significant measure of economic security against unemployment and crime. According to the Economic Policy Institute (Jones, 2017), the high value mortgages led to a wealth disaster for African American Families. This led to the black unemployment rate being twice as high as white unemployment, which leads to a higher rate of delinquency and foreclosures on black family’s homes. The infinite effects of the lack of financial and social support due to the wealth wage gap, leads to a life of crime for African American men, leaving poor mothers to fall deeper into poverty and depreciation. Hence, it is important for policy makers to address the historical and systematic barrier to equality in order to wedge the wealth gap between races.

Prison Pipe Line System

 The educational institution that was once created to protect children has co-existed with the juvenile justice system, by displaying a “zero tolerance” policy that resulted in sending students from school and funneling them through the prison pipe line system. This system has become very controversial by proposing youths to choose between incarcerations or education, in which often times the decision is already decided for them. According to Pesta (2018), the increase in the use of excessive discipline has not been equally shared among all the races in the student population. Black and Hispanic students are more likely to receive harsh discipline for any wrong doings and are more likely to receive suspension than white students for similar behaviors. A national study of ethno-racial disproportionality in suspension and expulsion rates reported that the highest rates were among Blacks (35%), Native Americans (38%), Hispanics (20%) and Whites (15%) (Hoffman, et al., 2003)

 According to Sampson and Laub (1997), minorities are at a disadvantage based on their structural location, their racial status, as well as the labels placed which effects them disproportionality in society. This indicates that due to labeling, minorities are more likely to be stereotyped as a danger to the community. The racial inequalities in school-based punishments may be a pathway that leads up to the inequalities in adulthood arrests. Another aspect that plays a role in the inequalities in minority school-based punishments is due to the biases in which teachers place when reporting the behavioral patterns of students. A study conducted by Goeff et al (2014), suggests that the racial inequality in school discipline was caused by teachers who interpret patterns of misbehaviors differently and more harshly for Blacks compared to Whites. Morris and Perry (2016) proposed that school disciplinary policy criminalizes students’ behaviors in ways that mirror the criminal justice system. The correlation between the school and prison pipeline calls into question if the discipline imposed can have a positive effect on students. It is up to the policy makers to intervene to reduce the inequality in school discipline by drawing attention to the biases circulating the schools and enforce more trainings that causes teachers to have an empathetic mindset about school discipline, which could possibly lead to a reduction in arrest. If policy makers intervened more the prison pipeline system would work for them, rather than against them by producing more alternatives for students, instead of just funneling them through a system that leads them to destruction.

Stop, Question, and Frisk

 The New York Police Department’s stop, question, and frisk policy has caused extensive controversy over time. This police policy conducts hot spot targeting in high crime minority areas that does not give equal access to safety and protection, and places minorities in an unbalanced and difficult world to live in. According to the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI), police made 685,724 stops- almost 2,000 stops every single day. The analysis portrays that the police stops were racially discriminatory and use of physical force was enforced almost a quarter of their stops. According to Wagner et al (2018), the police stopped Black and Latino people 574,483 times and used physical force against them almost 130,000 times. The flaw in this policy is that based on the disproportionate criminal involvement reported, the consecutive stops of minorities should have been a deterrent to have a considerable impact on crime.(Rosenfeld et al., 2017) On the other hand, the strategies implemented could do the total opposite, and cause the unjust treatment by police to lead to more and not less crime. Although it has been proven that the Stop, Question, and Frisk policy has prevented some crimes, studies also show that the policy is flawed because it violates an individual 4th Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizures. The policy also creates a negative impact not only on the community, but on the police department as a whole; causing the policy to be ineffective and a null and void.



Economic Disparities


Economic disparities cause minority incarceration


Economic disparities do not cause minority incarceration

Dependent Variable (DV)

Incarceration unfairness


Independent Variable(s)



0= Poor, 1= Not Poor


0= Low Accessibility, 1= High Accessibility


1=Poor, 2= Middle Class


0= Minorities, 1=Minorities


Unemployment rates among blacks and Hispanics

Unit of Analysis

1 Minority Offender


All minorities arrested in poor housing areas of the boroughs of New York City, in 2011


34 Percent of minorities arrested in Midtown Manhattan, East Harlem, Downtown Brooklyn, The South and East Bronx, and Staten Island.

Sample Frame

34 Percent of minorities arrested in poor housing areas of New York City, such as Midtown Manhattan, Downtown Brooklyn, The South and East Bronx, and Staten Island, in 2011.



Design Framework

Historical data. All the information has been obtained from a past research.


The research conducted by The Sentencing Project led by Mauer (2018), mainly examined arrests and addresses the different aspects of economic and racial disparities in the U.S. criminal justice system. The purpose of this research was to signify the excessive arrest rates of minorities in the U.S., by drawing from a sample of 1 minority offender. The statistics primary goal is to prove that even though incarceration is preventable, the socioeconomics of minorities will always lead to incarceration disparities and unfairness.

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 The sample was drawn and divided by particular boroughs, which placed New York City at a 34 percent arrest rate. The arrests are arranged by demographics and broken down into subcategories, based on the types and causes of economic disparities. This report examined not only the disparities, but also the policies to be implemented to change the criminalization of poverty. The effects of income, educational attainment, and financial security were also studied. This study reflects how minorities are handled in the criminal justice system based on their economic status and sentencing.

 The independent variables were tested to determine the relationship to the dependent variables. The housing variable was operationalized by neighborhoods; 0= Not Poor, 1= Poor. The education variable was operationalized by 0= Low Accessibility, 1= High Accessibility. The poverty variable was operationalized by income levels; 1= Poor, 2= Middle Class. The demographics variable was operationalized by 0= Minorities, 1= Minorities. The employment variable was operationalized by unemployment rates among blacks and Hispanics. The sentencing variable was operationalized by the disproportionality among the races.

 Based on the analytical data presented, the study supports the hypothesis that economic disparities are the leading cause of minority incarceration. Along with the data provided on the literature review, the study indicates that the disproportionate levels of police contact with minorities led to the rise in mass incarceration. The study also indicates that communities of color fall victim to the biases of the criminal justice system, causing them to be disproportionately victims of crime. These findings reject the null hypothesis. This study argues that the disparities in the criminal justice system is both systematic and racial. The criminal law sets forth a double standard that portrays an image that the system protects everyone’s constitutional rights, but this is not the case. The prison population is poor and disproportionately made up of minorities disallowing them the opportunity to gain access to adversary systems. 

 This study also shows that the lack of education becomes an issue that leads to mass incarceration among minorities. Living in a poor area often means having a limited amount access to available educational opportunities.  Lack of academic experience, minimal employment experience, and high poverty levels leads students to be funneled directly from the school system into the criminal justice system, known as the prison pipeline system. The link between education and incarceration has claimed so many lives. Due to the lack of resources, the link continues to plague and formulate injustices for minorities in the criminal justice system.

 Another aspect that affects minorities due to economic disparities is sentencing. Both race and class in the prison system has become an ongoing issue that plays a major role in the involvement and treatment within the criminal justice system. Minorities with very low income has fallen victim to the system due to overrepresentation at every stage throughout the criminal justice system. This leads to harsh punishments and unfair access to resources.

 In this study, the Sentencing Project portrays a mass amount of evidence of the policies implemented under the economic disparities umbrella and the ongoing effects it has on minority incarceration. Mauer (2018) collected enough data needed from the sample chosen in order to prove the reliability of all the sources provided. The validity of the hypothesis deemed to be a fact based on the variables being operationalized in order for them to co-exist as one. 

 According to Mauer (2018), mass incarceration has not equally touched all communities. There needs to be a reform implemented that addresses the policies and practices that continuously affect the racial unfairness at every stage in the criminal justice system, as well as in the targeted communities. An approach to criminal justice reform, leads to a decrease in crime, which enhances public safety by making more responsible use of the resources provided. (Mauer, 2018)

 This research shows how the application of valid and reliable research findings can promote diversity, equity, integrity, efficiency, effectiveness, and professionalism by putting forth the proper tools to access the data required to prove the hypothesis that economic disparities are the causes of minority population in the prison system. The body of the research reflects the population diversity of minorities and reflects integrity, efficiency, and professionalism, by allowing an open exchange of ideas toward the recommendations on how to reduce the disparities formulated against minorities.

Policy Recommendations

Unjust Incarceration among minorities is a worldwide epidemic within the criminal justice system. This researched has determined that economic disparities are the leading cause of the increased minority population in the prison system. The following policy recommendation are to be considered:

Egalitarian Economic Programs

 There should be an implementation of the Egalitarian Economic program for minorities to provide equal access and equal opportunities, as well as provide solutions to incentive problems, such as education, wage employment, and housing. The program does not target any particular race. It is a program in which everyone equally shares all the benefits and responsibilities. The program helps minorities focus on the goals to receive high grades and maintain standardized college entrance test scored (Shom, 2006). Unlike the prison pipe line system, the egalitarian economic program provides procedural and background socioeconomics fairness. The Egalitarian Economic program is necessary, because studies have shown that Blacks and Hispanics are less likely to graduate, and the pricing amount given to enroll in institutions should be considered. The cost of pricing can disproportionately be pushing students into a major that they can afford, but not one that they are interested in. This can dissuade minorities from further pursuing their studies.

Sentencing Procedures

 Mass incarceration has a major effect on the racial, social, and economic status of individuals. Minorities are trapped in a system where they are continuously placed in a cycle of poverty, unemployment and incarceration. Sentencing reform does not only stop at criminal law and the justice systems. It is imperative that it is utilized to address the systematic racisms and building a better system more geared towards the leniency of communities with low income. Sentencing practices should consider the short-term and long-term goals consequences by choosing sentencing alternatives versus imprisonment. Sentencing among minorities should be fair and just across the board, and not be distributed based solely on race and income. Mandatory minimum sentences should be eliminated because it is irrational, unjust, and leads to longer sentences without taking into account mitigating factors.

Once the dynamics are reinforced as to how to maintain a diverse criminal system, only then will it meet the needs of all persons in the system.

Wedging the Racial Wage Gap

 Public policies play a major role in either easing or causing chaos to the racial wealth disparities. There should be a policy that reduces the potential for racial wealth gaps. Before implementing a policy an evaluation of the impact of housing, education, and income between whites, black, and Hispanic households in order to access how much the policy can reduce the gap. Another aspect that can contribute to the wedging of the racial wage gap is eliminating the labor income gaps by making the pay scale equal among blacks, Hispanics, and whites .The racial gap between races should provide a way to implement a monetary policy that focuses solely on employment with room for wage growth among all races, and match it with their productivity gains.

 The purpose of this study is to determine if economic disparities are the leading cause of minority incarceration.  The research was conducted by the Sentencing Project by Mauer (2018), based on statistical data from 2011. The study concluded that socioeconomics plays a major role towards the minority population in the prison system. The study also proposes that new reformed policies can deter the chances of minorities being targeted or disproportionally handled.

 The U.S. criminal justice system is built to protect the laws of the constitution. Race and economics play a major role in the criminal justice system in the presence of the sentencing process. The United States is a country where people are supposed to feel safe, but instead issues arise when the subject of race comes into play. Minorities are arrested, stopped, and incarcerated much higher than people of other races. Also, racism in police treatment towards minorities creates an even bigger disparity in the incarceration rates among minorities. It can be duly noted that that minorities are overrepresented in the criminal justice system but underrepresented in the United States, and in order to bring about change, a new reformed policy must be implemented and enforced for the betterment of equality.


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