The American Prison System: Built on Racism

By Claire DaQuino
With the 13th amendment in 1865, slaves were freed, and the prison system was created only twenty-six years later. The 13th amendment ended slavery in the U.S. with one caveat; slavery was outlawed “except as a punishment for crime.” 

According to President Obama, “the U.S. is home to five percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of the world’s prisons.” 13 percent of the US population is Black and 26 percent is white. In comparison, 34 percent of this population consists of Black males, while white males make up only 29 percent. Due to mass incarceration, the numbers of imprisoned Americans across racial lines is already extremely high, but in comparison to white prisoners and the entire white population, the percent of Black prisoners remains significantly higher. 

Correspondingly, countless laws disproportionately affect Blacks over whites. This can be seen by the harsh laws and sentences surrounding crack use, which often target Black communities, while sentences for cocaine use are significantly lighter, as cocaine is more prevalent in white communities. In years past, sentences for possessing one gram of crack were 100 times longer than sentences for that of cocaine.

This system must be reformed, and in order for change to happen, these injustices must be acknowledged and understood. The Netflix documentary, 13th, is a great starting point for learning about these issues, as it provides insight into the immensely corrupt and racist American prison system.