OUR INCARCERATION RATE IS NOT EXACTLY COLORBLIND
There are nearly 2 million people behind bars in America—and our incarceration rate is not exactly colorblind. Black women are seven times more likely than white women to be in prison. Almost one in 10 young black men are locked up.
Here’s a little history lesson to explain how we got here:
In a move to punish those who rebelled against the Union from having political power after the Civil War, the 14th Amendment’s Section 2 allowed for the disenfranchisement of citizens if they had participated “in rebellion, or other crime.”
This plan backfired when white southerners began charging African Americans with “crimes” that had never before been on the books and could therefore deny them the right to vote under Section 2.
Fast forward about a hundred years to 1965, the same year that Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, he also signed another Act into law: the Law Enforcement Administration Act (LEAA), which enabled the massive war on crime that would eventually undermine the gains of the Civil Rights Movement—particularly those promised by the Voting Rights Act itself.
Thanks to the LEAA and the intensifying War on Drugs, between 1970 and 2010 more people ended up in prison in this country than anywhere else in the world.
Why We Should Care
By 2006, 48 out of 50 states passed disenfranchisement laws and by 2010 more than 5.8 million Americans with criminal records would not have the right to vote.
Section 2 also stated that prisoners could be counted as residents of a given county, even if they could not vote, which now called “prison- gerrymandering.” This has helped overwhelmingly white and otherwise less populated areas of the United States gain more political power, while urban areas with staggering rates of incarceration lost power.
Our Time Opinion
The incarceration rate in the US has a moral cost to our society and is a heavy financial burden, but it also weakens our democratic process. The fact that nearly 6 million adult Americans are barred from voting due to archaic, discriminatory lawsneeds to change.