Mass Incarceration, Still an accurate term

Mass is defined in one context as: a considerable assemblage, number, or quantity.

Incarceration is defined as: the act of incarcerating, or putting in prison or another enclosure.

When one puts these two definitions together in reading the phrase “Mass Incarceration”, the picture painted by the sheer number of those incarcerated behind bars is quite clear. A considerable quantity of people are imprisoned in the United States, so many in fact, that we lead the world in prisoners per capita. In the year 2012 there were 2.3 million people incarcerated in the US, to put this number into perspective, the total population of the US is 312 million. Though this is indeed a fraction of the total population, these numbers do not tell the entire story. Those who are primarily in the prison population do not reflect their demographic percentage of the American population.

There is something that is very telling when a group which makes up around 12–14% of the population makes up around 40% of the prison population, this, I believe, is where the origination of the term Mass Incarceration comes from, this particular group of people is definitely being incarcerated in mass. Of course there have been laws passed, policies enacted by both the local PD’s and the federal drug laws that have led to this point. The doing away with mandatory minimums will no doubt lessen the strain on certain communities, but the spectre of at the least racially charged policing policies will remain. The “broken windows” model propagated by William Bratton, the NYPD Police Chief is a part of this racially charged problem. This model claims to go where the “windows” are being broken, where the crimes are being committed. Now, because high poverty rates generally lead to a higher rate of crime, this naturally means more policing of parts of the city which are impoverished. Who is impoverished? Generally speaking this means more Black/Latino people will be targets of this model, which probably was not considered when it was crafted by the NYPD and other departments around the nation.

This invariably means more Black and or Latino people will come into contact with the police and be criminalized and because the aim of “broken windows” policing is to get the law breakers off the streets rather than to provide them with alternatives, then these people become cogs in the system of Mass Incarceration. Or, the incarceration of a significant number of people relative to their make up of the general population. So, the term “Mass Incarceration” is not the problem, the problem is we play games of semantics with actual problems instead of lasering in on solutions to solve the glaring inequity of the present prison population.

There needs to be a system in place that attempts to prevent crime instead of a system that rewards both those who lock up people and those who run the facilities that lock people up. (The Private Prison is a whole other conversation in and of itself) There needs to be a system which addresses the needs of the community first and foremost, the needs of the individual who is confronted by the police. There needs to be changes in the policing model which tends to produce a view of certain segments of the population as animalistic and dehumanized. There needs to be more action taken on a systemic level to decrease the incentives to lock people up, because as more PD’s say that locking people up decreases the crime rate, the more studies and numbers show that this assertion is false. So, again, the term “Mass Incarceration” is not a faulty one, the fault lies in the system which encourages a Mass Incarceration of a select piece of the American population.