It has been a half of a century since all races were considered equal in this country, and yet people of color will still serve sentences 10 to 15 percent longer than white people who commit the same crimes. In the United States prison system, people of all races are contained for a variety of different crimes ranging from minor offences to murder. However, in some cases the sentencing for crimes in some cases can be dependant on the color of your skin. In many cases, people of color who have gone to prison went for a longer period of time than those people that have gone to prison that were white. The easy way to excuse this is just plain racism, which in many respects is true, however there are other aspects of this issue that still need to be explored. As since the prison system is funded by the United States government, but is a private industry which includes some Federal Penitentiaries, there is a high incentive for wardens to increase their prison population, thus getting judges to tweak sentencing of the accused to increase the bonus commision in  their paycheck, and since African Americans and Hispanics have the highest rate of being arrested, it is easier to do it with those who are already guilty. In the 1980’s, the Nixon Administration made drugs become a number one priority of the US police because of a want to demonize the images of hippies and African Americans. This resulted in decades of arrests of many people for non-violent or simply drug related crimes. California has made laws to prevent this from happening, but since it is from a case by case basis the race of the convict can be enough to bias the initial sentencing, whether it be the effect of the race in the area or the racially biased opinion of the judge. Florida has a huge problem with this with sources saying that the the prison system is reminiscent of the Jim Crow Era which is a one hundred year old tradition that should be illegal. A precedent should be set for all courts to make sure all races are given the same time behind bars.


Prisons are an industry first and foremost, making money by containing the citizens and even non-citizens of the United States that are deemed unfit for life in today’s society. Because of the random acts of violence, robberies, fraud, and other felonies such as possession of drugs or other drug related activities, prisons are full to the brim with people who chose to ignore these laws, and these penitentiaries are paid per prisoner, so it the more come in, the more money is made. This is something that applies to all who enter prison doors in an orange jumpsuit, as now they are no longer just a person they are also a price tag. Since the money the prison industry recieves is tax money, the taxpayers, all US citizens, a good part of it goes towards this large fund, which can range anywhere from thirty-one thousand to sixty thousand dollars per person, per prisoner, per year, depending on what state the person lives in, meaning that with the United State’s 2.3 million prisoners, the overall yearly bill is in the tens of  billions of dollars (Marc Santora). The money that goes to prisons, is for the prisoners and keeps them guarded, sanitized, and up to federal standard for what prisons are for, however any rooms that are empty or not used to their full potential are wasting money and the prison will lose money. In California, the average for prison inmates is “39% for Hispanics, 29% for Blacks and 26% for Whites”, meaning that there is a higher tendency for people of color to be sent to prison than white people to be (Philip Goodman). Any money that the prison was commissioned, that is left over in the budget is give to the wardens as a bonus, and if the warden wants to keep getting bonuses, why not ask a judge to increase the sentence for a minor offence that has been done with a person of color. The longer the room is filled the better, as many inmates will be incarcerated for anywhere between a month and “30,000 years”(Wikipedia). So money is definitely a factor in high sentencing rates.


In the 1980’s, the Nixon Administration announced it’s “War on Drugs” which still rages on to this day with many people being sent to prison for crimes of owning, using, or selling these prohibited drugs. This is because in the words of John Ehrlichman, a member of the Nixon Administration, “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities,“(Tom LoBianco). This in turn would spike their popularity as they would not be bothered by the loss of votes from the largely Democratic African Americans, and the opposition from the anti-war hippies. Entire laws were put in place to discriminate against both groups of people and were done so under the guise that “Drugs are bad” with very little else for evidence to prove so. Although more recent and accurate studies have come out, even then it was discussed that marijuana left less of an effect than alcohol. Of all the crimes people have commited to be put into prisons, in 2018 46.2% of all of those who are incarcerated are in there for a activity that included the use of narcotics, stimulants, or hallucinogens that have been deemed illegal by the United States Food and Drugs Administration( Federal Bureau of Prisons). In essence, “About three-quarters of drug offenders in federal prison were either non-Hispanic black or African American (39%) or Hispanic or Latino (37%),”(US Department of Justice). This means that there is a higher amount of people of color in prison for these crimes than whites and while this is to be expected since the groups were targeted in the first place because of their use of these substances and what distinguishes their sentences today.

This all leads into the main issue, that people of different races, mainly African American and Latinos, are being sentenced to harsher punishments than white men who commit the same crimes. In a analysis of the sentencing done between the years of 2005 and 2011, the authors of the Bureau of Justice Statistics Working Paper Series discovered that, “It seems likely that black and white offenders differ systematically in ways that cause judges to sentence them differently and, if we could observe those differences, the sentencing differences might be appropriate under the rule of law. However, that does not explain why some judges sentence blacks especially severely compared to whites. Unobserved, systematic differences between whites and blacks cannot account for the fact that the average difference in sentences for black and white offenders varies across judges.”(Bureau of Justice Statistics Working Paper Series). This shows that in this time period people charged with the same crime as someone else seemed to fair better if their skin color was white, with exceptions being in the behavior and happenings within the courtroom and new evidence that increased the sentence.

As what was said before still remains true, all of these cases are on a case by case basis and there is no way for one person to judge all of these cases and each person will have a bias if someone does something they do not agree with.As such is the case, the United States should create laws to prevent this from happening. Personal bias against should not be present in the courtroom and there should be a set precedent for a sentence that pertains to a specific crime as all Americans are equal and the law should be able to show that, with additional punishment added on only if more crimes were committed. Non-violent or drug crimes should receive lesser punishment, as if they just put people away it will not stop their habits, but instead cause them to increase the likelihood that they will commit other crimes after their sentence is up. This goes for all sentencing. If two men go to prison for the same crime on the same day they, should be released on the same day. For we are all equal, are we not.


Annotated Bibliography

Santora, Marc. “City’s Annual Cost Per Inmate Is $168,000, Study Finds.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 23 Aug. 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/24/nyregion/citys-annual-cost-per-inmate-is-nearly-168000-study-says.html

This article shows the average price per year of prisoners in US prisons by the taxes that are paid to maintain their health whilst behind bars. It shows that the average price of all 2.3 million prisoners in the US is around 39 billion per year. This article’s information was given in an interview with “Michael P. Jacobson, the director of the City University of New York Institute for State and Local Governance”. This will be helpful in showing that prisons get a lot of money for allegedly maintaining prisoner health, where as wardens use whatever is left in the budget for a bonus.

LoBianco, Tom. “Report: Nixon’s War on Drugs Targeted Black People.” CNN, Cable News Network, 24 Mar. 2016, https://www.cnn.com/2016/03/23/politics/john-ehrlichman-richard-nixon-drug-war-blacks-hippie/index.html

This article is proof that the Nixon Administration specifically targeted groups of  people that could potentially harm their leader’s ability to re-enter office. In the article it is stated that one of the members of the administration explicitly stated that the laws were put in place to target African Americans, that ever since the beginning of the Civil Rights movement had been largely democratic, and hippies who were against the war in Vietnam at the time. To rid the voting polls of these people they would enact laws that banned Heroin and Marijuana which were frequently used by both groups. Since I am researching on why prison sentences are longer for people of minorities, this will be a very helpful article since it states what race the laws were meant to discriminate against in the first place.

Goodman, Philip. ““It’s Just Black, White, or Hispanic”: An Observational Study of Racializing Moves in California’s Segregated Prison Reception Centers.” Law & Society Review, vol. 42, no. 4, Dec. 2008, pp. 735-770. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1111/j.1540-5893.2008.00357.x.

This article examines the differences in racial discrimination in the courtrooms seeing how people are viewed by race and are sentenced in areas that are only for that race. This often groups people to the set groups of, white, black, or hispanic. This is a study conducted in the California Court System in 2008. Being that it is from 2008, from California, which is a very progressive state, assumptions can be held that some of the information is a little bit outdated in this state, but may hold true in other states, Florida is an example that is used. It will be helpful in getting statistics on how many people of different race are held in prison and how many were unfairly sentenced in court. It will also show flaws in our current court system that can be used as solutions to prevent this from happening in the coming future.

Federal Bureau of Prisons. “Inmate Statistics: Offenses.” Federal Bureau of Prisons, Federal Bureau of Prisons, 27 Jan. 2018, www.bop.gov/about/statistics/statistics_inmate_offenses.jsp.

This is a simple bar graph that shows the prison population by crime. It goes from fraud and embezzlement to weapon use and arson. This is a website created by the US Prison System so it should be fairly accurate. However one the Race pie chart it says that white people make up sixty percent of the prison population in the US and does not show Hispanic so I am assuming it is not the best source for racial percentage. The bar graph shows each crime by the percent of people in prison pertaining to that crime. This will be very helpful for when I do the segment on targeting drug users as it is the highest percent on the bar graph.

Taxy, Sam, and Urban Institute. “Drug Offenders in Federal Prison – Bureau of Justice Statistics.” Drug Offenders in Federal Prison: Estimates of Characteristics Based on Linked Data, Oct. 2015, www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/dofp12.pdf.

This is a study conducted by the Urban institute to find the number of drug users, sellers, or creators in prison per percent and by race. It was conducted in 2015 to assess the amount of people residing in prison for these crimes. This was a study conducted by The Urban Institute with the Department of Justice being the source of their information. It goes into detail about the amounts per drug and race which varies with some drugs more than others. This will be useful for adding more information about how different races are stereotyped with certain drugs that started with my last source.

Rhodes, William. “Federal Sentencing Disparity: 2005–2012.” Bureau of Justice Statistics Working Paper Series, 22 Oct. 2015, www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/fsd0512.pdf.

This is a journal from the “Bureau of Justice Statistics Working Paper Series” describing racial discrimination in the US courtroom and the assessment of this discrimination between 2005 and 2012. It shows information from that time of people of different races committing the same crime, with different effects on their sentencing rate by race. The journal was created by a branch of the US Government so it has a high chance of being credible, however there is a disclaimer that any faults in the information would be held by the researchers so have that as you will. It shows through examples how courts have treated criminals who have committed similar crimes with different punishment based on the same crime being committed and that those who do not have white characteristics receive harsher punishment for their crimes. This will be useful for my topic as it is the basis of my essay.

Wikipedia. “List of Longest Prison Sentences.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 5 Feb. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_longest_prison_sentences.

This is a list on Wikipedia about the longest prison sentences. The longest American sentence time is 30,000 years. This list’s information was taken from the Los Angeles Times and several other sources. The reason I used this article was to prove a point at the end of the second paragraph.

Pictures Cited

Ehrenfreund, Max. Poor White Kids Are Less Likely to Go to Prison than Rich Black Kids. Digital image. Washington Post. Washington Post, 23 Mar. 2016. Web. 14 Feb. 2018.


Zaitz, Les. “Hard Choices: Big Part of Oregon Prison Budget Is All Locked up.” The Oregonian. The Oregonian, 27 Sept. 2010. Web. 14 Feb. 2018.