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Mass Incarceration and Racial Discrimination

To draw a parallel between the alleged racial discrimination and mass incarceration, it may be important to examine the concept of symbolic interactionism and explain why labeling and prejudice affect the US criminal justice system in a major way. The theoretical perspective offered by symbolic interactionism suggests that there are specific symbols that frame interpersonal relationships based on subjective beliefs that are attached to particular society members (Carter & Fuller, 2016). Therefore, the current theory delineates mass incarceration as a subjective truth due to the lack of research evidence suggesting a non-biased relationship between African-American males and the US criminal justice system. There is a subjective belief that individuals representing the male cohort of the African-American society exemplify a specific threat to the US. Nevertheless, according to the theory of symbolic interactionism, there should also be objective evidence proving the lack of support and maintenance received by African-American males.

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The moral basis behind connecting the dots between racial discrimination and mass incarceration lies in the fact that for the most part, community members are worried about their safety. Accordingly, the broader arguments made on social media and mass media recreate the image of African-American males and set the status of symbolic interactionism to ‘active’ by promoting subjective attitudes that do not usually find their reflection in real-world settings. The real safety concern, nevertheless, is never associated with an attempt to protect society but rather a challenge of removing African-American male criminals from the streets (Seaton et al., 2018). As De Giorgi (2015) suggested in his research paper on racial discrimination and mass incarceration, an increasingly high number of these individuals is incarcerated daily to satisfy this subjective belief and, in turn, validate the hypothesis inherent in the theory of symbolic interactionism. The attitude toward the African-American population has not changed substantially over the last three-four decades, meaning that the alleged concept of safety is practically synonymous with putting the majority of male African-Americans behind bars (Carter & Fuller, 2016). The problem with such an outlook is that it remains an ineffective response to both criminal justice and community concerns due to the little attention that mass incarceration receives compared to other criminal justice issues such as the war on drugs, for example.

Overall, it may be concluded that the existing US criminal justice system does not represent the male African-American population in an objective way. It leads both the community and the criminal apparatus to decimate the value that these individuals bring to their societies, as the level of criminalization continues to grow. The economic impact of racial discrimination is also evident, as the former inmates of African-American descent do not have the same access to jobs compared to the representatives of other races. The psychological impact of mass incarceration is negatively affecting the US community as a whole due to the prevalence of symbolic interactionism that creates a specific image for African-American males within American society. As strict racial profiling prevails, the society in question has to suffer from subjective opinions and inappropriate court decisions that are shaped by the remainders of symbolic interactionism as well. As the existing literature on the subject suggested, the majority of the community should not remain unresponsive in order to make a difference at the end of the day. Otherwise, racial discrimination is going to affect the American community even more.


  1. Carter, M. J., & Fuller, C. (2016). Symbols, meaning, and action: The past, present, and future of symbolic interactionism. Current Sociology, 64(6), 931-961.
  2. De Giorgi, A. (2015). Five theses on mass incarceration. Social Justice, 42(140), 5-30.
  3. Seaton, E. K., Gee, G. C., Neblett, E., & Spanierman, L. (2018). New directions for racial discrimination research as inspired by the integrative model. American Psychologist, 73(6), 768-780.

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