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Racism in the United States Judicial System


This literature review uses the retributive theory of punishment which explains the reasons behind the large number of imprisoned black American men. This incarceration has consequently led to the high prevalence of poverty among the black American community with women as the primary causalities. The retributive theory of punishment explains that the high number of incarcerated black Americans is due to racial discrimination, which still exists in the United States.

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To understand why a high number of African American females are entangled in poverty, there is a need to comprehend the retributive theory of punishment. According to Logan (2013), this theory enables us to understand the association between the high number of African American males in prison, and poverty. The United States judicial system is blamed for the large number of black Americans being incarcerated. This theory suggests that the high growth of prisons is a restructuring approach in the United States. It illustrates that the correctional centers have re-formulated the black issue in a manner which provides it with a camouflage, only to re-activate it under another disguise. African American women are languishing in poverty because of the incarceration of their spouses.


Pettit (2012) argues that when the ghetto and prison converge, then the over-representation of African Americans in the US carceral institutions increases. This arises because of using the retributive theory of punishment in the US judicial system. Therefore, the central theme of this paper suggests that there is a bias in the incarceration practice within the US justice system. Therefore, there is a need to evaluate racial inequalities and imprisonment in the current American society. Additionally, there is the need to reform the judicial process in order to address the problems that have existed in the system for centuries.


This research uses the retributive theory of punishment. This theory holds that offenders should be incarcerated because they warrant punishment. It is believed that incarceration would deter them from engaging in future violations. It is usual for human beings to demand for revenge and a justified sentence when aggrieved by another party. The law and the police are there to ensure that aggrieved persons do not retaliate. However, punishment formulated to quench the desires of revenge and retribution stem from ancient laws.

According to Alexander (2010), the problem is brought about by the bias witnessed in the judicial institutions. This problem is not a recent occurrence in society, but rather began during the slavery period and the ghetto crises. The author claims that the Jim Crow order, which was there before the 1960s, never disappeared. The incarceration of African Americans is a process that has been persistent over the years since the beginning of the ghetto crises. However, the author implies that over the years, the ghetto and the expanding carceral system have become inter-connected in three ways. They are connected on functional equivalence, structural homology, and cultural blending.

As a result, the prisons emerged locking out the young population yet to secure employment. This phenomenon becomes more apparent as a result of changes that took place in the 20th century making the ghetto look like a prison and an inmate community residence in the US. However, the author argues that the relationship between the ghetto and the carceral institutions is the primary origin of socio-economic marginality, especially the high poverty levels among the African American females and children (Pettit, 2012). The high imprisonment rates result in an increase in the number of single mothers. It also reduces the in-flow of capital to these families and communities. This has left the vulnerable mothers and females to languish in poverty.


The black question

The restructuring of the economic system in the 1960s gave rights to the African American population to vote. However, the carceral institutions came up with different strategies to contain the rapidly changing color-line and sub-divisions of African American communities. Alexander (2010) and Weaver (2011) argue that racial discrimination propelled the trapping of a majority of African Americans in the lower social economic cadres. Therefore, this restricted them to livelihoods in the ghettos. According to Alexander (2010), secluded neighborhoods are the same as ethno-racial prisons because they enclose the discriminated groups. This group still finds their opportunities restrained by geographical locations and symbolic ties to the African American culture.

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Alexander (2010) argues that there has been an increase in racial profiling in the US within the last few decades. The author argues that it began by targeting African Americans, as well as the Hispanics. This phenomenon also explains why there is over-representation of black Americans in the carceral institutions. The people who support racial profiling suggest that African Americans are likely to cause harm, or involve themselves in criminal activities. Therefore, the law enforcers have the right to target them.

In reference to targeting, the African Americans are subjected to surprise and unconstitutional searches in their homes and on the streets. This has led to a high incarceration rate Among the African Americans. Furthermore, those who have been released from prison are still targeted for re-imprisonment. When they are released, the police arrest them through searches and are sent back to jail for even longer periods than before. This has allowed socio-economic marginality to continue affecting this group. Weaver (2011) argues that this situation has occurred because the judicial system is mainly staffed with white individuals who discriminate against the blacks.

War on drugs

The high imprisonment of African Americans can also be traced to an increase in the War on Drug policy enacted by the Reagan administration, and also established further by succeeding administrations (Weaver, 2011). This argument is also supported by Brewer and Heitzeg (2008). They claim that laws have changed the way African Americans are perceived. Furthermore, the authors argue that African Americans are more likely to be charged on the basis of drug offenses than any other ethnic group in America. For this reason, there has been a massive incarceration of black men in the society, which has resulted in financial problems to their children and single mothers.

African Americans in poverty

The rate of incarceration positively relates to the women suffering from financial challenges in the society. Weaver (2011) indicates that as the number of black men imprisoned increases, the number of women hurt financially also increases. Brewer and Heitzeg (2008) explain that the occurrence of this phenomenon happens due to racial and family loyalty. In this respect, the African American women only marry men of their own race. Furthermore, this is coupled with the public environment, which has not provided African-American females with enough education opportunities that can help them alleviate their social-economic problems. In addition, the stigmatization of this group and racial discrimination limits their women to financial and medical assistance. Conclusion

African American women are languishing in poverty because of the incarceration of their spouses. The discussion above has shown that African Americans are unfairly treated by the US judicial system. This has subsequently led to a high number of African American men being imprisoned. The retributive theory of punishment has provided a good platform through which the problem cycle can be explained. This framework links the situation to how it affects the African-American females.


Alexander, M. (2010). The New Jim Crow. The Huffington Post. Web.

Brewer, R., M., & Heitzeg, N. A. (2008). The Racialization of Crime and Punishment Criminal Justice, Color-Blind Racism, and the Political Economy of the Prison Industrial Complex. American Behavioral Scientist, 51(5), 625-644.

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Logan, A. (2013). History of crime and punishment. Criminology, 2(4), 23-29.

Pettit, B. (2012). Invisible men: Mass incarceration and the myth of Black progress. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Weaver, J. D. (2011). African-American grandmothers: Does the gender-entrapment theory apply? Journal of Law & Policy, 37(153), 153-181.

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