Mass Incarceration Letter Format 3-5 Pages

Mass Incarceration is the way that the United States has locked up a large population of blacks in the state and federal prison system even including county jails. This became a major thing after slavery as a way to keep African Americans out of the then white America. After the Civil War in 1865, the prison system in the South was found to be 95% full of African Americans. Now these prisons were not like the prisons today they were farms and camps, at these camps, the “inmates” had to do most of the reconstruction such as digging, building things for railroads and, putting them together. They were basically slaves again working all day with little food and sleeping outside. Even children were apart of this for small crimes. In Mississippi, one of the first “farms” was called Parchman Farm. The farms first year of the opening was in 1905 this farm was said to have come from a plantation. There were three separate farms within this one large one, a small one that was taken care of by their white prisoners, an even smaller one taken care of by women who were mainly black. The last farm was the biggest which held the prisons, black inmates. This prison/ plantation stayed this way for more than 40 years. In the 1870s the state started to use the incarcerated people as basically slaves to build the South back up. They rented them out to big companies, and they made them build the prisons they were going to be living in. After they did this for more than 50 years in 1928 the Unites Stated put an end to the renting of criminals but different types of slave-like work were in the rising. In Texas, they had 12 farms that were filled with black people. All of these farms were used to keep control over black people after slavery. All of these things black people were going through in the South cause the Great Migration when more than 6 million African Americans moved from the South to the North, Midwest, and the West from 1916-1970. They moved because they wanted to get away from racism and lynching. Not knowing that racism would only follow them wherever they went. In the North, they started to increase their prison population in the 20th century. This was mainly because people were immigrants moving from the South, so they had a small chance of finding jobs because of the way they looked. This caused them to steal. From 1926-1940 the Northern prison population rose by about 67 percent. By 1970 there was a decrease in jobs for the lower-class men which unfortunately took a toll on black men. When the 80s came around the use of drugs increased majorly. The main drug that started to come out was crack cocaine. If a black person were caught with the slightest amount of crack on him then he would be sent to jail for life. This caused the prison population to go from 357,292 to 759,100 in the years 1970-1985.

On April 19, 1989, a group of black teenagers, were out one night in New York and a woman happened to have got brutally attacked in the park. Just because they were out that night, 5 out of 30 of them were they were sent to the police station for questioning without the supervision of their parents. The DA forced these kids to say things to get themselves in trouble. They were known as the Central Park 5 convicted of assault, robbery, rape, sexual abuse, and attempted murder. These teens Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana who was Latino, and Yusef Salaam were only around 14/15 and there was one 16-year-old at the time Korey Wise. The 14-15-year old’s spent 5-10 years in juvenile prisons and Korey Wise was tried as an adult and spent 13 years in one of the worst prisons in New York, Rikers Island. Later in 2002, the real rapist came forward after having an altercation with Wise in one of the prisons they were in together. After 13 years this case was re-opened, and it was true that these men had nothing to do with the attack of that woman in 1989. The city removed all the charges against them and in 2003 these five men sued New York City for racial discrimination, malicious prosecution, and emotional distress. As far as shaping the history of mass incarceration these men are a primary example of this they were chosen because they were black, and they just happened to be out that night. Korey Wise was only the 5th person because he went to the police station with his friend Yusef Salaam. The police and the D.A. needed someone to pin this violent crime on and why not a group of innocent black teenagers. Just because the city dropped all the charges against them these men still went through more than what teenagers should have to go through. The city gave them settlement money as a form of an apology. This is one of the major problems they think money can solve years of the stress and pain that people go through. Between 1985 and 1990 the prison population rose drastically from 759,100 to 1,179,200.

This topic of mass incarceration maintains relevance because it is still happening today with police sending innocent black men to jail for no reason or for a crime they did not commit. For instance, Kalief Browder was arrested on May 15,2010 for allegedly stealing a backpack and charged with second degree robbery. His bail was set at $10,000 his family only needed to pay $900 but they could not get the money, so they borrowed it from a neighbor. Unfortunately when they went to post his bail they were told that since he was on probation for a prior conviction his probation officer put this probation violation hold on him so the bail money wouldn’t do him any good on getting out. After this he was sent to Rikers Island and had to wait for his trial date. While he was there, he went through a lot within his first year, he got into fights with other inmates which caused him to spend 2 years in solitary confinement. In 2010 Kalief tried to commit suicide for the first time, then again in 2012 in his cell he tried to hang himself he said the corrections officers provoked him to do. His third attempt after he saw a judge, he tried to slit his wrist, but a guard stopped him. He was released from prison in 2013 and he tried again to commit suicide for the fourth time and was sent to a psych ward. On June 6, 2015 Kalief Browder hung himself. Being imprisoned wrongfully can really take a toll on your mentality. It makes the world think you are a criminal and it causes people to look at you differently and when you cannot take it anymore you end up like Kalief killing yourself.

As far as change goes, I do not see this getting any better the numbers in the prison system just keep rising. Once you are arrested and put in jail or prison you are really a slave of the state. They now own you, even when you are released you are put on probation or parole. There is never an end to it they keep track of you by putting you on house arrest you cannot go anywhere you are stuck. Also, this is something that you have to carry on your shoulder for the rest of you life. Being black in America is already a risk, then on top of it you are a criminal, it makes it so much harder to live your life. The prison system is really all about making money. They take these people out of the governments hands and they get paid for it. This is another main reason that the numbers have only been increasing in the last 50-60 years. The more people that are sent to jail the more money the system makes. It is really unfair because people are over charged a lot of the time. Someone can get 25 years for having a gram of weed on them in one state but in another state less than an hour away weed is legal. In conclusion mass incarceration is all about the government controlling black people and making money off of them.


American history, race, and prison. (2018, September 22). Vera.

The color of justice: Racial and ethnic disparity in state prisons. (2020, July 9). The Sentencing Project.

Nott, D. (2016, May 25). What is mass incarceration? Medium.

Powerful video on Kalief Browder and why Rikers must be shut. (2020, April 20). Innocence Project.

Who were the Central Park Five? (2019, June 12). BBC News.