- To think critically about crime and find effective ways of addressing it, it is important to: resist common assumptions and beliefs about issues of illegal behavior and punishment; rethink the essence of crime and evaluate why only some things that cause harm are outlawed; and evaluate and denaturalize the way crime is fought.
2. The Rise of the American Prison
- The inception of American law took place under conditions of colonialism and slavery and permitted the brutalization and murder of nonwhites. The American justice system was formed in this contradiction between the exaltation of freedom for most at the expense of the dehumanization of some.
- Lynching spread inequality by upholding white supremacy and white patriarchy. White women’s bodies and the pretext of rape prevention were used as an excuse for targeting black men.
- Prison labor camps were a result of vagabond laws that criminalized poverty. States grew rich from convict labor and convict leasing, which became a form of neoslavery.
- The prison boom, a vast increase in the number of prisons and prisoners, was largely driven by changes in sentencing policy as politicians instituted severe sentencing guidelines and increased spending on drug control. These laws targeted nonwhite communities especially hard.
- The United States incarcerates more citizens than any other nation on earth even though it does not have higher crime rates than other industrialized countries. The likelihood of incarceration increases at a disproportionately high rate for people of color.
- Americans’ perceptions of crime do not match with statistics. For example, between 1990 and 1998, the murder rate fell by 20 percent but coverage of murder on network news increased by 600 percent.
- The media focuses on white women as victims even though young black men are more likely to be murdered.
- Immigrants are also a target of crime-based fear even though a portion of the crime drop in the 1990s is attributed to a larger immigrant population. Immigration policies have become more severe due to this fear that immigrants increase crime and terrorism.
- White-collar crime is a category that includes hacking, fraud, tax evasion, and embezzlement. White-collar crime grosses about $300–660 billion each year in the United States.
- Violence against women is one of our nation’s most pervasive crimes. Domestic abuse is one of America’s most common forms of violence and one in five women are sexually assaulted in their lives. Poor women, women of color, and immigrant women are victimized at disproportionally high rates.
- Violent crime thrives in neighborhoods plagued by compounding structural disadvantages. Years of research have yielded the firm conclusion that social problems related to homicide are rooted in enduring systems of inequality.
- Institutional racism leads to heightened surveillance and police repression in poor nonwhite urban neighborhoods.
- Racial profiling is police-initiated action that disproportionately affects minorities.
- Sentencing for repeat drug offences and death-penalty sentencing unjustly target minorities and the poor.
- The many costs of mass incarceration include psychological effects on prisoners and devastation in their families, along with dramatically reduced chances of employment and stability upon release. America spends over $60 billion a year on mass incarceration.
- Prisons have abandoned their original mission to rehabilitate those who have committed crimes, and there is good reason to believe that prisons actually produce more crime.
6. Things Are Not What They Seem
- Many things that we believe to be threatening actually make us safer (i.e., immigration) and many things that we believe protect us actually increase our risk of harm (e.g., the growth of prisons).
- Racialized fears about crime erode the hope of a multicultural democracy.