Photo courtesy of Fordham Journal of Corporate and Financial Law
Although America is built upon the promise of equal treatment of all of its people, an overwhelmingly disproportionate number of people of color are incarcerated today.
“O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
This lyric has long been heard at sports events and public gatherings across the country and represents the idealized America. People across the nation honor these words and consider them to describe America’s past, present, and future state. However, the claim that America is the “land of the free” is questionable, as the United States currently has the highest incarceration rates of any other country on Earth. In fact, according to CNN, for every 100,000 people living in America, 655 of them are incarcerated. The mass-incarceration rate in America also defies another core American ideal: equality under law. Although America is built upon the promise of equal treatment of all of its people, an overwhelmingly disproportionate number of people of color are incarcerated today.
To properly explain a potential reason for this, one must refer to the 1973 Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, which, for the first time, legalized abortion nationally. While this may at first seem unrelated, several studies, including one by the National Bureau of Economic Research, have linked it to the massive crime drop of the 1990s.
The impact of the legalization of abortion reduces crime by 45 percent yearly, and reduced crime by 50-55 percent during the crime drop in the 1990s, a paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research said.
“Maltreatment greatly increases the probability of engaging in crime and…the probability increases with the experience of multiple forms of maltreatment,” a paper published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) said.
Had abortion not been made legal and those children had been born, they would have been born into households where they were not wanted and would have likely experienced abuse and neglect, showing that people who were abused or neglected as children often grow up to commit crimes.
According to childwelfare.gov, a government program that helps stop abuse and neglect of children in households, African-Americans and other non-white demographics are overrepresented in the child welfare program.
Although the mass incarceration in the “land of the free” and the disproportionate amount of people of color in prisons is inexcusable, this may provide a possible explanation for this phenomenon. Those who experience abuse and neglect in their childhood commit a significant amount of the crimes committed yearly. Because abused children often grow up to be abusive parents, an endless cycle of abuse and crime is perpetuated and maintains a constant flow of prisoners entering the system. While this is one explanation, it is not the only answer to why so many people, especially those of color, in the “land of the free” are, in reality, stuck behind bars.