Since the era of Reconstruction, ethnic and racial minorities have made up a disproportionate share of the U.S. prison population, which has the distinction of leading the world in incarceration rates. America has nearly 20% of the world’s incarcerated population, despite compromising less than five percent of the world's population. Racial disparities within our nation's criminal justice system are deeply seeded and widespread. Based on research collected by The Sentencing Project, over the last 40 years the U.S. prison and jail population grew by 500%. This dramatic surge resulted from a rise in “tough on crime” rhetoric and policies backing President Nixon’s declaration of the War on Drugs in 1971. Expanding the drug war drove incarceration numbers to skyrocket during the 1980s and 1990s pulling many economically struggling African Americans into the criminal justice system.
A report published by the Council on Criminal Justice examined disparities in state prison rates, and in 2016, the ratio of Blacks to whites was five to one. While the number of Black offenders on robbery, assault, rape cases were dramatically down 30% since 2000, Blacks were still being incarcerated for drug crimes at five times the rate of whites. The report also uncovered a growing disparity in the time served by Black inmates. Compared to white offenders, African Americans who entered prison could expect to serve more time than whites, regardless of the crime being violent or drug related.
Mass incarceration has a profound effect not only on Black people but American society as a whole, resulting not only in a reduced workforce but also, in fewer job opportunities for those in search of work post imprisonment. Research shows that having a record reduces the likelihood of a job callback or offer by as much as 50 percent. In fact, once home, the burden of incarceration continues for families as federal and state laws create obstacles to things like securing employment, housing, voting, and family reunification. These collateral consequences complicate the reentry process and diminish the likelihood of successful reintegration.
Despite lower risk factors, a 2018 study on the tendency of convicted criminals to reoffend, reported higher rates of recidivism in Black men. The study estimated the effects of various risk factors on the time it took 21,462 Black men, White men, Black women, and White women released from North Carolina state prisons from 2000 to 2001 to return to prison and found that “the most potent predictor of recidivism was being a Black male, even though Black men had less contact with the criminal justice system and few of the risk factors traditionally associated with recidivism.” This suggests that beyond individual risk, other factors, including racism and implicit bias, have a hand in driving recidivism.
You want to know what this was really all about? The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and Black people....We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or Black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and Blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.
Richard Nixon’s Policy Chief was quoted while referring to Nixon’s War on Drugs
Many Corporate leaders have a solid track record for pledging support for civil rights initiatives and more recently, even re-examining their own records on racial inequality. However, many critics contend that well-intentioned promises have not had much of an effect on the policies that drive carceration levels, nor the scenarios that lead to reincarceration. The privatization of prisons has fueled a prison population boom, creating a multi-billion dollar private prison industry. This prison complex sources a business model grounded on the capitalization of the inequities of our country's justice system and the profitability of longer sentences and recidivism. Critics contend when they look at what companies are saying they support publicly, contrasted against what candidates and issues companies support, there can be deep incongruence there, if not hypocrisy.
Thankfully, more and more corporate leaders are choosing not to remain on the side lines. According to the latest reports, $1.175 Billion has been donated by Corporate America to directly support social justice causes. Some businesses are donating to controversial bail funds like the Minnesota Freedom Fund that seek to bail out protesters and rioters. Others have promised to set aside money to make purchases to black-owned businesses or create scholarships aimed at Black Americans.
Walmart represents a growing number of companies hiring former inmates and removing the need for criminal record disclosure.
Take On Race is staunch in bringing together member companies to elevate, with urgency, the national discourse on racial equity and criminal justice reform on both the local and national levels. With the partnership of corporate leaders, we can define, declare, and demonstrate solutions that address the growing influence of the private prison industry, as well as the factors that fuel recidivism. Take on Race members have the opportunity—if not responsibility—to scale their resources for paradigm-shifting programs that address social justice reform.
Walmart represents a growing number of companies hiring former inmates and have joined more than 100 cities and 19 states in passing “ban the box” legislation to prohibit employers from requiring job applicants to check a box indicating whether they have a criminal record. Checking that box often leads to automatic exclusion from consideration without the opportunity to explain the nature of the crime. Companies that hire former inmates say those employees are often model workers who are eager to prove themselves.