Minorities In U.S. Criminal Justice System

Minorities In U.S. Criminal Justice System

According to the data presented by NAACP (2018), in 2014, African American, one of the minority groups in the United States comprised 34 percent of the total correctional population. NAACP also established that the probability of incarcerating African Americas was five times higher than that of the white counterparts. The same report also judged that Hispanics and African Americans made 32 percent of the total U.S. population, and they constituted 56 percent of the incarcerated individuals in 2015. Finally, it was established that if Hispanics and African Americans were incarcerated at the same rate as fellow whites, jail and prison population would experience a decline of 40 percent. The racial disparities in incarceration with the criminal justice system can be attributed to the structure of the U.S society that is based on social classes, and as such the current situation of minorities, over-representation can be examined from the lenses of social disorganization theory, strain theory and culture.

Social Disorganization Theory

Based on the research conducted by Shaw and McKay (1942) crime tend to be concentrated within specific areas and remains stable despite the changes in ethnic and racial groups in such areas. Shaw and Mackay examined factors behind crime stability rate in particular neighborhoods and found that socioeconomic factors and neighborhood instability interfere with the social bonds, which in return increases the probability of deviance behavior including criminal activities. Studies associate the unstable social bonds within particular societies to the social isolation which translates into cultural adaptions and structural barriers that destabilize a social organization, and as a result, increase neighborhood violence.  Shaw and McKay’s research established that areas with economic deprivation had high rates of population turnover. The socio-economic status of such areas also attracted new immigrants: increasing racial heterogeneity. With the high rates of racial heterogeneity and racial mobility, socio-economically disadvantaged areas become socially disorganized, and traditional institutions of social control, for example, schools, families, churches and nonprofit organizations become weakened, and as a result, they are unable to shape the behavior of the neighborhood youths appropriately.
The residential areas of the minority groups including Hispanic and African Americans are characterized by the socio-economic factors as examined by Shaw and McKay. Studies link racial disparities in the criminal justice system to structural disadvantages in such areas (Nellis, 2016). Research has shown that structural disadvantages impact the minority groups, and particularly the people of color long before encountering criminal justice system. As held by the social disorganization theory, the over-representation of the minorities groups in prisons and jails emanates from family differences, housing, employment and poverty-the socioeconomic issues that characterize residential areas of the people of color. The disproportionate social structures and the social isolation of the marginalized groups have produced social problems, which later translate into crime. In line with social disorganization theory, it is indisputable that the high representation of the minorities is highly associated with weak social bonds found within the poor neighborhoods, which are inhabited by African Americans, Hispanics and other minority groups.

Strain Theory

Strain Theory was coined by Robert Merton in 1938 in the bid to explain how the lack of equal access to the American Dream social goals: material wealth and success led to the strain between such goals and the means to attain them. The efforts employed by different members of the society in the pursuance of these goals sometimes lead into crime since the adaptions to achieve them are based on either embracing or doing away with the right means of achieving the social goals. Merton presented five adaptions: conformist, innovator, retreatist, ritualist and rebel through which different individuals could achieve material wealth and success. Conformers believe in achieving success by working hard. The innovators believe in material wealth and success, but they do not want to work hard, and as such, they may achieve their goals through crimes. Retreatists may decline to accept either means and goals and decide to isolate themselves from society. Retreatists may end up becoming drug abusers. Rebels believe in replacing the social goals with the new ones, an act which may result in political violence and illegal protests.To a certain degree, Strain Theory can be applied in explaining why people of color are the majority in the criminal justice system. The U.S social structures subject minorities into deprivation and inequality and in bid to achieve social goals-material wealth and success using the five adaptions presented by Merton may end up engaging in crime. Bearing in mind that the majority of the minority groups are deprived, it can be assumed that the desire to achieve material wealth and success to attain the same status as the rest of the society drives them into crime, and the results have always been high incarceration. For example, the strain theory holds that variation of crime rates in different races is due to an attempt to alleviate themselves from relative or absolute deprivation. The strain theory shows that social goals can be achieved regardless of the means-legal or illegal used; this has weakened the informal social control since it encourages the minority groups to engage in crime to overcome relative deprivation and eliminate inequality.


The majority and the dominant groups in the United States take it as a norm to have the minority groups overrepresented in jails and prisons. The culture of inequality that exists between the minority and the rest of the society has continued to widen with the majority groups putting very little efforts to have the marginalized empowered. The new racism culture lays blame to the minorities for their failures, which have blocked them from achieving the same success as the whites (Travis, Western, & Redburn, 2014). The dominant groups believe that people of color ability to succeed is not because of racism, but rather because of the inherent cultural limitations and bad choices they make.


The mass incarceration of minority groups in the united states can be directly tied to social disorganization, strain theory and culture. The social structures of the marginalized groups like Hispanic and African Americans are weakened due to socioeconomic challenges and high population turn over. As a result, it has been hard to shape appropriate youth behavior. The strain theory allows the pursuance of material success through either legal or illegal means which in return leads to crime. Finally, the culture of inequality between the minority poor and the majority wealthy has maintained the status quo that attributes the minority group social status to their own failure.

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