Race, Class, Incarceration and Critical Theory

Carter A. Wilson, University of Toledo

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in its history and incarcerates black males at a rate higher than any other country in the world. No one theory can adequately explain this phenomenon. This paper analyzes and combines several critical theories that account for the role of social structure, politics and culture in explaining this incarceration crisis. It expands on the works of Gramsci to explain the role of political leaders and the media in racializing the drug problem, in generating threatening cultural images of inner city black males and in creating a political culture that produces and sustains the incarceration crisis. It connects the incarceration crisis to a larger economic crisis, as the increase in incarceration rates cannot be explained by an increase in crime and as the high incarcerations rate artificially reduces unemployment rates.

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Updated 05/20/2006