In racist and promotes legalized practices of

In the past forty years, the United
States prison population has more than quintupled in size and at a
disproportionate rate for black men. This trend is known as mass incarceration,
and it aims to reduce crime by harshly punishing minor offenses in hopes of
resolving more violent, widespread issues. However, due to the rise of
conservatism and the declaration of war on drugs in the 1980s, mass incarceration,
although intended to fight crime, has come into question for its ethical
implications of racial segregation and discrimination. The main ethical
principles in question concerning mass incarceration are divided into two
sides. One side is the government who felt it their ethical responsibility to
reestablish law and order in the wake of protest movements and militant activism
groups. And the other, African Americans and their sympathizers believe mass
incarceration to be a system that is explicitly racist and promotes legalized
practices of discrimination.

In order to properly understand
mass incarceration and its ethical implications, we must examine the historical
context surrounding it. The 1960s in the U.S. was a time of rebellion,
activism, and changing ideology as observed through the minorities civil rights
movements, youth and counter- culture rebellions, and the anti-war movement.
Specifically, the African American Civil Rights movement was especially
contributing to the overall civil unrest of the time. Although most black
activists advocated for civil disobedience and non- violence, some resorted to
violent riots and organizing militant groups, like the Black Panthers. These
actions along with other instances of social upheaval contributed to a rise in
overall crime rates during the 1960-70s. This greatly alarmed the U.S.
government and they felt it their responsibility to reestablish law and order
and provide security for the U.S in this tumultuous time. Considering this
motive and the rise of conservatism in American during the 1970-80s, the
government choose to get tough on crime and specifically through the avenue of
drug abuse. Beginning with President Nixon’s declaration of war on drugs in
1971 and continuing with President Reagan and Clinton’s stringent legislation
on drugs and other crimes, the government sought to discourage future criminals
and reduce current crime rates through harsh punishment and longer sentences.
However, whether intentional or not, this came at the expense of many black men
being disproportionately incarcerated for minor, nonviolent drug offenses. This
began the trend of mass incarceration in the U.S., which eventually led our national
prison population to rise from approximately “400,000 in 1980” to “1.4 million
in 2000” (Carson 3). And by 2001, the likelihood of a black man facing
imprisonment at some point in his lifetime was a 1 in 3 chance (The Sentencing
Project 5).

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In order to effectively identify the ethical
question raised by mass incarceration, we must analysis the different moral
rules, moral actors, and their responsibilities. The moral rules in question,
regarding mass incarceration, are the government’s role in maintaining law and
order and the right of African- American people to be treated equally. As
previously discussed, the U.S. government, in wake of social upheaval, resolved
to reduce crime through harsh punishment of drug offenses. The logic behind
this decision is that the U.S. government, at its most basic definition, was
created to protect the American people and their most fundamental rights. The
concept of maintaining law and order amidst civil unrest falls under that
definition because Americans are guaranteed by our government to live in a just
and safe nation. Therefore, the government believed mass incarceration to be
their ethical responsibility to protect the U.S. and its citizens from becoming
a crime ridden, socially unstable country. On the other hand, mass
incarceration brings into question the racial segregation and discrimination of
African- Americans. The movement to reduce crime through harsh punishments for
drug offenses disproportionately affected black men from the 1980s- 2010s. Not
only does imprisoning millions of black men over forty years communicate a
sense of segregation, also the effects of being a convicted felon create a form
of segregation. At some points in this historical context, black men, once
released from prison, lost their right to vote, to receive housing or food
stamps, and were often left unemployed. This creates disenfranchisement and in
turn, a form of segregation of African- Americans in the U.S. Therefore, the
moral rule at stake for African- Americans is their right to be treated equally
and fairly by the U.S. government. These moral rules were displayed through the
moral actors and their role- related responsibilities of each side of the
issue. The moral actors concerning the government’s role in mass incarceration
would be the federal, state, and local elected officials, along with the police
force and judicial officers at each of these respective levels. The federal
officials, such as President and their administrations, are some of the most
easily observable moral actors for this side because we can chronicle the major
decisions they made. For example, Reagan dramatically increased government
funding, specifically “FBI antidrug funding increased from $8 million to $95
million” from 1980- 1984 and “Department of Defense antidrug allocations
increased from $33 million to $1,042 million” from 1981 to 1991 (Alexander 49).
In addition, President Clinton limited welfare to “five years” for each
individual and banned “anyone convicted of a felony drug offense- including
simple possession of marijuana” from receiving welfare or food stamps
(Alexander 56). While these executive powers were definitely impactful, it was
mostly the state and local authorities, like 

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