Law in Contemporary Society

Community Intervention to Curb Over-Incarceration

-- By GodardSolomon - 27 Apr 2022 (second draft 30 May 2022)


During my undergraduate years, I was involved in Inspire U Academy, an organization whose mission was to mentor high school students from underprivileged, minority communities in the area. I served as VP of this organization and had the honor of having my own mentee for three years. It was rewarding to see my mentee maneuver through high school, graduate, and accept a scholarship, all while being a low-income, first-generation, minority student. However, I began to realize that a reality of our program was that our limited resources only allowed us to reach a portion of one community. While Inspire U was beneficial, there was a lack of similar programs in the area and I began to think about those who were beyond reach. In tandem with my classes in sociology and criminal justice, I started to realize that communities like the ones where my high school students came from are precisely the ones that fall prey to the carcel system in this country that disproportionately impacts disadvantaged communities.

Mass Incarceration

The United States is the world leader on incarceration; there are approximately two million people currently incarcerated in the U.S. This has been a growing problem since the 1970s when the War on Drugs commenced. This change in policy led to a cascade of problems surrounding incarceration, including longer sentences, mandatory minimums, three-strikes laws, and the removal of parole for federal crimes. Our system is not just over populated, but it is also disproportionately impacting communities of color. “Black men are six times as likely to be incarcerated as white men and Latinos are 2.5 times as likely. For Black men in their thirties, about 1 in every 12 is in prison or jail on any given day.” This is linked to the larger police presence in minority-dense populations and low-income neighborhoods. This also leads to increased hostility between police and residents which also ends with more low-income, minority people behind bars.


Community Intervention

One way this issue can be addressed is through community intervention programs. Underserved communities are so saturated with police presence and poor socioeconomic conditions that incarceration becomes a perpetuating cycle through generations. To remedy this, more programs geared towards mentorship, legal education, and social welfare are required. There also needs to be investment in rehabilitation and preventive programs so that people in these communities are helped rather than punished. Police should not be handling every single community disruption, especially those that can be better addressed by social work professionals. Community youth should be focused on to foster healthy skills and values that aid them in pursuing paths away from the criminal justice system. Overall, these alterations may help society begin changing their perceptions of these communities.

Public Policy

The law in the arena of criminal justice needs to be reformed in several ways. First, the War on Drugs needs to be ended and we need to decriminalize drug possession. The federal prison population for nonviolent drug crimes alone is astronomical and this is largely due to mandatory minimums and outdated policy. On that note, the next change would be to reevaluate mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines that lead to lengthy, unnecessary sentences. We also need better racial bias training for law enforcement officials. There also needs to be a shift in funding towards rehabilitative programs in prisons so that our system is not making incarcerated people worse off than when they entered the system. While policy change is needed at a federal level, we also need to start seeing a change at the local and state level (private prison contracts are an example of a problem in the state prison systems).

Unfortunately, this is all easier said than done. These changes require a major shift in the political climate in Congress and even within the executive administration. Issues dealing with marginalized groups are often the hardest to address, and this is especially problematic for incarcerated people who are one of the most politically powerless groups. This is because incarcerated people when released are often not able to vote, get good jobs, or receive social welfare. This not only harms the individual but also their families. We need to first shed light on this disenfranchisement issue and give this group a voice so that hopefully they can better advocate for themselves in our government and society.

Law School Intervention

Law School is one of the best spaces for there to be more community intervention. This can be through externships and student organizations where law students are present in these communities and offer services to youth who have had an encounter with the law and need mentorship. One program that stands out is Street Law. This program introduces the law to students at a younger age so that they can see the law as a tool for justice rather than one for persecution. Programs like this need to be available at most law schools so that incoming legal professionals learn to value this level of community intervention.


Participating in a program like Inspire U showed me that especially as a future lawyer, I can use my tools to better the communities that are being burdened by the criminal justice system. I think that grassroots intervention, especially aimed at minority youth, can be an effective approach for changing the situation that these individuals are born into. That being said, until the political landscape evolves, we may not see the large-scale change necessary.


For further review on the topic of Mass Incarceration in the US and the racial disparities intertwined, I would recommend reviewing the Sentencing Project’s “Report to the United Nations on Racial Disparities in the U.S. Criminal Justice System.” I found this report to be comprehensive by covering history, relevant issues, impact, and a vast breadth of solutions. If a briefer read is desired, I would consider perusing the NAACP’s fact sheet on the matter.

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r3 - 30 May 2022 - 18:44:34 - GodardSolomon
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