Media Influence: Racism and Incarceration Inequality

Racial injustice is the undeniable connection between the picture mainstream media paints of African American males as villains, and the grossly disproportionate incarceration ratesA study done by media researchers found that black criminals suspects are consistently represented more repeatedly and frightening than white suspects in television news stories. (Peffley, Shields & Williams 1996). And although, African Americans account for only 12% of the population they represent 40% percent of the nations’ prison inmates (Tonn 2014). In addition, Tonn (2014) found that white people who participated in a study were more afraid of crime and more likely to support harsh criminal policies that intensify racial disparities when informed of the disproportionate incarceration rate. As an African American woman who has witnessed several male members of my family fall victim to racial profiling, I am convinced that the research data points to the irrefutable truth that incarceration inequality is one of the many symptoms of racial discrimination against black males. Although mass media plays a major role in perpetuating racial discrimination, new media can be an agent of healing by acting as an open forum that facilitates discussions that reveal cultural truths.

One of the many corrective strategies and remedies that the American Physiological Associations (APA) urges governments and many other forms of institutions to employ is:

Acknowledge, protect and promote the quality of life victims of racism… African and African descendent people (APA n.d, para 6).

Recently in the news, President Obama has focused much attention and energy towards policy changes in the criminal justice system that would protect the quality of life of victims of incaceration inequality. His visit to El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in July was documented as part of HBO special produced by Vice News and released on YouTube (HBO 2015). In addressing mass incaceration and educating the public of severe sentencing of non-violent drug offenders, the documentary portrays African American inmates as caring individuals worthy of respect. Following the events of the documentary, there has been announcements of the early release of inmates (Eckholmnov 2015). The Obama’s administration has also revealed plans to assist released inmates in their transition to society (Enforcement n.d)

On the community level, C.J and Kellie Steward, founders of Atlanta non-profit organization Launch Expose Advise Direct (L.E.A.D), seek to promote the quality of life of African American males using baseball as their vehicle. One hundred percent of its student athlete participants graduate high school and 95% enroll in college (Founder, n.d). L.E.A.D is also using media to change the way African American males are perceived. In an effort to bridge race relations, encourage positive interactions and act as an agent of healing L.E.A.D organized a baseball game between the Atlanta Police Department and L.E.A.D participants in the video shown below.



Individuals have also taken to social media platforms to share ideas about mass incaceration, racial inequality and early prison release. Students at MIT Amnesty International have set up a Facebook community called “The Role of Mass Incarceration in Reinforcing Racial Inequality.” One student Brandon Wright comments:

(Wright 2015)


One twitter user @margw423 tweeted:

(Margaret 2015)

In conclusion, Baran (2015) admonishes:

A culture’s values and belief reside in the stories it tells. Who are the good guys? Who are the bad guys?..Our stories help define our realities, shaping the way we think, feel and act… At the same time, we, the audience for these stories..have a responsibility to question the tellers and their stories.. (p.15)

New media and social media environments have made it possible for audiences to pro-actively respond the racial discriminatory stories being told in mass media. The consistent images of African American male criminal suspects as villains in mass media has served to perpetuate racial injustice in the criminal justice system. Audiences are not dependent on mass media to tell stories that are inconsistent with larger cultural truths but have the power to create influential content that facilitates understanding and the healing of race relations in America.


As a scholarly writer I have a responsibility to my readers to adhere to the American Psychological Associations (APA) ethics code. Some of the standards that I am mandated to follow include; presenting original work, acknowledging and citing previous work and verifying information that is used my work (APA 2010 p.11).I have incorporated ethical writing principles by presenting original material built on existing work. The previous works that I have used in my writings have been properly cited and referenced and the information on the topic discussion has been verified with existing work.I verified the sources of information that I used in my article by retrieving sources that are peer reviewed or credible government websites. For one example, information on Obama’s prison release plan were retrieved directly from the Obama administration website. Since I am not a professional journalist, steps I took to demonstrate my reliability to my readers were to include in text citations, source references and links to additional information on the topic. The chosen evidence or resources that I used could lend to the credibility of my article because the sources can be verified by readers.





American Psychological Association (2010). Publication Manuel of the American

Psychological Association, 6th.ed. Washington, DC. American Psychological Association

American Physiological Association (n.d) Physiological causes and consequences of racism,

racial discrimination xenophobia and related intolerances. American Physiological Association. Retrieved from

Baran, S. J. (2015). Introduction to mass communication: Media literacy and culture (8th ed.).

Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.Eckholmnov, E (2015, November 1) Thousands start life anew with early prison releases. Retrieved from

Founder (n.d) Retrieved on November 15, 2015 from.

Enforcement (n.d) Criminal justice reform: Breaking the cycle of drug use and crime. Retrieved on November 5, 2015 from

HBO [Screen Name] (2015, October 21). VICE special report: Fixing the system – extra (HBO)[Video File]. Retrieved from

Margaret [margw423] (2015, November 2)Wish @OPOTUS cared about vets as he does about lawbreakers. Retrieved on November 28, 2015 from

Peffley M., Shields, T. & Williams, B. (1996) The intersection of race and crime in televisionnews stories: An experimental study. Political Communication Volume 13, Issue 3, DOI: 10.1080/10584609.1996.9963120 Retrieved from

Tonn, S. (2014, August 6) Stanford research suggests support for incarceration mirrors whites’

perception of black prison populations. Stanford News. Retrieved from

Wright, B. [Brandon Wright] (2015, April 8) In Sandtown/Winchester, the Baltimore neighborhood that was Freddie Gray’s home. Retrieved on November 15, 2015 from


For more information

Clinton’s Call for Easing Harsh Sentencing Laws is Echoed by Republican Rivals

Obama Takes Steps to Help Former Inmates Find Jobs and Homes

 Reconsidering Mandatory Minimums Sentences

The War on Drugs

 United States Prison Studies

 UNODC Statistics


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