Pubdate: Wed, 19 Nov 2003
Source: Ledger, The (FL)
Copyright: 2003 The Ledger
Author: Charles M. Streeter


Jails and prisons in some counties are full to the bursting point, and I 
read recently that among the fullest are jails in Polk County. Given the 
increased number of inmates in Polk jails, it appears that it is difficult 
for some citizens to escape the police and criminal dragnet over members of 
minority groups.

Given the increased number of inmates incarcerated in penal institutions in 
Polk and other places in Florida, there is a dire need for citizens and 
public officials to understand specific incarceration patterns and 
practices. All citizens in Polk should be cognizant of racial disparities 
in incarceration rates. More specifically, according to the Human Rights 
Watch Organization, there exists a continuing, extraordinary magnitude of 
minority incarceration and a stark disparity in their rates of 
incarceration compared to those of whites who commit the same crimes.

To be sure, all citizens should be concerned when 63 percent of the nearly 
2 million inmates in penal institutions are black or Latino, though these 
two groups constitute only 25 percent of the national population.

Justice should be colorblind. Indeed, racial inequalities in the 
criminal-justice system will gradually erode our democratic principles and 
negate 50 years of hard-fought civil rights progress. Before we build more 
prison beds in Polk, we should debate current criminal- justice policies 
and practices, and subsequently consider the advantages of alternatives to 

We need to reassess the fairness and wisdom of overreliance on punitive 
crime control, which has disproportionately burdened the minority 
communities from which so large a proportion of the incarcerated are drawn.

In Florida, about one out of every 37 blacks is living in a prison, jail or 
detention facility. Blacks make up 48 percent of all Florida inmates -- far 
exceeding their 15.5 percent of the state's population. Loic Wacquant 
concluded that the huge disparity between whites and blacks reflects the 
fundamentally discriminatory nature of police, court and prison practice. 
The proof is that blacks account for 13 percent of drug users, but 
one-third of those arrested and three quarters of those imprisoned for drug 

Charles M. Streeter

Winter Haven
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