How to Change Inner City Culture: Black Families Reduce Incarceration
Discussing mass incarceration is often premised upon the War on Drugs as the driving force, with an underlying racial component that implicates black Americans as being unfairly convicted at higher rates for crimes than white Americans.
While black Americans are arrested at higher rates, the arrests are most often the consequence of violent crimes and are carried out with considerable probable cause. Those imprisoned from criminal possession make up less than one-fifth of United States prison population. Portugal has shown us that decriminalizing drug use substantially reduces arrests, yet such decriminalization would not significantly attrite the United States prison population — because most convictions are the consequence of violent and non-drug related crime.
Black Americans commit 36 percent of violent crimes, including an absolute majority of 52 percent of murders, despite being 13.5 percent of the total U.S. population. Of course, the most affected are other black Americans, a demographic which has seen a rise in murder coinciding with a rise in single parent — typically single mother — households. Children born into a two parent household are much less likely to live in poverty (four to five times less) across racial lines.
The culture that has led to such a surge in violent criminality in the black community is not endemically violent, nor is it proprietary to blacks. Southern blacks largely followed white Southern attitudes and culture, specifically, that of the pre-Anglicized Scottish in the American South — which was then characterized by single parenthood and general disregard for the laws of the society.
Affluent blacks were able to move into suburban society and when in solid two parent households, had lower rates of poverty than children born to single parent households. However, the deterioration of impoverished areas — inner cities — largely continued through today and is spreading to other communities in the United States.
As well, exacerbating the issue of mass incarceration is the amount of discretion police officers have to arrest and prosecutors have to charge for a myriad of felonious crimes. Reducing such discretion to some degree should and could be done at state levels through scrutiny laws and high burdens of proof. That said, the major issues would still plague impoverished black and white families, families that are hamstrung by the inner city culture of “victimhood” — as well as a lack of marriage, resulting in broken homes, and inevitable welfare dependency.
Tackling mass incarceration and crime in general requires cultural change of inner cities and impoverished rural communities, both of which exhibit the attitudes of single parenthood and disdain for authority, particularly in education. The first step and simplest step is school choice. This would cultivate better social spheres and more success for children, regardless of race or class, as they learn among like minded peers and have the opportunity to escape from the trials and tribulations of inner city culture and life.
The next step would be the cutting of welfare and other “entitlement” programs. Secretary of Labor Daniel Patrick Moynihan pointed out in his groundbreaking 1965 report, "The Negro Family: The Case for National Action", that as more welfare is given, more single parents take welfare — especially single mothers — and essentially become “married to the state," rather than a partner to support their children.
Welfare dependency increases over time and creates a devastating cycle, first noticed by Moynihan 50 years ago in poor inner city black communities, and pervading through today. Without the welfare state acting as enabling social safety net, the culture of the inner cities would be gradually extinguished, as black Americans would be compelled to rely on their own resources — their own families — rather than the government for success.
Encouraging blacks to become self-reliant, encouraging blacks to reinvest in marriage, and empowering blacks with school choice would break the cycle of violence and poverty. In essence, this would require an overhaul of subcultures that have become dependent on welfare and subsidies; but this would, for once, get to root of the problem rather than just a cure of the symptoms.
Far more effective and profoundly more impactful than drug reform or even prosecutorial and police reform, repairing inner city culture would cut to the root of the problem. Attack the root, kill the cause of symptoms — broken homes lead to poverty and violent criminal activity.
A culture of broken homes is the root at the cycle of poverty and violence. Meaningful, long term solutions require coming to grips with this reality.