The One to Break Down the Thirteenth

The One to Break Down the Thirteenth

Policy Brief on Systemic Racism Towards African Americans and It’s Connection to Mass Incarceration

Rickard Jean-Noel

SWGS 6702: Advanced Integrated Policy Practice



During the course of American History, there have been many systemic practices that have been put in place that have negatively impacted the African American community. Steaming back to slavery, people of color would often times be treated like a piece of property. In a sense, that is exactly what they were to many, particularly those that claimed ownership over them. These slave masters in fact were actually the policy makers that created laws, rules, statues, and regulations that continues to oppress African Americans to this day. From being deemed as a piece of property, to then being considered 3/5 of a man, to now expecting us to believe that are going to be treated equally. The entire scope of the matter is very heart breaking.  To sum it all up, America once made slavery legal, then abolished slavery on one condition. During this brief we will review the details of the particular laws and determine which policies can be created to combat them.



Many would argue that the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution legally abolished slavery and made it illegal in the United States to own other humans. Others would argue by stating “it depends on who your asking”. According to, “Passed by Congress on January 31, 1865, and ratified on December 6, 1865, the 13th amendment abolished slavery in the United States and provides that “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”. This would simply mean that you are free and can not be made into a slave legally unless you break the law. Many would say that yes this would make sense, and if you did not want to be subjected to slavery and hard labor, simply do not commit any crimes. But, what it there to do when laws and policies are created intentionally to send you to prison? This was unfortunately the question that many African American’s were faced with after slavery.

Because under the Thirteenth Amendment you could be returned to servitude and have to preform free labor, many laws were created geared towards blacks to return them back into slavery. These laws were known as “The Jim Crow Laws”.  According to, “ “Jim Crow” was a derisive slang term for a black man. It came to mean any state law passed in the South that established different rules for blacks and whites. Jim Crow laws were based on the theory of white supremacy and were a reaction to Reconstruction. In the depression-racked 1890s, racism appealed to whites who feared losing their jobs to blacks. Politicians abused blacks to win the votes of poor white “crackers.” Newspapers fed the bias of white readers by playing up (sometimes even making up) black crimes”. This would serve proof of the corruption that went all the way to the state and federal level, where statements created policy and laws in order to oppress African Americans. This also including making up crimes and arresting and convicting African Americans of crimes they did not commit.


The Aftermath:

Today, “Jim Crow Laws” are no longer in act, however the principles and underlining actions are still being implemented. Many say that this is the reason why they are crying out “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice, No Peace” in the streets all across America. This is due to the poor treatment of African Americans in America. Many feel that African American’s in America, are not treated equally when compared to their White counterparts. Mass incarceration is one of the means in which have been implemented to afflict African Americans. Former President Barack Obama was quoted in the documentary “13th” 2016, by Ava Duvernay, stating “the US had 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of the world’s prisoners”. That would be about over 2 million people currently incarcerated in the United States. The most unfortunate part is that the majority of those incarcerated are African American. According to the article “Incarceration Nation”, “In 2011, for example, about 40 percent of those behind bars were black, although African Americans and others of African descent make up only 13.2 percent of the U.S. population, one study found. Hispanics also were over-represented in prison, at 20 percent of the prison population compared with 17.1 percent of the U.S. population” (Collier, L. (2014, October). Incarceration nation). The question that we must then ask ourselves is: How did this happen?


Besides the “Jim Crow Laws”, there were many different policies and laws that have worked against the African American Community resulting in their mass incarceration. One of the biggest contributing factors would be “The War on Drugs”. The war on drugs was described as an increase in “the mandatory sentencing provisions adopted in both state and federal law have been focused on drug offenses. At the federal level, the most notorious of these are the penalties for crack cocaine violations, whereby crack offenses are punished far more severely than powder cocaine offenses, even though the two substances are pharmacologically identical. Despite changes in federal sentencing guidelines, the mandatory provisions still in place require that anyone convicted of possessing as little as five grams of crack cocaine (the weight of two sugar packets) receive a five-year prison term for a first-time offense. At the state level, the most longstanding of the current generation of harsh drug laws are New York’s “Rockefeller” drug laws. Adopted in 1973, these laws call for a 15-year prison term for possession of four ounces of narcotics or sale of two ounces. Modest reforms to the law were enacted in 2004” (Marc Mauer 2009)

Many argue that the drugs laws were always created to target African American people and put them in prison. In the article entitled “Race, Drugs, and Law Enforcement in the United States”, it states that “A recent study in Seattle is illustrative. Although the majority of those who shared, sold, or transferred serious drug in Seattle are white (indeed seventy percent of the general Seattle population is white), almost two-thirds (64.2%) of drug arrestees are black. The racially disproportionate drug arrests result from the police department’s emphasis on the outdoor drug market in the racially diverse downtown area of the city, its lack of attention to other outdoor markets that are predominantly white, and its emphasis on crack. Three-quarters of the drug arrests were crack-related even though only an estimated one-third of the city’s drug transactions involved crack. Whites constitute the majority of those who deliver methamphetamine, ecstasy, powder cocaine, and heroin in Seattle; blacks are the majority of those who deliver crack. Not surprisingly then, seventy-nine percent of those arrested on crack charges were black” ( This shows proof that it is a major problem that is still occurring today and that is still affect African Americans.


The Breakdown:

Unfortunately, there are many contributing facts that have been placed systematically to continue to push the agenda of racial disparities within the criminal justice system and fueling the pipeline to prison complex and resulting in mass incarceration of African Americans. According to, the following facts have been discovered:

  • “People of color experience discrimination at every stage of the criminal justice system and are more likely to be stopped, searched, arrested, convicted, harshly sentenced and saddled with a lifelong criminal record. This is particularly the case for drug law violations.”
  • Nearly 80% of people in federal prison and almost 60% of people in state prison for drug offenses are black or Latino.”
  • Research shows that prosecutors are twice as likely to pursue a mandatory minimum sentence for black people as for white people charged with the same offense. Among people who received a mandatory minimum sentence in 2011, 38% were Latino and 31% were black.”
  • Black people and Native Americans are more likely to be killed by law enforcement than other racial or ethnic groups. They are often stereotyped as being violent or addicted to alcohol and other drugs. Experts believe that stigma and racism may play a major role in police-community interactions.”


Conclusion and Solution:

To conclude, we have come up with the following to combat the racial injustice that has been committed against African Americans. We would first advocate for the Thirteenth Amendment to be changed. We believe that it is what of the leading cause of all of this chaos. Because such a law is put into place into the United States Constitution, those that are able to manipulate this law, are then able to benefit from it and are able to use it to oppress others and use it as a tool for racism. We advocate to remove the cause that states that you are only free from servitude only if you are not found guilty of a crime. We see in the past, crimes with either made up or severely punished to propel a narrative. There must also be decriminalizing of drug possession, particularly small amounts. Many individuals in the United States, particular men of color are still incarcerated for marijuana, when in fact it is legal in states that have individuals still incarcerated in, California being an example.

Another important factor we have to advocate for is policies allowing the privatization of prisons. When prisons are built and own privately, it then becomes a business. This creates a demand and unfortunate they are often supplied by African Americans. We must also end policies that exclude people with drug arrest or convictions from key opportunities. This includes barriers that prevents them from voting, obtaining employment, loans, student financial aid, public housing, and other available public assistance. These barriers are very detrimental to African Americans because they lower the few rights that we actually have and makes a difficult life in the United States even more difficult. We will also advocate for policies that would change the bail bond system. Majority of the time, African Americans are often times stuck in jail awaiting trial due to the lack of financial resources. This causes them to be unable to bail out of jail. This often times results in them being assaulted in jail and even obtaining additional criminal charges making it even more difficult to get out.

Overall, the system is not broken, it was actually designed to be this way. It is now up to the people to advocate for change. We must break this current system and create a new fair and equal system that will benefit all people. Now that the problems are acknowledged for everyone to see, perhaps now change can actually be made. When we refer to change, we are not referring to the empty change that Obama promised, or the symbolic changes that hold no value. We are referring to actual policy change and the amending of laws so that everyone is equally protected and served. How great of a country we would be if we did not have so many people in prison for breaking laws that we sort of pushed them to commit.



    3. Collier, L. (2014, October). Incarceration nation. Monitor on Psychology, 45(9).
    4. “The Changing Racial Dynamics of the War on Drugs”, Marc Mauer, April 2009

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