Criminal Justice & Institutional Injustice

Institutional injustice stems from hundreds of years of bias against people based on things like their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, education and lack of wealth.

Journalists should strive to make our country more just. Journalists hold powerful people accountable so they can’t use their status and money to create an unfair advantage. Since America is a capitalistic society some inequality is seen as “fair.” Sometimes a person’s achievements can be credited to their hard work. But oftentimes, an American’s success was earned off the backs of those who were systematically held down. To accurately report on our society, journalists must understand where different types of inequality come from.

Today, we’ll take a look at just a few of the common misunderstandings in our society and criminal justice system.

Can a race be won fairly if it was rigged from the beginning?

Mass Incarceration

America’s mass incarceration problem is growing fast. The NAACP’s Criminal Justice Fact Sheet points out some alarming numbers. Here are just a few:

  • Between 1980 and 2015, the number of people incarcerated in America increased from roughly 500,000 to over 2.2 million.
  • Nationwide, African American children represent 32% of children who are arrested, 42% of children who are detained, and 52% of children whose cases are judicially waived to criminal court.
  • African Americans and whites use drugs at similar rates, but the imprisonment rate of African Americans for drug charges is almost 6 times that of whites.

You can’t talk about mass incarceration without talking about race. The Prison Policy Initiative looked at data from the following sources to show just how unequal America’s incarceration rates are.

Data sources:

White Black Hispanic
U.S. population 62.1% 13.2% 17.4%
Jail incarceration 47.4% 35.4% 14.9%
State & federal incarceration 33.6% 35.4% 21.6%
Life sentence 33.4% 48.3% 14.4%
Life without parole sentence 33.5% 56.4% 7.4%
Death row population 42.5% 41.7% 13.0%



In 2016, the Prison Policy Initiative estimated that in the United States, about 2,298,300 people were incarcerated out of a population of 323.1 million.

The United States has the largest prison population in the world and the highest per-capita incarceration rate, according to World Prison Brief.

Visually ( facilitated the creation of this video. created the animation. The Prison Policy Initiative helped conduct research and fact-checking. (

VICE’s Justice series examines the winners and losers of the for-profit criminal justice system. Imprisoning people for being poor has technically been illegal in this country for two hundred years, but it is still a reality. Municipalities with small, low-income populations and correspondingly low tax bases regularly pay their salaries, and pad their budgets by issuing “quality of life” and traffic fines to people for minor offenses—and sending them to jail if they can’t pay.

In part two of VICE’s investigation into modern-day debtor’s prison practices, we explore the phenomenon of private probation companies. To avoid paying for probation services, thousands of courts currently outsource probation to for-profit companies which charge people exorbitant fees for their own probation. Failure to pay is treated as a violation of probation, punishable by jail time, which extorts cash from already-struggling people.



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