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Published on April 23rd, 2015


William Reed: The Overcriminalization of African-Americans


Overcriminalization is a dangerous trend that is threatening African-Americans.   America’s addiction to criminalization backlogs our judiciary, overflows our prisons and increases the racial wealth gap.  The nation’s incarceration rate is at historically unprecedented levels and as a result, imprisonment has become an inevitable reality for subsets of the American population. 

The trend is to use the criminal rather than civil law to solve societal problems.  These days, America’s criminal codes are voluminous.  Our courthouses are clogged and many prisons operate well beyond their design capacity.  The chief executive officer of Koch Industries says that the past four-decade’s rise in incarcerations has been extremely costly for African-American families and communities, state budgets and society.  There’s a 70 percent chance for an African-American man without a high school diploma to be imprisoned by his mid-thirties.   

Blacks should be alarmed at the number of young men in the criminal justice system. Charles Koch has set about eliminating the racial disparities inherent to our nation’s criminal justice system policies and practices.  The CEO of the second-biggest private company in America, Koch is leading aneffort to reform America’s criminal justice system.   Koch represents renewed, refocused, and reenergized acts and actions toward racial justice.  Koch says “too many Americans have been jailed for crimes that shouldn’t warrant incarceration and points out that over half federal inmates are nonviolent drug offenders. 

 The Democrats and labor unions depict Charles, and his brother David Koch, as “the devil incarnate.”  But, Koch’s concern for the disproportionate incarceration of Blacks is an issue that shouldn’t be abruptly dismissed by party partisans.  Koch says: “Overcriminalization leads to mass incarceration, undermines race relations and ultimately keeps more people in poverty.” 

 America’s legal system and processes have not been fair to African-Americans, who make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, but currently account for almost 40 percent of the prison population.  This statistic should cause Black voter’s concern about the people they’ve elected to office.  Since the 1970s, Congress and state legislatures have enacted prison and sentencing laws that have mandated prison time for lesser offenses and ensured longer sentences for offenders.  Reversing overcriminalization and mass incarceration will improve societal well-being in many respects, most notably by decreasing poverty. Fixing our criminal system could reduce the overall poverty rate and dramatically improve the quality of life throughout society—especially for the disadvantaged.

Koch and organizations such as the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers maintain that the runaway growth of the criminal law has been accompanied by the dilution of constitutional rights. It’s important for Blacks to note that, more often than not, minority defendants are charged with crimes requiring a mandatory minimum prison sentences which leads to large racial disparities in incarceration. The likelihood of Black males going to prison is 28 percent compared to 4 percent for White males.  Koch financially supports the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers to help train defense lawyers and reverse “get tough on crime” trends that have resulted in the tripling of incarceration rates and stripped the poor of their rights to legal defense. 

Counter to what political partisans have intentionally led Blacks to believe about him, Koch says that “Overcriminalization leads to mass incarceration, undermines race relations and ultimately keeps more people in poverty.”  Voters should note that the spate of devastating criminal laws has come under increasing numbers of Blacks in legislators – many of whom are still in office.  The laws of past decades directly harmed Blacks.  Koch points out that: “Prison has become the new poverty trap…and a routine event for poor African-American men and families…enduring at the very bottom of American society.” 

Koch’s concept of overcriminalization requires all our attention and efforts.  Bringing about needed societal and racial transformations to make society fair and equitable requires setting aside partisan politics, replaced by collaboration toward effective solutions.  We have to demand legislators to “do no more harm.”  Black shouldn’t allow legislators to criminalize activities that do not fit a common-sense understanding of what is a “crime.”

Hopefully, lawmakers and committed citizens will support Koch’s proposed reforms.


About the Author: William Reed is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Black Press International. He has been a Media Entrepreneur for over two decades. A long-time Washington insider, Reed’s special strengths include: public and community relations; grass-roots organizing; script and speech writing, legislative affairs tracking and research; and access to a network of national and local government, business and organizational policy-makers and public opinion-molders. He can be reached via [email protected].

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