Essay on Constructionist Theory in Prison Racial Representation

Published: 2021-07-01
642 words
3 pages
6 min to read
Vanderbilt University
Type of paper: 
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Constructionist refers to the process through which knowledge can be stored in some memory and later on be retrieved when there is a need for modification. Constructivism can be rational, radical or dialectical. The principles of constructivism may include but not limited to; the process takes time to be understood, in this theory, people learn so that they can learn as they learn and the most significant action in constructing is mental. Noteworthy, the process of learning is believed to be a social activity, and it is contextual. Constructionist theories are mostly concerned with the achievement of better understanding of the process through which people categorize and define given behaviors as either normal behavior of deviant behavior. This paper determines the explanation for the occurrence of massive representation of different races compared to others in the incarceration system.

As one of the biggest challenges in the prison system, it has been noted with concern that the prison systems have encountered the singular challenge for over-representation of racial minorities within them. Specifically, prisons have large representation of Hispanics and African Americans compared to their Caucasian counterparts. As part of the constructionist approach, different reasons have been developed as to the causes of this phenomenon, including racial bias at sentencing (Snowball & Weatherburn, 2007). According to this research, racial bias against racial minorities in countries, which are largely white, including Australia is one of the main challenges of the legal system. More so, there occurs the real possibility of bias based on race, which occurs in the criminal justice system, thereby favoring the allocation of prison sentences more willingly to racial minorities compared to white individuals. According to Snowball & Weatherburn (2007), the risk of imprisonment for indigenous people is higher compared to that of non-indigenous Australians. Nevertheless, this continues to diminish if sentence-related factors are considered. As it stands, the indigenous status remains a significant predictor for imprisonment when all other factors remain constant. For example, courts placed higher effect of a previous criminal record for the non-indigenous offender compared to the indigenous offender.

A different reasoning seeks to support a different view, in that minority incarceration begins in the early stages of life, where minority youth are more likely to be committed to juvenile centers compared to their indigenous counterparts (Davis & Sorensen, 2013). Black and white disparities when analyzing the incarceration of teenage delinquents shows a trend of negative racial bias against racial minorities from the formative years of their lives. Nevertheless, the implementation of different programs within the Office of Juvenile Justice have provided reliefs for racial minorities, as disproportionate incarcerations have reduced by up to 20 per cent. The Office of Juvenile Justice sought to determine the causes of disproportionate representation of racial minorities and the development of corrective strategies before issuing grants according to the Federal Formula. This program sensitized juvenile centers against racial bias in incarcerating delinquents, thereby reducing the incarceration rate for racial minorities, which was existent. As a result, the US juvenile system has been successful in reducing the disproportionate representation of racial minorities in juvenile correction centers.

Having considered these factors, it is possible to conclude that racial bias both at the formative and progressive stages of life is the cause of disproportionate racial representation in prison. For example, in Australia, a previous criminal record for a non-indigenous person bears greater weight than that of indigenous persons. In the US, it is more likely for black child to be incarcerated by juvenile services compared to white children. As a result, racial bias persists at both sentencing level and delinquency response.


Davis, J., & Sorensen, J. R. (2013). Disproportionate minority confinement of juveniles: A national examination of BlackWhite disparity in placements, 1997-2006. Crime & Delinquency, 59(1), 115-139.

Snowball, L., & Weatherburn, D. (2007). Does racial bias in sentencing contribute to indigenous overrepresentation in prison? Australian & New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 40(3), 272-290.

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