American International Journal of Social Science

ISSN 2325-4149(Print), ISSN 2325-4165(Online) DIO: 10.30845/aijss

A Historical Analysis of African Americans in the Trenton State Prison System, New Jersey: Before, During and After the Civil War, 1850-1890
Dr. Harvey L. McMurray, Dr. Jarvis Hargrove, Dr. Jonathan Livingston

Race and racism have long been entrenched in America’s criminal justice system, particularly where incarceration is concerned. The period under review (1850 to 1890) includes significant events to include the Emancipation Proclamation, the Civil War, and convict leasing, i.e. a tool to maintain involuntary servitude and the institution of slavery. Specifically, it was hypothesized that the African American prison population would increase following the Civil War, consistent with patterns of incarceration in the south; thus, the periods of interest were 1850 – 1860 (Pre-Civil War), 1861 – 1865 (during the Civil War), and 1866 – 1890 (after the Civil War). Incarceration trends in the Trenton State Prison, a northern state, were examined to determine whether there was a significant increase in the African American prison population after the Civil War and consistent with the practice of convict leasing. African Americans comprised five percent of the state population yet averaged 21.22% of the prison population. The hypothesis was not affirmed as the percent of African Americans in the Trenton State Prison declined after the Civil War. Nevertheless, the disproportionate incarceration of African Americans coupled with the inhumanity of treatment, their incarceration is blight on America’s system of justice and its prison industry, which has found expression in the mass incarceration of African Americans, particularly males. Indeed, this period was a forerunner to the mass incarceration of people of African descent.

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