Dissertations and Theses @ UNI


Open Access Thesis


Racism -- United States; Drug control -- United States; Discrimination in criminal justice administration -- United States; United States -- Race relations;


Through reviewing the concept of institutional racism, I examine how this concept has been employed in the discourse on the war on drug. Moreover, I explore how this term has been employed by opponents and proponents on the war on drugs. First, I explore how the term 'institutional racism' is defined by various authors and scholars. I then reviewed how the United State Supreme Court has set precedents regarding intentional and unintentional discrimination. I also investigate how the concept of institutional racism is used in the discourse on American institutions of education, economics, law, and politics. l then review how the concept of institutional racism has been used by war on drugs opponents and proponents. This review looks at the Congressional discourse from the 104th to 110th Congress. Later, l review how political action committees, mass media sources, and independent authors have criticized the war on drugs through their respective viewpoints on institutional racism. This study is guided by Fairclough's (1989) approach to critical discourse analysis to determine the description, interpretation, and explanation of the reviewed discourses.

My analysis reveals that while the term 'institutional racism' was rarely used by politicians who criticized the war on drugs policies. However, the concept of institutional racism is often employed by Democratic Party politicians, liberals, and social reform advocates. Many of these actors and organizations point to evidence of racial disparities in the war on drugs, particularly the differences between federal cocaine sentencing policies. For several of these criticisms, the statistical imbalance of race and federal cocaine sentencing policy indicates racial discrimination on the part of the American criminal justice system. Conversely, proponents of the war on drugs denounce opponents' claims of racial discrimination in federal cocaine sentencing policy. These proponents, who are often Republican Party members, state that statistics alone do not constitute a form of racial discrimination. In addition to the Congressional discourse, many political action committees, media sources, and independent authors make claims of purposeful racial discrimination on the part of the American criminal justice system. My analysis revealed that many ' fringe ' criticisms tend to be harsher than mainstream criticisms. I conclude my analysis by stating that while racial disparities are evident in the statistical imbalances of federal cocaine sentencing policies. However, I also conclude that many claims of purposeful racial discrimination based upon statistical imbalances are difficult to prove in contemporary American courts.

Year of Submission


Degree Name

Master of Arts


Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminology

First Advisor

Joe Gorton, Chair


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Date Original


Object Description

1 PDF file (x, 189 leaves ; 28 cm)



File Format


Included in

Criminology Commons