The United States has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world. The American obsession with crime and punishment can be tracked over the last half-century, as the nation’s incarceration rate has risen astronomically. Since 1970, the number of incarcerated people in the United States has increased more than sevenfold to over 2.3 million, outpacing both crime and population growth considerably. While the rise itself is undoubtedly bleak, a more troubling truth lies just below the surface. Not all states contribute equally to American mass incarceration. Rather, states have vastly different incarceration rates. Unlike at the federal level, where courts are bound by uniform sentencing guidelines, state courts have no such mandatory measures in place; this allows for states to implement sentencing systems and criminal codes that are entirely independent of other states’ procedures nationwide. Data published on states’ laws concerning criminal punishment shows that legislatures have adopted widely varying statutory approaches to both defining and determining criminal sentencing.

This Note first explores the Deep South’s contribution to mass incarceration in the United States, specifically, the national average. To accomplish this end, this Note provides an in-depth analysis of state prison incarceration data collected, synthesized, and analyzed by this Note’s author. Next, this Note discusses how the variation in criminal sentencing between states contributes to “geographical discrimination” and how such discrimination threatens individuals’ rights to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. This Note then provides a modern take on possible solutions provided by the Fourteenth Amendment whereby individuals may challenge disparate sentencing in the Deep South on the basis that such disparities are a form of geographic discrimination that fails the Rational Basis Test.

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