Prison Is Not An Option: Can We Keep Black Boys Out Of Prison?

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Or, like Kalief Browder, they are simply unjustly incarcerated for crimes they did not commit. All too often, this unjust punishment has a basis in racism. The school-to-prison pipeline indicates that there is a relationship between minority young men who are disciplined in K settings through suspensions and expulsions and those who end up incarcerated later in life. Here are the alarming statistics:. Breaking this down by state leads to more troubling statistics. In Indiana, 95 percent of all suspensions in — occurred as a result of minor offenses, such as disruptive behavior.

In Colorado , one in every seven black students is disciplined in schools, though just one in every twenty-five white students faces the same disciplinary actions. A study published by the University of Pennsylvania reports that black students make up 39 percent of students suspended in Florida , though they only account for 23 percent of the public school population in the state. Drilling down to the county level throws up even more dire statistics. And in the Chicago public school system, over a third of African-American boys were suspended at some point during the — school year.

This makes black students over three times more likely to face suspension or expulsion than their white peers. When you add in Latino numbers, 70 percent of all in-school arrests are black or Latino students. Match this to the 61 percent of the incarcerated population that is black or Latino—despite the fact that these groups only represent 30 percent of the US population when combined. Approximately , teens are tried as adults every year, sometimes for minor offenses that stem from school scuffles. In North Carolina and New York, for example, all sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds are automatically tried as adults.

Students led from school in handcuffs due to disruptive behavior are suddenly facing an adult record that puts them at risk of not getting into college or finding a stable job.


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As noted earlier, students who drop out of high school have a much higher chance of ending up in prison. The fact that black students are suspended at much higher rates than their white peers points to a direct correlation between discipline in grade school and a place in a prison cell. Given the above, the fact that the US has the highest incarceration rate in the world is no surprise. The road to lockup starts in the public school systems—and it starts with unfair punishment.

He says that, once released, many formerly incarcerated individuals are hungry to take part in society. But to allow more people to take this path, help is needed. To be sure, fundamental reform — in laws, sentencing and prison practices — is key to ending the cycle of forced labor that disproportionately affects blacks. Yet as awareness of the problem of prison labor increases, the appetite for change is growing, with a range of initiatives emerging along with evidence of their success. For example, 75 percent of graduates of drug courts that provide sentence alternatives like treatment with supervision never see another pair of handcuffs.

Some options, from drug treatment courses to mental illness programs, address the underlying causes of crime. Jackson also sees great potential in re-entry programs.

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She cites The Last Mile program, another California-based nonprofit working to teach people behind bars to code. Another example is Florida's Operation New Hope — which, by providing employment, parenting and life-skills training, and family counseling — aims to reunify families and improve outcomes for children of incarcerated or formerly incarcerated parents.

Meanwhile, financial incentives still need to be changed, says Jones, so that rather than paying to incarcerate people, payments reward successful rehabilitation.

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Jackson sees firsthand the effects of rehabilitation. The news and editorial staffs of The New York Times had no role in this post's preparation. The 13th Amendment officially abolished slavery in Yet involuntary servitude persists years later, due to a loophole that shifted the practice to U. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

A similar pattern is reflected in the number of African Americans incarcerated in A family of slaves in the cotton fields near Savannah, Georgia, in the early s. A Southern chain gang in They were denied the right to vote in , the year the 15th Amendment was ratified, prohibiting the laws that denied the right to vote on the basis of race. There are 2. What is it like for someone leaving prison?

Talk me through the restrictions, the monitoring, the things they are locked out of for the rest of their lives. You have to work hard to get your life back on track, get it together. But I think most people imagine if you really apply yourself, you can do it.

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It just takes some extra effort. The people who believe that rarely have actually been through the experience of being incarcerated and branded a felon. For the rest of your life, you have to check that box on employment applications asking have you ever been convicted of a felony. Housing discrimination is perfectly legal against you for the rest of your life. In fact, you can be denied access to public housing based only on a [reference], not even convictions. Discrimination by private landlords as well as public housing projects and agencies, perfectly legal. Discrimination in public benefits is perfectly legal.

What are people who are released from prison expected to do?

Problems with the “solutions”

What do we expect those [people] to do? When you take a look at the system, when you really step back and take a look at the system, what does the system seem designed to do? Most people who are released from prison return within a few years, and the majority in some states return in a matter of weeks or months, because the challenges associated with mere survival on the outside are so immense. Tell me about how that works and also what it means, what it signifies.

There is no rational reason to deny someone the right to vote because they once committed a crime.


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We live in a democracy, of the people by the people, one man, one vote, one person, one woman, one vote. In other Western democracies, prisoners are allowed to vote. We say that when people are released from prison we want them to get back on their feet, contribute to society, to be productive citizens, and yet we lock them out at every turn.

This system is about something else as currently designed. Tell me what effects locking up so many people from one small community has on that community and what horizons and possibilities it then presents to the youth coming up in that community. No, often one out of three are likely to do time in prison. And in communities of hyperincarceration that can be found in inner-city communities, in [Washington], D.

And in these communities where incarceration has become so normalized, when it becomes part of the normal life course for young people growing up, it decimates those communities. It makes the social networks that we take for granted in other communities impossible to form. It makes thriving economies nearly impossible to create. It means that young people growing up in these communities imagine that prison is just part of their future.

You, too, are going to jail. It affects people emotionally. You could look at the numbers and say, OK, crime rates are at historic lows in the United States; incarceration rates are at historic highs — great, it works. Locking all these people up has bought crime rates down. So if you view this as the great prison experiment, as an effort to eradicate crime, has it been successful? The answer is no. You take communities like Chicago, New Orleans and in this neighborhood in Kentucky where the drug war has been waged with just extraordinary, merciless intensity and incarceration rates have soared as crime rates have soared.

No, in fact in many of the places where crime rates have declined the most, incarceration rates have fallen the most. In places like Chicago, in New Orleans, in Baltimore, in Philadelphia, where crime rates have been the most severe, incarceration has proved itself to be an abysmal failure as an answer to the problems that need to be addressed. One might assume that the more incarceration you have, the less crime you would have. The research actually shows, though, that quite the opposite is the case once you reach a certain tipping point.

When you begin to incarcerate such a large percentage of the population, the social fabric begins to erode. It can no longer function in a healthy manner. Incarceration itself becomes the problem rather than the solution. Does locking up people selling drugs stop the drug trade in a neighborhood? Between and , more than two-thirds of the increase in the federal population and more than half of the increased state prison population was due to drug convictions alone.

Drug convictions have increased more than 1, percent since the drug war began. To get a sense of how large a contribution the war on drugs has made to mass incarceration, think of it this way: There are more people in prisons and jails today just for drug offenses then were incarcerated for all reasons in Arresting people for minor drug offenses in this drug war does not reduce drug abuse or drug-related crime.

It is common sense and conventional wisdom that if you arrest one drug dealer, there will be another dealer on the street within hours to replace him. We have seen that today, 40 years after the drug war was declared, illegal drugs in many respects are cheaper and more readily available than they were at the time the drug war was declared.

And yet the war goes on. It goes on and on, and every day people are arrested for minor drug offenses, branded criminals and felons, and then locked away and then relegated to permanent second-class status. Simply arresting people for drug crimes [does] nothing to address the serious problems of drug abuse and drug addiction that exist in this country. The war goes on, as you said, but there are efforts underway in various states … to start to change things.

The idea in principle is to pump that money back into treatment and, in theory, things that will help prevent crime rather than exacerbate it.

The Effects of Mass Incarceration on Communities of Color

Could you talk to me about what is good about these initiatives underway in various states but also about their limitations? The concern, though, is that these reforms are motivated primarily because of money, fiscal concerns.

State budgets have been struggling to meet basic expenses for prisons, [and] these bloated prison budgets have created a situation where politicians either have to ask taxpayers to pay up, pony up more money, raise taxes, or downsize our prisons somewhat.