Mass incarceration

1. Hundreds of thousands of black men are unable to be good fathers for their children, not because of the lack of commitment or desire but because they are warehoused in the prisons, locked in cages. They did not walk out on their families voluntarily; they were taken away in handcuffs, often due to a massive federal program known as the War on Drugs. 2. More African American adults are under correctional control today-in prison or jail, on probation or parole-than were enslaved in 1850, decade before the Civil War began.

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3. The mass incarceration of people of color is a big part of the reason that a black child born today is less likely to be raised by both parents that a black child born during slavery. The absence of black fathers from families across America is not simply a function of laziness, immaturity, or too much time watching Sports Center. 4. Thousands of black men have disappeared into prisons and jails, locked away for drug crimes that are largely ignored when committed by whites.

5. More are disenfranchised today than in the 1870, the year the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified prohibiting laws that explicitly deny the right to vote on the bases of race. 6. Young black men today may just as likely suffer discrimination in employment , housing, public benefits, jury service as a black man in Jim Crow era- discrimination that is perfectly legal, because it is based on one’s criminal record. 7.

Mass incarceration has been normalized, and all of the racial stereotypes and assumptions that gave rise to the system are now embraced (or at least internalized) by people of all color, from all walks of life, and in every major political party. 8. We may wonder aloud “where have the black men gone? ” but deep down we already know. 9. For more than three decades, images of black men in handcuffs have been a regular staple of the evening news. We know that large number of black men have been locked in cages. 10.

We know that people released from prison face a lifetime of discrimination, scorn, and exclusion, and yet we claim not to know at the same time. 11. Most Americans only come to “know” about the people cycling in and out of prisons through fictional police dramas, music videos, gangsta rap, and “true” accounts of ghetto experience on the evening news. 12. Because mass incarceration is officially colorblind, it seems inconceivable that the system could function much like a racial caste system. 13. Many whites who supported Jim Crow justified it on a

paternalist grounds, actually believing they were doing blacks a favor or believing the time was not yet “right” for equality. The disturbing images from the Jim Crow era also make it easy to forget that many African Americans were complicit in the Jim Crow system, profiting from it directly or indirectly or keeping their objections quiet out of fear or repercussions. 14. The unfortunate reality we must face is that racism manifests itself not only in individual attitudes and stereotypes, but also in the basic structure of society. 15.

In the system of mass incarceration, a wide variety of laws, institutions, and practices-ranging from racial profiling to biased sentencing policies, political disenfranchisement, and legalized employment discrimination –trap African Americans in a virtual (and literal ) cage. 16. It is far more convenient to imagine that a majority of young African American men in urban areas freely chose a life of crime than to accept the real possibility that their lives were structures in a way that virtually guaranteed their early admission into a system from which they can never escape.

17. One way of understanding our current system of mass incarceration is to think of it as a birdcage with a locked door. It is a set of structural arrangements that locks a racially distinct group into a subordinate political, social, and economic position, effectively creating a second class citizenship. Those trapped within the system are not merely disadvantaged, the sense that they are competing on an unequal playing field or face additional hurdles to political or economic success; rather, the system itself is structured to lock them into a subordinate position.

18. Precisely how the system of mass incarceration works to trap African Americans in a virtual (and literal) cage can best be understood by viewing the system as a whole. 19. The War on Drugs is the vehicle through which extraordinary numbers of black men are forced into the cage. 20. (Stage one)Vast numbers of people are swept into the criminal justice system by the police, who conduct drug operations primarily in poor communities of color. 21. Because there is no meaningful check on the exercise of police discretion, racial biases are granted free rein.

In fact, police are allowed to rely on race as a factor in selecting whom to stop and search (even thought people of color are no likely to be guilty of drug crimes that whites)-effectively guaranteeing that those who are swept into the system are primarily black and brown. 22. The conviction marks the beginning of the second; the period of formal control. Once arrested, defendants are generally denied meaningful legal representation and pressured to plead guilty whether they are or not. 23.

While under formal control, virtually every aspect of one’s life is regulated and monitored by the system, and any form of resistance or disobedience is subject to swift sanction. This period of control may last a lifetime, even for those convicted of extremely minor, nonviolent offenses, but the vast majority of those swept into the system are eventually released. They are transferred from their prison cells to a much larger, invisible cage. 24. The final stage has been dubbed by some advocates as the period of the invisible punishment.

These sanctions are imposed by operation of law rather than decisions of a sentencing judge, yet they often than decisions of a sentencing judge, yet they often have a greater impact on one’s life course than the months or years one actually spends behind bars. 25. These laws operate collectively to ensure that the vast majority of convicted offenders will never integrate into mainstream, white society. They are will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives-denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits.

Unable to surmount these obstacles, most will eventually return to prison and then be released again, caught in a closed circuit of perpetual marginality. 26. The critical point here is that, for the black men, the stigma of being a “criminal” in the era of mass incarnation is fundamentally a racial stigma. This is not to say stigma is absent for the white criminal; it is present and powerful. Rather, the point is that the stigma of criminality for whit offenders is different – it is a nonracial stigma. 27. In this way, the stigma of race has become the stigma of criminality.

Throughout the criminal justice system, as well as in our schools and public spaces, young + black + male is equated with reasonable suspicion, justifying the arrest, interrogation, search, and detention of thousands of African Americans every year, as well as their exclusion from employment and housing and the denial of educational opportunity. Because black youth are viewed as criminals, they face severe employment discrimination and are also “pushed out” of schools through racially biased school discipline policies. 28.

For black youth, the experience of being “made black” often begins with the first police stop, interrogation, search, or arrest. The experience carries social meaning-this is what it means to be black. 29. Today, the War on Drugs has given birth to a system of mass incarceration that governs not just a small fraction of a racial or ethnic minority but entire communities of color. 30. The nature of the criminal justice system had changes. It is no longer concerned primarily with the prevention and punishment of crime, but rather with the management and control of the dispossessed.

Prior drug wars were ancillary to the prevailing caste system. This time the drug war is the system of control. 31. About 90 percent of those sentenced to prison for drug offenses in Illinois are African America. White drug offenders are rarely arrested, and when they are, they are treated more favorably at every stage of the criminal justice process, including plea bargaining and sentencing. 32. White are consistently more likely to avoid prison and felony charges, even when they are repeat offenders. Black offenders, by contract, are routinely labeled felons and released into a permanent racial undercaste.

33. The impact of the new caste system is most tragically felt among the young. In Chicago (as in other cities across the United Stated), young black men are more likely to go to prison than to college. As of June 2001, there were nearly 20,000 more black men in the Illinois state prison system than enrolled in the state’s public universities. 34. Studies have shown that joblessness-not race or black culture-explains the high rates of violent crime in poor black communities. When researches have controlled for joblessness, differences in violent crime rates between young black and white men disappear.

Regardless, the reality for poor blacks trapped in ghettos remains the same; they must live in a state of perpetual insecurity and fear. 35. I the era of mass incarceration, poor African Americans are not given the option of great schools, community investment, and job training. Instead they are offered police and prisons. If the only choice that is offered police and prisons. If the only choice that is offered black rampant crime or more prisons, the predictable (and understandable) answer will be :more prisons”