Racism behind mass incarceration

Black men under age 35 who did not finish high school are more likely to be behind bars than employed in the labor market.

That sentence was buried halfway down in an announcement from the National Academies Press of the publishing of this report: “The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences.”

These facts also grate at me, especially the third:

1. With the inclusion of local jails, the U.S. penal population totals 2.2 million adults, the largest in the world; the U.S. has nearly one-quarter of the world’s prisoners, but only 5 percent of its population.
2. Nearly 1 in 100 adults is in prison or jail, which is 5 to 10 times higher than rates in Western Europe and other democracies.
3. Of those incarcerated in 2011, about 60 percent were black or Hispanic.

The systematic racism throughout our country’s criminal justice system that created this “New Jim Crow,” outrages and frustrates me. The frustrations are that the system is so complex that it will take a series of laws and new policies and practices over the next five to ten years to change such a behemoth, and worse, MOST PEOPLE don’t know about the epidemic of mass incarceration, and if they do know about it, don’t act.

This issue hits close to home for me because I have volunteered in prisons since 2009, co-founding eight Toastmaters programs in men’s and women’s prisons. I know many people impacted by the politics, racism and classism that has delivered the New Jim Crow. I knew many black males in high school in Wilmington, Del. and often wonder if they were snagged in the net of imprisonment, that sends one in three black men to prison.

To take action in Massachusetts, contact me or start looking around in your area for others who are working on untangling the web of injustice created by the war on drugs. susan dot tordella at g mail dot com .

Copies of The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences are available from the National Academies Press at www.nap.edu or by calling tel. 202-334-3313or 1-800-624-6242

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