One extraordinary gift about our nation is that we strive for knowledge. As a people, we possess a plethora of individuals willing to research and disclose crucial information for the betterment of our country and society as a whole. Several entities across the board have made significant strides to address recidivism to reduce prison population using new, intelligent options. Funding has been sought after and granted in efforts towards reform improvements, yet we are consistently presented with a continuation of prison overpopulation and repeat offenders. This problem largely impacts every citizen in our country, and it is past time to fully address it from every angle possible. What we have done before, many professionals and lawmakers agree, is not working.
Around the world, the United States has been known as, the, “incarceration nation,” for far long enough. The stark reality is that the United States has only 5% of the entire world’s population but houses over 25% of its inmates. Contributing factors to our nations overpopulated prisons, are also well known: mostly the poor, uneducated, increasingly more people of color and those that experience symptoms of mental health disorders daily.
(Collier, L. (2014). Incarceration Nation. American Psychological Association, Vol 45, No.9, pg 56)
U.S. population has a smaller number of citizens than many countries, yet still exceeds the entire world in prison overpopulation.
Incarcerated: 2.3 million
On Parole: 840,000
On Probation: 3.7 million
Cost: 60-80 Billion annually (2014-2016)
According to United States Census, it is crystal clear of the racial and ethnic disparities:
Whites are underrepresented in the incarcerated population and blacks are overrepresented.
Whites are more likely to be given a chance at treatment at the time of criminal sentencing, while blacks are more likely to have plea bargained before sentencing, even at times admitting to crimes that they may not have fully committed, or committed at all. This is a huge problem, and we need to look deeper into the reasons why. The question does not lie in the facts, the question resides in picking apart the details as to why, and considering the fact that it costs $26,000-32,000 dollars to house one inmate per year, it is quite worth the investment to us all. (Henrichson, C., Delaney, R., (2014) The Price of Prisons. Center on Sentencing and Corrections)
Blacks and Legal Position
Without any exaggeration, it is safe to state, that the racial and ethnic diversity of our widely-known Incarceration Nation court system lacks equality. As a result, a significant and historical achievement was made by President Barack Obama who made strenuous efforts to appoint judges who represent the population of those that we serve in this country. Need the exact and current stats? “Of the 1,352 active and semiretired federal judges, 60 percent are white men, while only 11 percent are black and 7 percent are Latino. Just one-quarter of federal judges are women. And a mere 7 percent of federal judgeships are held by women of color, according to research for an upcoming Center for American Progress report.” (Jawando, M.L., Anderson, A., 2016, September 15)
As a master’s level mental health clinician, and African American, I have had the opportunity to work alongside other professionals within our community to engage in community-wide efforts. This opportunity has allowed me the necessary connections to be able to work with our cities Drug Court Program, Heroin Partnership Project as well as our communities Re-Entry Coalition for offenders. I have noticed at once, in chambers, in crucial meetings that impact the lives of many from diverse populations, literally no black judges, no black attorneys, no other black council members on either that I have been a part of. On our counties school board, I notice one black woman, and in our counties schools we severely lack diversity amongst teaching staff and administration, yet the population served is diverse. I have also noticed a lack of black offenders receiving treatment options instead of prison time for the same or much less degree of crimes.
I am in no way implying that I am a judge out to condemn our judges or other professionals, though diversity is underdeveloped in these vital areas. New proposed policies should reflect that lawmakers, members of panels, educational acceptance rates and accessibility, to have a percentage which directly represents those that are being served. Again, this is not to be misconstrued, any professional on any given committee, panel or board member, must be highly skilled, possessing a certain level of legal, ethical reasoning and education to be in their position, despite their race. Furthermore, their race should have no diminishment of their legal obligation to uphold all legal and ethical responsibilites to those whom they serve. Still, one cannot deny there are needs that affect us all, needs that are rooted in the complexity of culture, experience, education and perspective which relate to the issues that we all face: including law and public policy, reform and government. If we want to see long lasting change, we need to embrace receptivity that we can better learn from one another and accept that this is exactly what it will take to improve not only disparities but recidivism as a whole.
These facts should ignite us into the long overdue implementation of past criminal justice reform conversations. Positive strides have been made, yet incarceration nation seems to be well engrained within our culture. One might ask, what are we missing in this puzzle of prison reform? Many are working on that answer. What we are not missing in this puzzle of social improvement and prison reform, are the facts, we have them, the real question is… what are we going to do about these challenging facts that test us all? We do have options. Either we can choose to let it cause further division or we can choose to embrace peaceful humility, put our heads together and get to saving lives.
Image Source: Prison Policy Initiative
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