Tag Archives: SB 1070

Mass Incarceration In America Starts At A Young Age

5 Nov

I wrote a post in March about my experience volunteering with Free Minds Bookclub & Writing Workshop, a DC-based nonprofit organization, that organizes book clubs and writing workshops at the DC Jail, where 16 and 17 year-olds, many of whom have been incarcerated as adults, discuss literature and express themselves through creative writing.

The post discusses the devastating impact of prison on the black community, mentioning a recent New Yorker article on mass incarceration in America, which states that blacks are now incarcerated seven times as often as whites, and that there are more black men under the control of the criminal justice system that were in slavery in 1850. 

A recent New York Times analysis references research which shows that more young black dropouts from high school are in prison than have paying jobs, and that black men are more likely to go to prison than to graduate with a four-year degree or complete military service.  Blacks account for nearly half of the 2.3 million Americans in prison or jail, and because these people are not counted in census figures or data, Dr. Pettit, of the University of Washington, says, “Decades of penal expansion coupled with the concentration of incarceration among men, blacks, and those with low levels of education have generated a statistical portrait that overstates the educational and economic progress and political engagement of African-Americans.”

A month ago, I started volunteering with The Beat Within, a San Francisco-based nonprofit, which holds weekly writing workshops in 13 California county juvenile halls with volunteer facilitators, providing incarcerated youth with the opportunity to share their ideas and life experiences, and printing their words in a biweekly magazine that is then distributed to the young inmates in juvenile hall, and beyond.   

Writing is powerful tool for expression, and it can especially powerful for those who lack physical freedom and are plagued by trauma, violence, and the past.  Perhaps what’s most powerful is someone taking the time to read your words, to validate your voice and your story, and then to see your words printed in ink in a publication.  Organizations like The Beat and Free Minds provide an avenue — sometimes the only avenue — for creative expression, in a system built to kill any feeling of empowerment or hope. 

At each Beat session, volunteers help young inmates respond to specific writing prompts — a recent one was entitled “Voting For President” — and asked the kids who they thought who would be the best president for the United States, Barack Obama or Mitt Romney?   It’s sad that many of these individuals may never have the opportunity to vote, and perhaps even sadder still, that even if President Obama is re-elected, there will still be more than six million people under correctional supervision in the United States.

While the Obama Administration has worked to reduce (but not eliminate) sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine, a clear racial bias that disproportionally locks up more people of color compared to whites, reforming our for-profit prison system does not appear to be on the agenda for 2012-2016. 

Listening to some of the inmates’ stories, and what they’ve already been through at such a young age, makes it easy to recognize the freedom and privilege I take for granted in my everyday life in San Francisco, which is often consumed by discussing who serves the best cup of $3 pour-over coffee or the best burrito.    

An enlightening photo book project called Juvenile-in-Justice, by Richard Ross, presents some alarming statistics:  There are 70,000 young people in juvenile detention or correctional facilities every day in the U.S.  The average cost to incarcerate a juvenile for a 9-12 month period is between $66,000 and $88,000 – in California, this cost is almost $225,000.  Nearly 3 out of 4 youth confined for delinquency, are not in for a serious violent felony crime, and youth confined for longer periods of time are no less likely make repeat offenses than those confined for shorter periods of time.

Some of the young men at the juvenile hall, which houses kids as young as thirteen years-old, are in for repeat offenses or parole violations (including minor offenses like marijuana use), and may end up back in jail after they leave.  It’s a vicious cycle, but as the statistics above and this infographic shows, not uncommon for people of color, especially black men, growing up in low-income communities around the country. 

Clearly, the current prison system is broken and unjust, or rather, it’s working exceptionally well, if the goal is to lock up millions of people of color and give millions of dollars to private corporations like Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group (formerly Wackenhut Corrections Corporation), who combined earned $2.9 billion in 2010.  These corporations have worked closely with PACs and local government officials in states like Arizona to support harsh anti-immigrant legislation including SB 1070, all with the motive of filling prison beds with people of color for profit.

Voters in California have a chance to make a small difference on Election Day, Tuesday, November 6, by voting YES on Proposition 36, revising the three strikes rule, so that criminal offenders with two prior serious or violent felony convictions who commit nonserious, non-violent felonies, would be sentenced to shorter terms in state prison.  A YES vote on 36 would also allow some offenders with two prior serious or violent felony convictions who are currently serving life sentences for nonserious, non-violent felony convictions to be resentenced to shorter prison terms.

California voters should also vote YES on Proposition 34, which repeals the death penalty, replacing it with life imprisonment without possibility of parole.  This law applies retroactively to existing death sentences, so offenders who are already serving a death sentence would be resentenced to life without the possibility of parole — and while life imprisonment is still a death sentence in many ways (especially if opportunities and state funding to challenge convictions are taken away) — this reform would ensure that an innocent person is never executed.

These are important changes, but they do little to change the shameful state of mass incarceration in America.  We need to end the systematic and cyclic structures that lock up so many people, especially young people, in the first place — end racist stop-and-frisk policing as well as sentencing disparities, which are filling prison beds for corporate profit — and curb poverty and violence in at-risk communities by funding and empowering robust youth (and adult) education, employment, entrepreneurial, health, and after-school programs. 

To get involved with The Beat Within’s writing workshops with incarcerated youth, or to volunteer to type up young inmates’ words, click here.  To support juvenile justice reform, check out Juvenile-in-Justice’s Take Action page, or the Equal Justice Initiative.

 

Education vs. Incarceration

Using Philadelphia as an example, this graphic compares the cost, both financial and societal, of education and incarceration.  Designed by Jason Killinger for Maskar Design.  Source: Visual.ly.

Justice Please: Reject Arizona’s Anti-Immigration Law

28 Apr

The Supreme Court of the United States heard oral arguments on Wednesday in Arizona v. United States, regarding the Justice Department’s challenge to the controversial anti-immigration law in Arizona, the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, otherwise known as Arizona SB 1070, or the “Papers please” law.  To provide some background on the racist roots of this legislation:  SB 1070 was sponsored by former Republican Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce, and signed into law by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer on April 23, 2010.   Pearce received assistance from Kris Kobach and the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in drafting the legislation—FAIR has been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and has connections on its board of directors to the eugenics movement and other White Nationalist organizations— and much of the language of SB 1070 was drafted at a meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), alongside officials of the Corrections Corporation of America.  In 2010, NPR published a story on the relationship between Pearce’s bill and private prison companies.

SB 1070 is being challenged by the Obama administration, which argues that measures that provide for arrests and penalties under the so-called “reasonable suspicion” of being an undocumented immigrant amount to racial profiling and are unconstitutional.

While the final vote will not come until June, according to the Washington Post, Supreme Court justices strongly suggested Wednesday that they were skeptical of the administration’s case against SB 1070 and ready to allow Arizona to allow police officers to check the immigration status of people they “think” are in the country illegally.  If this law holds, it will set the precedent for states circumventing federal immigration policies and enacting their own (racist and unconstitutional) anti-immigrant policies, as we’ve already seen take place (to the detriment of human rights and economic well-being) in GeorgiaUtah, and Alabama.  That these laws have made parents remove their (U.S. citizen) children from elementary schools and farmers leave the farms they are working on out of fear of deportation, shows just how hateful and powerful the anti-immigrant movement in America has become.     

We should protect the human rights of people who come to this country to work hard, educate their children, and make a better life for themselves and their families.  We should remove racist anti-immigrant legislation in Arizona and other states, as well as end the Obama administration’s record-setting deportation practices, which tear families and communities apart.  According to figures released by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Obama administration deported nearly 400,000 undocumented immigrants last fiscal year, setting a shameful record high for deportations for the third straight year (including deporting 46,686 parents who had at least one U.S. citizen child in the first half of 2011 alone). 

If the Supreme Court’s decision in this case in June comes out in favor of states being able to promote racial profiling, hatred, and the criminalization of immigrants, few will be surprised, as it would reflect an “American dream” in which liberty and justice for some has prevailed.  However, if the Supreme Court stands against racism, and rejects Arizona SB 1070, it may provide the momentum necessary for future comprehensive federal immigration reform that actually protects liberty and justice for all people in this country. 

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