All Articles Tagged "black prisoners"
America prides itself on being a free country yet nearly two million citizens are behind bars according to a 2009 U.S. Bureau of Justice report. This number is especially troublesome when one considers that blacks accounted for 39.4% of the total prison and jail population. Such disproportionate numbers along with the media’s focus on the challenges of the formerly incarcerated to overcome recidivism and discrimination, often leave an impression of hopelessness. However there is another facet proving that sometimes the criminal justice system does work and can successfully reform individuals. The Atlanta Post has compiled a list of some of the most accomplished, powerful and promising African-Americans in this category. These are citizens are reinventing themselves as politicians and social justice advocates who are giving back through compassion, faith and education.
For some people all it takes is one event to discover their life’s mission. That moment came for Glenn Martin after he served six years in New York state prison for armed robbery and embarked upon empowerment of those involved with the criminal justice system. That journey has led to his present role as the vice president of development and public affairs and director of the David Rothenberg Center for Public Policy (DRCPP) at The Fortune Society, Inc., a non-profit dedicated to the reintegration of the formerly incarcerated. Martin has also built a reputation as one of the leading experts on criminal justice after serving as project manager on the largest audit ever conducted in the U.S. on discrimination in low-wage labor markets. Martin can be found spreading the word about his mission in the June 2011 issue of Ebony magazine.
Convicted based on hearsay and locked in solitary confinement for 39 long years, the Angola Three may finally obtain the justice they seek. Today, their campaign for freedom reaches Capitol Hill.
Once a former slave plantation, the Angola prison in Louisiana has been home to Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox for almost four decades. While the two were locked in prison on charges of armed robbery, they formed a prison chapter of the Black Panther Party. They were organizing against the horrors of Angola when, they allege, they were framed for the murder of prison guard Brent Miller in 1972.
The third member of their trio, Robert H. King, was not in prison at the time of the murder, but was still found guilty of the crime.
The Guardian reports that evidence in favor of the three was thrown out. Their sentence was proclaimed based solely on the hearsay of other prisoners. Over time, even Miller’s widow began to believe that the three were not her husband’s murderers.
In 2001, King was released after successfully fighting the murder charge. Woodfox will appear in court this summer to attempt to appeal the charge one last time.
Although the campaign to free the Angola Three reached Capitol Hill today, congressmen have already played an active role in attempting to publicize the trio’s plight.
A documentary titled, “In the Land of the Free,” which details the harsh reality of prison life for Woodfax and Wallace, will be hosted by Congressman Cedric Richmond. John Conyers and Bobby Scott will also give a briefing before the documentary to discuss the nightmares of solitary confinement.
Here’s a lesser-known red flag in the black community: the fastest growing incarcerated population in the country is African American girls and young women. What does not seem to be rising however, is the number of black girls who are actually committing crimes.
Not only is this baffling, it’s a hard-hitting problem as efforts to stop the mass incarceration of black girls are practically nonexistent. According to Barry Krisberg, Research and Policy Director at UC Berkeley’s Earl Warren Institute on Law, African American girls face brutality, emotional and sexual abuse once they are in the prison system.
Recently, the Thelton Henderson Center for Social Justice at UC Berkeley’s Boalt Law School moved to address the issue by hosting a free day-and-a-half conference, called “African American Girls and Young Women and Juvenile Justice System: A Call To Action.” The conference brought together academics and activist from across ages, race and class groups. Many of whom were formerly incarcerated.
Nikki Jones, a sociologist from UC Santa Barbara and Meda Chesney Lind, University of Hawaii, and attendee of the conference, has studied the statistics of imprisoned black girls for over 10 years and explained, “we have never seen these kind of numbers before,” reports EthnoBlog.
So far, the cause for this epidemic has been attributed to national zero tolerance policies and a justice system that treats girls of color differently than white girls.
Pricillia Ocen, one of UCLA’s Critical Race Studies professors, also points to the long-term effects of slavery and systems such as the chain-gang. But hasn’t that always been the case?
Let’s hope that the efforts of this conference and hopefully, other efforts to spark awareness, can help to get to the root of this problem and push the numbers down to a new all-time low.
(Slate.com) — Forty years after the United States began its experimentation with mass incarceration policies, the country is increasingly divided economically. In new research published in the review Daedalus, a group of leading criminologists coordinated by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (which paid me to consult on this project) argued that much of that growing inequality, which Slate‘s Timothy Noah has chronicled, is linked to the increasingly widespread use of prisons and jails.
It’s well-known that the United States imprisons drastically more people than other Western countries. Here are the specifics: We now imprison more people in absolute numbers and per capita than any other country on earth. With 5 percent of the world population, the U.S. hosts upward of 20 percent of its prisoners. This is because the country’s incarceration rate has roughly quintupled since the early 1970s. About 2 million Americans currently live behind bars in jails, state prisons, and federal penitentiaries, and many millions more are on parole or probation or have been in the recent past. States like California now spend more on locking people up than on funding higher education.
One of the most disgusting things about the horrible three strikes law in the state of California is that its biggest sponsor is the California Prison Guards Union. If there were ever a sicker manifestation of America’s tendency toward mass incarceration, that might be it. Human Rights advocates from the United Nations have cited the United States for the manner by which it leaves black and brown people incarcerated, unemployed and uneducated.
The data says that Black Americans are more dramatically affected by mass incarceration than whites. Black men have a seven times greater likelihood of going to prison than whites, and the U.S. actually incarcerates 5.8 times more black men now than South Africa did during the height of Apartheid.
Fortunately, there is at least one reason for black families to feel good about the recent recession. California, a state with a $26 billion budget gap to fill, has decided to release 27,000 of its non-violent offenders early. Normally, I wouldn’t be fighting to see prison inmates released, but when a set of a laws have been so devastating to a community, it’s hard not to cheer.
“It’s unfair to describe it that way,” Matthew Cate, Prison Secretary for the State of California said, referring to early release. “It’s misleading. It makes it sound like we are opening the gates, and that’s just not the case.”
Instead, Cate is doing what should have been done all along: Helping potential inmates find alternatives to prison, like drug rehabilitation and other ways to keep them from being a part of the government payroll for crimes that are not that serious. Mass incarceration destroys families and societies because fathers are taken away from their children, leaving these kids vulnerable to the possibility that they will follow in their fathers’ footsteps.
Also, diseases like HIV/AIDs and other STDs are transmitted throughout the black community because the government has allowed the concept of prison rape to remain a funny joke instead of the serious problem that it is. The first thing a man does when he’s released from prison is find a woman to share his body with, no matter what infections he’s picked up along the way.
One threat to this progress is the idea of prison privatization. If corporations are able to find ways to reliably profit from mass incarceration, then we could be in serious trouble. Many corporations have already found that prison slaves make great cheap labor, and that there are benefits to living in a society that has decided that those who’ve been labeled as social deviants are not worthy of human or civil rights. One very telling aspect of all this is the fact that the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolishes slavery, actually says that slavery is NOT abolished for those who’ve been convicted of a crime. That, my friends, is the real crime in all of this.
I pray that one day our prison policies will be focused on making society better, rather than making it worse. It must start with each of us gaining the compassion to realize that it’s possible to be tough on crime, while still providing opportunity for families that are affected by incarceration.
If we focus on rehabilitating those who make mistakes, reuniting them with their families and giving them incentives to become productive members of society, we will have safer streets and a better version of America.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition and the initiator of the National Conversation on Race. He is also the author of the book, “Black American Money.” For more information, please visit BoyceWatkins.com.