Topic: Impacts of Racism, Incarceration, & Colonialism in the U.S. & Sudan
Modern racism is deeply rooted in a history of colonial intervention. This month, as we celebrate the history and culture of the black community and black lives in America, we must also consider the ways in which our violent history has contributed to the continued violence and struggle faced by many people of color and minorities in the US and around the world. Colonialism contributed to and attempted to justify slavery, and its roots are grounded in the modern day practices of incarceration and sociopolitical oppression of many people of color. On the international stage, the roots of colonialism are firmly grounded in oppressive and exploitative leadership all over the world. What the effects of incarceration and colonialism have in common, aside from their shared origin, is their shared goal of disenfranchising specific groups of people in order to maintain social structures that ensure that power remains with the "ruling class." In the US, that means pandering to a mostly white, male, corporate influences- and in Sudan that means contending with a ruling government operating under oppressive religious rule.
Understanding the Issues
What Does Justice Mean?
While justice comes from the Latin word iustitia, meaning righteousness and equity, the Criminal Justice system in America has yet to embody and employ that definition. The U.S. penal system has been growing exponentially, and many people attempt to attribute this simply to “increasing rates of crime.” Public officials are calling for “tough on crime” responses, and using the rhetoric of “criminals versus good citizens,” which is actually contributing to the rates at which we incarcerate people. While the rise in mass incarceration can be partially attributed to the tough sentencing laws of the War on Drugs, it is vital to recognize that incarceration is also connected to histories of institutional racism and racial profiling. Many argue that America has overcome its racist history, but the legacies of colonialism, slavery and racism still affect policies and practices today. We can see this below, in an image showing the design inspiration for modern sheriff badges:
U.S. Incarceration by the Numbers
Currently the United States accounts for 5% of the world’s population but incarcerates 25% of the world’s prisoners. With a total of 2.4 million, the United States has the largest prison population in the world. However, rates of incarceration for U.S. federal and state prisons, county jails, and juvenile detention facilities show that people of color are disproportionately affected.
Causes of Incarceration
Although many cite the “War on Drugs” as the cause of increased rates of incarceration, as Angela Davis, a scholar and restorative justice activist explains, “Imprisonment has become the response of first resort to far too many of the social problems that burden people who are ensconced in poverty. These problems often are veiled by being conveniently grouped together under the category “crime” and by the automatic attribution of criminal behavior to people of color.”
Racial Disparities in Incarceration and Sentencing Rates
Although people of color make up approximately 30 percent of the United States’ population, they account for 60 percent of those imprisoned. One in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. One in every thirty-six Hispanic men and one in every fifteen black men are incarcerated in contrast to one in every one hundred and six white men. These high rates of incarceration of communities of color reflect a 700% rise in prison populations from 1970 to 2005 but also disproportionate numbers of encounters with law enforcement, demonstrating the impact of racial profiling (ACLU). There are also disparities in length of sentences and level of punishment for people of color. The U.S. Sentencing Commission reports that in the federal system black offenders receive sentences that are 10 percent longer than white offenders for the same crimes. African Americans are 21% more likely to receive mandatory minimum sentences than white defendants and 20% more like to be sentenced to prison than white drug defendants, according the Sentencing Project.
“The School to Prison Pipeline is a nationwide system of local, state and federal education and public safety policies that pushes students out of school and into the criminal justice system. This system disproportionately targets youth of color and youth with disabilities. Inequities in areas such as school discipline, policing practices, high-stakes testing and the prison industry contribute to the pipeline. The School to Prison Pipeline operates directly and indirectly. Schools directly send students into the pipeline through zero tolerance policies that involve the police in minor incidents and often lead to arrests, juvenile detention referrals, and even criminal charges and incarceration. Schools indirectly push students towards the criminal justice system by excluding them from school through suspension, expulsion, discouragement and high stakes testing requirements.”
Effects of Incarceration on Communities
“When large numbers of parent-aged adults, especially men, cycle through stays in prison and jail at very high rates, communities are negatively affected in myriad ways, including damage to social networks, social relationships, and long-term life chances. These effects impair children, family functioning, mental and physical health, labor markets, and economic and political infrastructures.” (Source)
“Increasingly, laws and policies are being enacted to restrict persons with a felony conviction (particularly convictions for drug offenses) from employment, receipt of welfare benefits, access to public housing, and eligibility for student loans for higher education. Such collateral penalties place substantial barriers to an individual's social and economic advancement.” These discriminatory laws and policies create and perpetuate a cycle of incarceration, poverty, and inequality. (Source)
Ban the Box is a campaign to encourage employers and academic institutions to remove the check box asking whether or not someone has ever been convicted of a crime. This box is harmful for those who have been released from prison and are attempting to find employment and education opportunities to support themselves and their families. We have a chance to do better for our community members! Follow the action steps below to make a difference!
1. Find out if your university or place of work has BANNED THE BOX on job, scholarship, or college applications.
2. If they have not, WE WILL HELP YOU to lobby your administration to BAN THE BOX!
Email firstname.lastname@example.org for support.
3. Share the video above!
4. Encourage your schools, places of work, and local organizations to TAKE THE PLEDGE by sending them THIS LINK!