Nicole D. Porter is senior director of advocacy at The Sentencing Project.

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Undoing the Anti-Black Practices of Mass Incarceration

by Nicole D. Porter 06-06-2022
Dreaming of a just future offers an opportunity to undo extreme sentencing practices. 
Illustration of cages floating in the air casting shadows on human figures

Illustration by Michael George Haddad

MY DREAMS ARE dominated by repairing the harms of mass incarceration. I dream of a future that includes decarceration and prison closures, one where Black people aren’t at risk of fatal police interactions. I dream of a future for Black people where public safety isn’t defined by arrests and lengthy prison terms. My Black future dreams are radical in the context of America. If my dreams were currently possible, the anti-Black through line that characterizes the nation’s public safety strategy would look a lot different.

Violent crime rates tripled between 1965 and 1990 in the United States, Germany, and Finland. Yet, countries have the policies and prison populations they choose. German politicians chose to hold the imprisonment rate flat. Finnish politicians chose to substantially reduce their imprisonment rate. American politicians chose to lengthen prison terms and send more people to prison. When migrant populations, some from the Global South, began moving into Germany and Finland, they were soon overrepresented in the prisons, incarcerated at twice the rate of citizens. Ethnic disparities and anti-Blackness drive incarceration policies everywhere.

Even in the context of increases in crime, the United States could choose another way. Public safety strategies could be centered on undoing the anti-Black practices that dominate criminal legal policies. Solutions must reduce the number of people imprisoned and strengthen communities rather than disappearing Black people from families and loved ones.