mass incarceration

Melissa Browning 02-20-2017

While they told Moses that, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do” (Exodus 24:3), in the end they turned to idols and broke God’s laws. By the time we get to First Samuel, we hear the people clamoring for an earthly king so they could be like other nations (1 Samuel 8:4-22). They thought life would be better if they shook up their system of government, so they ditched the judges and looked for an outsider. In the end, they got exactly what they asked for – a king named Saul who was wicked and moody and paranoid.

Rashad Robinson 09-19-2016

Outside of his role in our family, my grandfather played three roles in life that were dear to him: die-hard Mets fan, deacon in his church, never-miss-an-election voter. He was so unbelievably clear in his intention about voting, and perfectly committed to voting. He made that connection between faith and action.

And in his way, he lived out something I think about all the time: how to make our presence in the world powerful enough to change it.

From the border. Image via John Dorhauer. 

We can no longer turn a blind eye to what profit margins do to prisoners, more and more of whom are from vulnerable populations. We are called to dismantle the corrupt justice system of mass incarceration. Ending private prison profiteering is a critical step towards restorative justice for all.

Johnny Bernard Hill 08-19-2016

The Justice Department’s move to phase out private federal prisons brings a welcome end to a moral and political crisis that has tested the very foundations of our democracy. It is a historic and courageous leap toward a more fair and equitable system of justice in our nation.

the Web Editors 08-18-2016

BortN66 / Shutterstock

In a memo announced Thursday, the Justice Department announced it plans to end using private prisons in the United States. As reported in the Washington Post, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates will instruct, “officials to either decline to renew the contracts for private prison operators when they expire or “substantially reduce” the contracts’ scope.”

the Web Editors 06-10-2016

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Union Theological Seminary in New York City will no longer ask applicants to check a box indicating whether they have a criminal history, reports TheBlaze.

Union also signed onto the White House’s “Fair Chance Pledge,” which encourages businesses and schools to eliminate unnecessary barriers to people with criminal records. Many of the other institutions who have signed on have similarly “banned the box” on their applications.

Caryn Rivadeneira 06-07-2016
Konstantin Yolshin / Shutterstock

Konstantin Yolshin / Shutterstock

How could I not? How could I benefit from the messed-up grace of God that allows me to be seen by God on high not as a horrible sinner full and capable of every last deadly sin but as a beloved child and not see others differently myself? It’s messed up, but it’s true.

It’s impossible to laugh, pray, and sing old gospel songs with men who’ve raped and murdered, who’ve sold drugs to children, carjacked strangers, shot girlfriends, buried bodies in woods and not see grace.

I could not look at lines of incarcerated men, ready for a day’s work under the gun (literally), and not shudder at past (and sometimes present) atrocities and injustices. And yet, I could only hope for redemption for this land that no longer grows cotton and for these men who no longer have freedom.

And there’s no way I could rub puppies’ tummies while talking to an inmate-cowboy about dogs, to hear him tell me lots of guys here are like pit bulls because they think they’re tough, but that those guys don’t know—“They’re just silly snuggle bugs,” he says—and me not feel the peace of Christ descend.

I don’t know why. I don’t know how. I just know it’s true: When we visit prisoners, we visit Christ. All during my time in Angola, I saw Jesus everywhere.

the Web Editors 06-03-2016

President Obama plans  on June 3 to commute the sentences of 42 federal prisoners, 20 of whom have life sentences, according to The Huffington Post.

Obama has used his commutation power much more often than past presidents — his 348 commutations so far surpass the total issued by the past seven combined.

Ryan Hammill 04-27-2016

Screenshot via Speaker Paul Ryan / Youtube.com

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has said repeatedly that he isn’t running for president, but that hasn’t stopped him from making numerous public appearances to talk about his vision for the Republican Party and the United States.

the Web Editors 04-27-2016

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More than five million children in the U.S. have or have had a parent imprisoned. And the consequences can be devastating.

According to “A Shared Sentence,” a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, “Having a parent incarcerated is a stressful, traumatic experience of the same magnitude as abuse, domestic violence, and divorce.”

Abby Olcese 03-08-2016

Screenshot image via 'The Prison in 12 Landscapes' trailer

I was always going to make a film about prisons, but from the outside of the prison itself. I wanted to challenge the alienation we feel by seeing prisons simply as buildings we have no relationship to. I had originally thought I was just going to set it in one city. For example, when you look at the prison population in New York State, a lot of those prisoners come from a small section of neighborhoods, and I was originally thinking of setting the film in those places.

I ended up going on a longer journey, with a goal to disrupt the identity of these areas we think of as “free,” to reveal how deeply prisons influence our lives in all spaces. 

Shaka Senghor 02-01-2016

MY SON WAS 10 YEARS, and the sight of an envelope addressed in his squiggly handwriting filled my spirit with joy. But as I tore open the envelope and began reading, I saw that this letter was different from the ones he had sent before.

In the top right-hand corner, Li’l Jay had written in big, capital letters:

MY MOM TOLD ME WHY YOU’RE IN JAIL, BECAUSE OF MURDER! DON’T KILL DAD PLEASE THAT IS A SIN. JESUS WATCHES WHAT YOU DO. PRAY TO HIM.

I stared at the small paragraph for what felt like hours. My body trembled violently, and everything inside of me threatened to break in half. For the first time in my incarceration, I was hit with the truth that my son would grow up to see me as a murderer.

I don’t know why I hadn’t thought about it before. It’s not that I was planning to hide my past from my son—it’s just that I thought I would be able to sit down and explain it to him when I felt he was mature enough for the conversation. But as I read Li’l Jay’s words, reality kicked me in the gut, and the pain of not knowing what to say spread through my body like cancer.

I didn’t know the context of the conversation that he had with his mother, so I wasn’t sure how to respond. The only thing I was sure of was that I had to do everything in my power to turn my life around. It was the only way I could show my son that I was not a monster.

His letter continued:

Dear daddy, I wonder how you’re doing in there. I’m doing fine. When I think about you, it makes me feel sad with no daddy around to wake me up and go work out and be strong like you. I have to do it all by myself. It bothers me the way I miss you. I pray and pray one day my prayer may come true and we’ll be together 4 life. It’s the anger in my heart that hurts me most without a dad in the house. My mama said I am the man of the house. She tells me I have to take over the anger so I won’t be in jail.

Stephen Mattson 01-21-2016

Only in America can you have a huge segment of society become obsessed with a cultural sensation that revolves around the themes of unjust incarceration, a biased legal system, corrupt law enforcement, and a judicial process that disproportionately targets the poor and underrepresented, and simultaneously have the majority of this exact same group not understand the reality of racial injustice.

Bryan Stevenson 01-20-2016

People of color in the United States, particularly young black men, are burdened with a presumption of guilt and dangerousness. Some version of what happened to me has been unfairly experienced by hundreds of thousands of black and brown people throughout this country. As a consequence of our nation’s historical failure to address the legacy of racial inequality, the presumption of guilt and the racial narrative that created it have significantly shaped every institution in American society, especially our criminal justice system.

01-04-2016

State officials in New York are reforming their policy of keeping people convicted of non-violent offenses in solitary confinement. Some hail the decision; others, including corrections officers, object, saying that solitary confinement is necessary to maintain control, and they say that keeping an individual in solitary confinement is not inhumane.

Tell that, though, to innocent people in prison, wrongly convicted, who find themselves in solitary confinement without hope of ever getting out.

the Web Editors 12-15-2015

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A new study from the Vera Institute of Justice suggests that mass incarceration, typically focused in urban centers, is growing fastest in suburbs and rural areas.

The U.S. already has a massive imprisonment problem — despite having 4 percent of the world’s population, the U.S. has 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. And now, the problem is spreading beyond cities. In 2014, densely-populated counties had 271 inmates in jail per 100,000 people, whereas sparsely-populated counties had 446 inmates per 100,000 people — nearly double the amount.

sakhorn / Shutterstock

Sakhorn / Shutterstock

EARLY ONE SUNDAY MORNING, I drive to the Durham Correctional Center to pick up Greg. He’s spent the past 16 months at a state prison down east, working overtime in the kitchen so he could get out six weeks early. A few days ago, the Department of Corrections transferred him to this local minimum-security facility. Greg knows the place well. He’s walked out of here more times than he can count.

“Feel good to be out?” I ask as we walk through the gate of the chain-link fence, nodding goodbye to the guards. “You know it does,” Greg says, his back straight and his eyes fixed on the horizon. He’s relishing this taste of freedom.

But Greg knows this pleasure is fleeting. As good as it might feel to walk through the gate and hop in a car, leaving prison doesn’t mean you get to leave this part of your life behind.

According to the Prison Policy Initiative, more than 2.4 million Americans are locked behind bars (and 12 million cycle through local jails each year). At any given time, some 6 million Americans are caught up in the criminal justice system—if not behind bars, then checking in with a parole officer who can carry them back to jail for the smallest of transgressions. Like Greg, a disproportionate number of those impacted by the U.S. criminal justice system are African American.

Even if you walk out of the gate like Greg, time served, you still have to deal with the debts that ruined your credit while you were locked away. You still have to rebuild relationships that were cut off because you spent the past decade behind bars. You still have to check the box on almost every job application that says you’re a convicted felon.

I live in a home named Rutba House, where we have opened our doors to friends like Greg who are coming home from prison. Doing so has helped me see that our country’s original sin of race-based slavery has shifted its shape again in the 21st century. As the Black Lives Matter movement has tried to make clear on America’s streets, race still matters. But in light of the fact that African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites, we cannot understand race in America today without understanding prisons.

Image via  / Shutterstock.com

Pell grants are otherwise open to the vast majority of students enrolled in college. The Department of Education claims that age, race, and field of study don’t compromise eligibility. Yet the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that black men constitute the highest rate of imprisonment by 3.8 to 10.5 times that of white men. And in the U.S., wide gaps persist in the educational attainment of black men.

Conventional data sources do not always link this growing education gap to prison rates for one main reason — statistics don’t include those who are incarcerated. This omission skews numbers around racial disparities in educational achievement by over 40 percent for black men.

The bottom line is that African American men are not only disproportionately overrepresented in our prison system; they are also disproportionately undereducated.

Given these numbers, we ought to be raising an obvious question: Can the Department of Education honestly claim that Pell grants are color blind?

the Web Editors 11-09-2015

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The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio released Nov. 9 the first comprehensive study of the practice of charging people in jail for their time there, also known as “pay-to-stay” policies, reports the BBC.

The study revealed that some inmates have debts of up to $35,000, although the BBC found evidence that one man in Marion, Ohio owes $50,000 in pay-to-stay debt.

Pay-to-stay is not limited to the state of Ohio, however. With the exceptions of Hawaii and the District of Columbia, every state in the U.S. has a law authorizing the practice.

the Web Editors 11-03-2015

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President Obama announced Nov. 2 a new executive order to reduce hiring discrimination against former convicts, according to MSNBC.

Applicants for positions in the federal government will no longer be required to check a box on their applications if they have a criminal record.

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