The devastation of mass incarceration cannot ever truly be measured, considering how far its tentacles stretch. There are the children of prisoners, who grow up fatherless or motherless, the devastation of living a life behind bars, and the diminishing number of suitable male companions in the African American community, which impacts the black family. But also, voting laws which disenfranchise people who’ve been convicted of a crime are now being viewed as just another tool voter suppression.
In an article titled, Mass Incarceration and White Supremancy, Al Jazeera quotes Bryan Stevenson, Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) on the impact mass incarceration is having on society:
Mass incarceration, he argues, has radically changed society. He speaks of urban communities, like Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Washington, where 50 percent of young black men are in prison, on parole or probation and where the disenfranchisement of convicted felons “has horrific implications for the political aspirations of people of colour.” In Alabama, Stevenson said, 34 per cent of black men have permanently lost the right to vote and within the next 10 years the level of disenfranchisement will be higher than it has been since passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.
Stevenson also discusses how welfare reform devastated the black family:
Stevenson points to the consequences of the 1996 Welfare Reform Law which denied drug offenders eligibility for public housing, food stamps and other benefits, and that has had a disastrous impact on black women and children.Black women comprise half of the female prison population, although they are only 12 percent of the total population. Between 1986 and 1991the number of black women incarcerated for drug offences soared by 828 percent.
34% is an alarmingly high number of black men who cannot participate in the political process. What’s even more sad is that the number of black men incarcerated seems to be increasing each year and the problem may only get worse if we don’t make significant changes in our communities to prevent crimes that are taking our young brothers away from being productive members of society.
Image via AP