February is black history month—it is a time to reflect on the many contributions African-Americans have made to this country. It is also a time to reflect on the current economic, social and political issues facing the black community. Arguably, one of the most salient issues that confront the African-American community is the mass incarceration of its male population.
|Word Rule of Law Index|
|Rule of Law Index|
However, many sociologists have concluded that once the number of incarcerated prisoners reaches past critical mass then crime will increase. Sociologists have also concluded that there is a strong correlation between poverty and mass incarceration.
|Bureau of Justice Statics|
On a side note the glorification and personification of the black male stereotype as gun-wielding, misogynistic, drug-dealing, criminals by the mainstream hip hop media needs to end. The hip hop media should stop marginalizing indie hip hop artists who don't incorporate racial stereotypes into their lyrics.
Bob Sloan has chronicled the rise of privatized prisons for the last decade. According to Sloan there are numerous states that have expanded the use of prison labor including Wisconsin, Arizona, Maine, Georgia and Florida. There are 1,022 factories taken advantage of the large labor pool that is provided through the U.S. prison system.
In addition this has also hurt small businesses who are not able to compete because of the higher labor costs. More than 2/3rd of the country has created programs that cement this partnership between the prisons and corporations. Moreover, many of these private prisons are contractually obligated to maintain 90 percent capacity. In other words, there is a financial incentive to ensure these prisons remain crowded.
The exploitation of prisoners for profit is nothing new. W.E.B Du Bois, the first black American to earn a PH.D, wrote in his Magnum Opus The Soul of Black Folks, a century ago:
The country prison...the white folks say it is ever filled with black criminals the black folks say that only colored boys are sent to jail, and not because they are guilty but because the state needs criminals to eke out its income by their force labor.
Again, the social and economic problems that affect the black community cannot be divorced from the reality of mass incarceration. Many sociologists believe that the exodus of black men from the community due to the criminal justice system has led to the increase in poverty and unemployment. Two sociologists have estimated that mass incarceration in the last decades has increased the poverty rate by 20 percent.
Moreover, it is difficult for convicts to economically assimilate back into their communities because employers are reluctant to higher ex-felons and because there may be a technical skills gap.
In addition, other Sociologists have argued that the high rate of STDS in the black community is directly linked to the high incarceration rate of black men, because the gender ratio facilitates multiple sexual relations.
The chief problem in any community cursed with crime is not cursed with crime but the preventing of young from being trained to crime"
Furthermore Psychologist Karl Menniger wrote in 1968 that society needs to relinquish its putative thirst for vengeance and instead focus on rehabilitating criminals.
"We must renounce the philosophy of punishment the obsolete, the vengeful penal attitude..to preserve are peace and our public safety. "
In 1997, Then Chicago Barack Obama worked with Democrats and Republicans to reform the criminal justice system. In 2007, then-Chicago politician Barack Obama, realized the need for reforming the criminal justice system by passing the Recidivism and Second Chance Act of 2007 which included economic re-integration into society.
Du Bouis understood a century ago, that the advancement of black America is intimately linked to the criminal justice system. Until, serious reforms occur on all levels addressing these racial disparities than the accomplishments by blacks outlined in Black History Month will be nothing more than a footnote in the history textbooks rather than an accurate reflection of the black experience today.