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The Heart of Justice: Faces of the Prisoner*

Stereotypes of who is most likely to be stopped, arrested or in prison were explored through the use of photos representing African Americans, Hispanics, European Americans, male and female. None of the persons in the photographs were known to have ever been arrested. The photos of African American and Hispanic males were considered most likely to have been incarcerated.

The following information and statistics are from the website, DrugWarFacts.org. “Between 6.6% and 7.5 % of all black males ages 25-39 were imprisoned in 2011, which were the highest imprisonment rates among the measured sex, race, Hispanic, origin, and age groups.” “Across all categories, black males were incarcerated at higher rates than white or Hispanic males. Black males ages 30-34 had the highest custody incarceration rate of any race, age or gender group at midyear 2007.”

The primary reason for this massive number of black men in jail is the War on Drugs. “At least two-thirds of drug arrests result in a criminal conviction. Although the data in indicates that blacks represent about one-third of drug arrests, they constitute 46% of persons convicted of drug felonies in state courts. Among black defendants convicted of drug offenses, 71% received sentences to incarceration in contrast to 63% of convicted white drug offenders.”

Children who have a parent in prison are impacted also. “One in every 28 children in the United States – more than 3.6%-now has a parent in jail or prison. Just 25 years ago, the figure was only 1 in 125. For black children, incarceration is an especially common family circumstance. More than 1 in 9 black children has a parent in prison, a rate that has more than quadrupled in the past 25 years.”

The reality of for profit prisons was examined citing an article from The Huffington Post, “The Biggest, Baddest Prison Profiteer of Them All.” The private prison company, Corrections Corporations of America or CCA is accused of squandering taxpayers money and running facilities rife with human rights abuses. “From 2002 to 20012, CCA devoted more than $19 million to lobbying Congress and is PAC shelled out $1.4 million for a federal office during the same time period. CCA now manages facilities with over 90,00 prison beds in 20 states. Many of their contracts include “lockup quotas” whereby states promise to keep the company’s prisons anywhere from 80-100 % full. They are paid per day, per prisoner.”

What can we do about our prison system? Be informed. Advocate for reforms.

* by Rev. Karen Moeschberger, pastor of St. John’s UCC, Allentown, member of the LCCC Justice and Advocacy Committee who led the workshop “Faces of the Prisoner” at the 2013 Heart of Justice event.

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