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Facts We All Need to Know About the Intersections of Race and Mass Incarceration

Mass incarceration is a highly complex issue that has deep, historical roots. Paired with considerations around racial inequity, it becomes even more historical in nature. According to the University of Wisconsin at Madison, many people don’t know that racist policy changes during the 1960’s and the criminalization of social issues like poverty, mental illness and homelessness (not an actual increase in crime), was what contributed to even higher rates of incarceration among Black and Latino men. If you are looking for a deeper understanding around the issues of racism and mass incarceration, these are the top ten facts you need to know:

Black and Latino men are at an even higher rate of vulnerability to incarceration when they do not have a high school diploma or a GED. Multiple things contribute to this, including disproportionate poverty rates in Black and Latino households and disproportionate rates of having a parent behind bars. Since the 1960s, the number of incarcerated individuals can be attributed to decades of tough on crime policies, controversial police practices, and racism. Mass incarceration has raised significant social justice issues, especially since it has been heavily concentrated on poor, uneducated Black men.

The Sentencing Project reports that racial disparity the criminal justice system exists when the proportion of a racial or ethnic group, within the control of the system, is greater than the proportion of such groups in the general population.

Although the war on drugs had sparked the significant incline of mass incarceration, there are three factors that sustain its impact the over-policing in redlined and marginalized communities, longer sentencing for minor crimes, and endless restrictions after being released. They are all inextricably linked, but the number of offenders convicted and committed to prison terms, the length of time they serve in prison; and the rate of released prisoners who re-offend and are sent back to prison are prisoners who are released on probation or parole are almost never set up to successfully complete the restrictive and complicated - and certainly sometime random - potential violations that put their fragile freedom at risk.

Social root causes of crime are: inequality, massive economic disparity, not sharing power, lack of support to families and neighborhoods, inaccessibility to services, lack of leadership in communities, low value placed on women, children and individual well-being, and the thing we like to mention the most and also the least, discrimination, stigma and - yes - here it is again -

Economic crises in capitalist society lead to massive incarcerations, which in turn lead to penal crises, eventually producing reactionary penal administration and intensified repression of prisoner, their family members and their ability to successfully transition from prison back to their community.

Although drug offenses were a major factor in the growth of women's incarceration, incarceration for violent offenses has been the single most powerful driver of state prison growth over the past four decades. Women are fighting back against interpersonal and intimate partner violence and there is a high penalty for fighting back against the patriarchal system we live in. The Womens prison population has increased more than 800% in the past three decades...and that alone should make us pause to think about the damage that is caused by having mothers and caretakers imprisoned for any period of time.

Some other identified pathways of women into crime include economic marginalization, arrest histories, spousal abuse, cultural and societal norms, and intimate partner "problems", ie, violence, exploitation and the fact that many women are taking over the criminal roles that the the men who are arrested leave behind. This may or may not be by fully informed choice but it is a reality that gaps have to be filled regardless of perceived criminality.

Based on self-reports of victims of violence, women account for about 14 percent of all violent offenders, an annual average of about 2.1 million violent female offenders. Interestingly, there has not been any studies, data collected, or much of an interest on why there is such an increase in violent crime perpetrated by women since a 1999 study on Women Offenders by the Office of Justice.

The relationship between slavery, poverty and mass incarceration is undeniable. It is well documented that incarceration was a factor in negating the ability of black men to vote and keeping them enslaved in the early days of the fight for civil rights. A study by scholars at Villanova University concluded that mass incarceration has increased the U.S. poverty rate by an estimated 20 percent. Not surprisingly, another study found that a family's probability of being poor is 40 percent greater if the father is incarcerated.

Mental Health continues to be an issue in the expansion of mass incarceration, arrests and convictions and disparities in diagnosing and treating mental illness particularly, among black and latino populations - and among poor people in general - continues to be problematic. Jail and prisons claim that more than 44% of incarcerated individuals are taking some kind of medication for mental health and while initially it was determined that there was some sort of Dr Feelgood situation going on, it has become abundantly clear that when 911 responds with police officers instead of mental health professionals, social workers or literally anyone without a gun,

Dismantling these systems of generational poverty, discrimination and the cycle of violence that it traps people into is "built in" and must be looked at with a lens that might very much appear o be a Kaleidoscope of traumatic experiences that shape our community, our societies and our future.

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