Everything You Need To Know About Mass Incarceration In The U.S.

Everything You Need To Know About Mass Incarceration In The U.S.

"Stop and Frisk does not end crime. Stop and Frisk is a crime"
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If you are young and naive such as myself, the concept of mass incarceration may have no relevance to you, (or so you may think) or it seems like a non-U.S. problem. When I first heard the term, I thought my professor was talking about a foreign country in which incarceration and war were prevalent. But I was wrong. Mass incarceration is an alarming issue in the United States.

Let’s first take a look at the statistics. We currently hold more people in prison than any other industrialized nation. In the United States alone, there are approximately 6.5 million men and women imprisoned, on parole, or on probation (x). According to a recent study, there are 459 White, 1,258 Latino, and 3,074 Black men incarcerated per 100,000 residents of that group (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2013). In 2013, a survey was released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in which it was revealed that drug use between Black and White people is almost the same and Black people only account for 13% of drug use in the United States. Nonetheless, Black men and women make up for over 60% of narcotic convictions. The Rockefeller Drug Laws state that those who are found in possession of or are found dealing even small amounts of marijuana, cocaine, or heroine must serve 15 years to life in prison.

So the question is, why are these numbers so uneven? Why is it that Blacks and Hispanics are incarcerated at higher rates than Whites are?

In a radio interview with Andrew Wilkow, Republican senator Rand Paul refers to the U.S. Criminal Justice system as the new Jim Crow. Jim Crow refers to a set of codes that were enforced in the Southern United States during the Reconstruction period. It made racial segregation legal and claimed its purpose was to be separate but equal. These laws were in effect until 1965 and were anything but equal. I believe senator Paul refers to the idea of Black people being controlled and watched by the authorities. While imprisoned, the system makes sure to deprive Black men from living equal lives and are condemned to live under 24/7 surveillance and poor conditions. He says, “You can kill someone in Kentucky and be eligible for parole in 12 years, but we have people in jail for marijuana sales for 55 years, life, 20 years, 25 years. We’ve gone too far in all of this and then when you add up the numbers, even the white kids and black kids use marijuana at about the same rate and in national surveys the arrests and incarceration rate is four times greater for black males than it is for white males.”

The disparity in racial incarceration rates is due to many factors. The main ones being various criminal justice practices that are considered illegal but still carried out. One being racial profiling. Often times, authorities are told to stop cars with Hispanics or Blacks inside of them because they are more likely to have drugs on them. Although Black people only make up 15% of New Jersey drivers, 35% of “random” stops are Black people and 73% of the arrests are of Black people. New York’s Stop-and-Frisk policy disproportionately targets young Black and Latino men. The amount of random searches done on Black men has currently surpassed the entire Black male population. In Los Angeles, although drug use rates are widespread across all racial groups, 90% of prosecutions for drug crimes are of Black and Latino men. Although this was recently changed, many people were incarcerated due to the difference in sentencing guidelines for possession of cocaine and crack-cocaine. For five grams of crack cocaine (most commonly used by poor Blacks) which amounts to $125 you are supposed to be imprisoned for five years. For cocaine (most commonly used by middle-class Whites) you have to be found with at least 500 grams ($500,000) of powdered cocaine to get the same sentence.

There seem to be more and more shocking facts being revealed about incarceration by the day. Now, it is permitted to sentence youth offenders as adults. Again this disproportionately affects males of color as they are sent to adult prisons although they are underage. See: This Is What Incarcerated Youth In America Looks Like. Women in prisons have reported that they were at least shackled once during child birth even after it was made illegal to so. About 75% of Mexican immigrants going through deportation proceedings for non-criminal reasons, are still incarcerated out of suspicions.

Next time someone makes a comment on how Black and Latino populations are more prone to committing crime, make sure you mention how the criminal justice system is built to work against them. It is built to antagonize people of color and keep them under full surveillance. Once these people of color finally make it out of prison, they are faced with the realities of underemployment and cannot afford to make a living due to their records. This then results in more lower class Black and Latino communities. Higher crime rates in Black and Latino communities are not because people of color are bad people, it is because the United States Criminal Justice system is consistently unjust to these communities.

Cover Image Credit: Gabriel Sanchez

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Austin Alexander Burridge, Volunteer Advocate, Shares 3 Great Reasons to Volunteer and Help Others

Austin Alexander Burridge is an avid academic who studies Environmental Science at Winona State University and believes that work in the service of others is a key pillar to personal development.

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Sometimes it's easy for someone to adopt a "me, me, me" attitude. While focusing on oneself, a person may feel nice in the moment, but serving and helping others will bring lasting benefits. While there are many great reasons to serve and help others, there are three universal truths that resonate with volunteers around the globe.

Austin Alexander Burridge's 3 Reasons to Volunteer:

1. Accomplishment

Often, people fall into a trap of focusing on themselves when they are feeling down. Maybe someone did not get a job they wanted. Or perhaps a person gets dumped by an expected lifelong companion. Maybe someone feels they have underachieved after looking at Facebook and seeing great things a high school classmate has accomplished. When feeling down, helping others is a proven way to improve one's mood and attitude, and it can provide a sense of pride and accomplishment. The act of giving to those in need is an inherently good action and leaves people with a wonderful feeling of joy.

2. Gratitude

One can become more appreciative of life by serving others that have less. Whether volunteering at a soup kitchen, visiting the elderly at an assisted living center, or helping families after a natural disaster, service enables people to be grateful for what they have. Seeing people who have fewer advantages, especially those who are spirited and thankful for small things, allows one to realize just how fortunate he/she is in life.

3. Friendships

Volunteering is a great way to build meaningful friendships, not only with other volunteers but also with those who are served. One of the most profound and fascinating aspects of these relationships is how volunteers will learn from those served and vice versa. As these special bonds are built, they lead to impactful connections that last for years to come.

Of course, these are just a few reasons to volunteer and serve others. One can never go wrong by helping others as opposed to merely focusing on oneself. Volunteering invariably and inevitably contributes to personal growth, development, and satisfaction.

About Austin Alexander Burridge: Helping others has been of paramount importance to Austin, and as a part of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), Austin gave back to the community around him. He also has participated in annual peanut butter drives, The Minnesota Sandwich Project for the Homeless and collected canned goods for local food shelters. Additionally, Austin has a passion for the environment, which he pursued when visiting the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, and the Amazon Rain Forest while studying at the School of Environment Studies, which investigates ecological systems and their sustainability

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Pride? Pride.

Who are we? Why are we proud?

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This past week, I was called a faggot by someone close to me and by note, of all ways. The shock rolled through my body like thunder across barren plains and I was stuck paralyzed in place, frozen, unlike the melting ice caps. My chest suddenly felt tight, my hearing became dim, and my mind went blank except for one all-encompassing and constant word. Finally, after having thawed, my rage bubbled forward like divine retribution and I stood poised and ready to curse the name of the offending person. My tongue lashed the air into a frenzy, and I was angry until I let myself break and weep twice. Later, I began to question not sexualities or words used to express (or disparage) them, but my own embodiment of them.

For members of the queer community, there are several unspoken and vital rules that come into play in many situations, mainly for you to not be assaulted or worse (and it's all too often worse). Make sure your movements are measured and fit within the realm of possible heterosexuality. Keep your music low and let no one hear who you listen to. Avoid every shred of anything stereotypically gay or feminine like the plague. Tell the truth without details when you can and tell half-truths with real details if you must. And above all, learn how to clear your search history. At twenty, I remember my days of teaching my puberty-stricken body the lessons I thought no one else was learning. Over time I learned the more subtle and more important lessons of what exactly gay culture is. Now a man with a head and social media accounts full of gay indicators, I find myself wondering both what it all means and more importantly, does it even matter?

To the question of whether it matters, the answer is naturally yes and no (and no, that's not my answer because I'm a Gemini). The month of June has the pleasure of being the time of year when the LGBT+ community embraces the hateful rhetoric and indulges in one of the deadly sins. Pride. Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, the figures at the head of the gay liberation movement, fought for something larger than themselves and as with the rest of the LGBT+ community, Pride is more than a parade of muscular white men dancing in their underwear. It's a time of reflection, of mourning, of celebration, of course, and most importantly, of hope. Pride is a time to look back at how far we've come and realize that there is still a far way to go.

This year marks fifty years since the Stonewall Riots and the gay liberation movement launched onto the world stage, thus making the learning and embracing of gay culture that much more important. The waves of queer people that come after the AIDS crisis has been given the task of rebuilding and redefining. The AIDS crisis was more than just that. It was Death itself stalking through the community with the help of Regan doing nothing. It was going out with friends and your circle shrinking faster than you can try or even care to replenish. Where do you go after the apocalypse? The LGBT+ community was a world shut off from access by a touch of death and now on the other side, we must weave in as much life as we can.

But we can't freeze and dwell of this forever. It matters because that's where we came from, but it doesn't matter because that's not where we are anymore. We're in a time of rebirth and spring. The LGBT+ community can forge a new identity where the AIDS crisis is not the defining feature, rather a defining feature to be immortalized, mourned, and moved on from.

And to the question of what does it all mean? Well, it means that I'm gay and that I've learned the central lesson that all queer people should learn in middle school. It's called Pride for a reason. We have to shoulder the weight of it all and still hold our head high and we should. Pride is the LGBT+ community turning lemons into lemon squares and limoncello. The lemon squares are funeral cakes meant to mourn and be a familiar reminder of what passed, but the limoncello is the extravagant and intoxicating celebration of what is to come. This year I choose to combine the two and get drunk off funeral cakes. Something tells me that those who came before would've wanted me to celebrate.

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