by Rev. Dr. Herbert Daughtry
Before I quote Ms. Michelle Alexander from her book, “The New Jim Crow,” regarding the continuing discussion on the influence of money in the criminal justice system, I want to quote her Preface. I think that it speaks to all on this issue of the escalation of incarceration. I also think it answers the questions many have as to why they should be involved.
Ms. Alexander wrote, “This book is not for everyone. I have a specific audience in mind – people who care deeply about racial injustice but who, for any number of reasons, do not yet appreciate the magnitude of the crisis faced by communities of color as a result of mass incarceration. In other words, I am writing this book for people like me – the person I was ten years ago. I am also writing it for another audience – those who have been struggling to persuade their friends, neighbors, relatives, teachers, co-workers, or political representatives that something is eerily familiar about the way our criminal justice system operates, something that looks and feels a lot like an era we supposedly left behind, but have lacked the facts and data to back up their claims. It is my hope and prayer that this book empowers you and allows you to speak truth with greater conviction, credibility, and courage. Last, but definitely not least, I am writing this book for all those trapped within America’s latest caste system. You may be locked up or locked out of mainstream society, but you are not forgotten.”
I know the quote has been lengthy, but I believe that you will agree with me that it was absolutely necessary as we continue to discuss this issue. In her book, Ms. Alexander looked at the way money influenced the so-called “War on Drugs” that played a major role in mass arrests and aging prisoners. She wrote, “Practically, overnight, the budgets for federal law enforcement agencies sawed. Between 1980 and 1984, FBI anti-drug funding increased from $8 million to $95 million. The Department of Defense anti-drug allocations increased from $33 million in 1981 to $1,042 million in 1999. During that same period, DEA anti-drug spending grew from 86 to 1,026 million dollars.” The author continued by contrasting the money that was spent for rehabilitation. She wrote, “By contrast, funding for agencies responsible for drug treatment, prevention, and education was dramatically reduced. The budget of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, for an example, was reduced from $274 million to $57 million from 1981 to 1984, and anti-drug funds allocated to the Department of Education were cut from $14 million to $3 million.”
Thus, we see, again, that one of the major factors in the escalation of incarceration was the War on Drugs. The War on Drugs was/is very profitable for governmental agencies and jail builders. As the money poured in, jails expanded. So, it became necessary to build jails to house the mass increase in incarceration.
Often, I say to incarcerated brothers and sisters who are angry at the criminal justice system, and in many instances, justifiably so, “Why don’t you get angry enough not to come back?” Even further, “Why don’t you get angry enough when you are released and work with those of us who are trying to prevent incarceration, particularly as it relates to our youth?” I challenge them to think what the criminal justice system would look like if people of African ancestry would substantially reduce their criminal behavior that the system says warrants their incarceration. In New York, many of the upstate prisons, should they be emptied, would decimate the surrounding communities.
When I speak to young brothers and sisters, I try to educate them on the importance of school. If they do not get an education, or come by marketable skills, in all probability, they will land in jail. One of the ways jail builders project jails is based upon the level of education of students.
Even when people of African ancestry and other minorities are law-abiding, they run the risk of landing in jail, or being stigmatized and harassed. The present burning issue of “Stop and Frisk” is very much related to this topic. It is a part of the criminal justice system, and it reeks with racism and discrimination.
I conclude by quoting Ms. Alexander’s Preface again — the escalation of incarceration,mass arrests, and aging prisoners are issues which “involves all of us.”
… to be continued.