by Dr. Boyce Watkins
Angela Davis, Michelle Alexander, Cornel West and Marc Lamont Hill all gathered at the Riverside Baptist Church to call for an end to mass incarceration. The US prison population has grown dramatically over the last three decades, and has had a disproportionate impact on the black American family. Millions of us are affected, as our children are growing up without fathers, and women are having trouble finding adequate husbands.
The growth in the prison industrial complex has had an impact on the rate of STD transmission in the black community caused, in part, by reduced marital rates for women in their thirties, the spread of disease through prison rape, the imbalance in the black male and female populations, and many other factors. It has led to a spike in youth violence from all the young people being raised without fathers. It has also impacted the black unemployment rate, due to the disenfranchisement of men who can’t get jobs after serving time in the penitentiary.
The gathering of these outstanding scholars is an important step toward solving an important problem. The prison problem has many of its roots in the structure of a capitalist society, which now finds that it’s clearly profitable to incarcerate as many people as possible. Major corporations fill their coffers by charging exorbitant rates for families to speak with their loved ones or for inmates to buy the things they need. Some companies are able to compete in a global labor market by using cheap prison labor, which is a dangerous addiction in a capitalist society. The goal of shareholder wealth maximization in most capitalist models dictates that the final objective will be to put as many people in prison as we possibly can.
Finally , the prison torture issue should concern us as well. There is nothing in a prison sentence that says a man deserves to be raped. There is nothing that says that he/she should receive inadequate healthcare, unhealthy food or lose his rights to better his life through education. We don’t want prisons that torture people to the point that they are worse human beings after they are released than they were when they were arrested. The truth is that when we truly work to rehabilitate those who come home from prison, we are all better off as a result. A short prison sentence should not be a life sentence for the inmate and his/family, but that is the mess that it’s become.
If he gets a second term, President Obama needs to put the mass incarceration epidemic on his short list of presidential priorities. He’s stated that he agrees that the War on Drugs was a failure, and it’s time for him to put his money where his mouth is. Our children need their parents to come back home, and many of the long sentences given during the 1980s for drug convictions should be commuted. It’s time to end this national disaster altogether.
The video is below:
Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition. He also appears in the Janks Morton film “Hoodwinked.” To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.