The country of Slovenia has a population of roughly 2.1 million people. What if I told you that the United States had an entire country’s worth of people behind bars? That is why we need to talk about mass incarceration. According to the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), the U.S. incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country in the world. In fact, the United States has almost 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, despite making up only 5 percent of the world’s population.
What does that mean for the criminal justice system? Severe overcrowding, strained state budgets, and an ever increasing demand for prison beds. Although violent and property crimes have fallen dramatically in the past few decades, the number of people who are incarcerated, on probation, or on parole have increased to over 7 million people in the U.S. Why?
The “tough on crime” politics in recent decades have spurred a flurry of fear-induced policies. Many of these policies are racially-biased, including the “war on drugs” and the criminalization of drug use. The ACLU also notes that the school-to-prison pipeline has contributed to this national trend, where “children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.” Policies in school such as zero-tolerance have essential isolated and targeted students whose behavior doesn’t fit the expected. This coupled with the inadequate resources of failing public schools (often in “less affluent” areas) have unequally targeted minority youth—specifically black male youth—who are funneled into the system. After looking at all of the layers that go into this issue, one can ask themselves: how are we to ever fix this?
Despite all of this gloom, things do appear to be getting better in some respects. According to the Vera Institute of Justice, the past decade has seen a wave of reform, with prison admission rates declining by 24 percent since 2006. Although this sounds great, the decline varies from one county to another, and from one state to another, showing how much the conversation surrounding mass incarceration is needed. Many states have made great strides towards prison reform, but others have made little to no progress in terms of such policy.
Alternative Service Breaks works to challenge and break the bubble than many of us live in as students who are privileged to receive a college education. ASB plans trips across the US to allow students to engage in different cultures while serving the community, focusing on issues such as this. For our Alternative Spring Break trip of 2019, we will be traveling to New Orleans to tackle the complicated issue of mass incarceration. Through education, service, and reflection, we hope to become more educated on this topic and work towards creating meaningful change that has been observed in some states in recent years. If you would like to join us in this endeavor, the application will be open until February 3rd at 11:59PM. The first step in challenging inequality is admitting it, confronting it, and educating ourselves about it.
The link to apply is: https://orgsync.com/96382/forms/351819.
The Service Coordinators develop active citizens on our campus and in our community through immersive service-based trips and days of service.
Yelena Bagdasaryan and Loghan Currin