Dr. Iva Carruthers joined U. S. Rep. Elijah Cummings D-MD and U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott D-VA as co-conveners of a public documentation forum, Beyond Jail: Toward Justice and Opportunity in Baltimore, to address the critical challenges of creating sustainable solutions to the mass incarceration of African American and Latino youth. Participation in the forum was a continuation of the ongoing collaborative work the SDPC is engaged in with faith community partners and to stand firm in its call for justice, especially as it relates to the nation’s youth and mass incarceration. One in three black males born currently can expect to spend time in jail, according to Michelle Alexander, author of the groundbreaking book, The New Jim Crow in the Age of Colorblindness. Racial disparity within the criminal justice system is rampant.
As Maryland considers the construction on new youth detention centers, the testimonies from local, national faith and community leaders documented the consequences of these centers warehousing young people and identified alternatives to better, brighter jail cells and life in prison. African Americans constitute 34% of Maryland’s population, yet 84% of those held in detention statewide. In Baltimore, the intent of spending millions of public dollars on a new “Excess Capacity” jail for youth furthers this injustice and has met serious public resistance.
Speaker after speaker argued that the financial and political investments of jails for young people were misguided and the focus should be on positive youth development opportunities and education for youth. Nicholas Moss, youth leader gave the initial testimony, followed by others including Chaplain Donna Brown, Empowerment Temple, Major Neill Franklin, Executive Director of LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition), Edward Mulvey, University Pittsburgh School of Medicine and Monique Dixon of the Open Society Foundations.
Moss said, “As a young black male, I have been hunted, demoralized and degraded in my own community…I have been arrested for harmless infractions like loitering, recording and mistaken identity. And when my innocence was proven, I received no compensation from the court, not even an apology.”
In several states, private companies increasingly run the centers. The privatization of prisons, especially youth detention centers that incent and reward anonymous shareholders for full occupancy is especially heinous and is an affront to all of us.
Karen Helm, Baltimore Ethical Society reported the “Maryland Correctional Enterprises is like a re-embodiment of the terms of slavery. It has gross annual revenue of $53 million in 2012. It employs 2,065 inmates who worked 2 million hours, earning pennies on the dollar. Although Maryland is only 19th in overall inmate population, it is in the top ten in both sales and inmate employment levels.” We now have private prison companies suing states for contractual violations of low occupancy rates, fueling this mass incarceration industry.
Beyond the data and statistics, families and communities are being destroyed and left with few options. Neill Franklin, law enforcement expert warned that successful re-entry of formerly incarcerated persons is indeed related to the felony label, but also in today’s world, arrests, without conviction, are reported on the internet, preventing many young people from even being considered for employment.
Over the last year, the SDPC has held 11 hearings across the country to document the stories—put a human face to the numbers. These human stories and testimonies, to be issued as a national report, will help SDPC continue its advocacy for those most impacted by the system. These hearings will help SDPC and our allies confront the disproportionate allocation of tax dollars for jails vs. education; the many disparities and consequences of the race and class based criminal justice system in this nation in terms of who gets arrested, charged labeled and sentenced; and, the on-going human rights violations that this criminal justice system is increasingly manifesting. As a result of our findings, SDPC will launch its Bearing Witness Circles around the country with volunteers committed to address civil and human rights violations in the criminal justice system. We need your support and hope to hear from you.