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Showing posts with label RACIAL DISCRIMINATION. Show all posts
Showing posts with label RACIAL DISCRIMINATION. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 3, 2014


This blog is dedicated to the memory of Josue Maldonado.

If you travel anywhere in the State of Connecticut, you are likely to find a considerable number of empty manufacturing plants.  Recently, I was driving my daughter to her CREC School and passed a few in Hartford where construction workers were boarding up the windows of an empty factory. 

I know many of these old facilities have been turned into retail outlets, restaurants and office buildings, or they have been changed into low income housing.  But many stand empty, their windows shattered.  They are tattered and hollow brick shells, giants of a former age when America actually created products, and had sufficient blue collar jobs to employ thousands and thousands of people in dignified work that allowed them to live a decent lifestyle.

Now, many of the kinds of people who would have worked in factories such as these are now in prison, victims of a policy of mass incarceration which has been carried out by the American government in the last thirty years. 

So what happen to all these factories and the jobs associated with them? 

All of that is gone now.  These factories began to be dismantled in the 1980s with the onset of President Ronald Reagan's economic policies which led to the rich getting rich and the poor getting poorer.  Furthermore, in subsequent decades the manufacturing corporations that once did business here in New England have all been replaced by deindustrialization, globalization, and outsourcing.  Many of these manufacturing plants were located nearby African-American and Hispanic communities where the men provided a cheap and plentiful source of labor. 

What happened to all these folks when the factories shut down? 

I'll tell you what happened to them.  Essentially, these workers became unemployed and their communities have struggled with poverty since then.   Many of them are in jail, victims not only of poverty and unemployment, but also of the erosion of civil rights which has taken place as the consequence of the War on Drugs declared by President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. 

Since then it has become easier to incarcerate African-American and Hispanic men as a consequence of Get tough on Crime laws which have eroded the protections of the fourth amendment.  Further, stop and frisk policies have led to thousands and thousands of African-American and Hispanic men being stopped at random on the streets of cities and checked for contraband, and court rulings have made racial profiling increasingly acceptable. 

In addition, mandatory minimum sentencing, such as three strikes you are out laws have given prosecutors increasing power to bully and intimidate defendants, many of whom could be innocent, to agree to plead guilty to crimes in order to obtain lower jail sentences.  This means that 97% of Federal cases generally end with a plea bargain while 94% of State cases also end with a plea bargain.  As one person put it, court room trials, the stuff of television dramas, almost never take place.

Could it  be that more African-American and Hispanic people are dealing and taking drugs than white people?  Is that why more men of color are getting arrested?

In fact no.  It turns out that people from all classes and ethnic groups are equally involved in both selling and using drugs.  White people tend to sell to white people, African-Americans to African-Americans, and Hispanics to Hispanics.  College students tend to sell to other College students.  However, the ways in which the laws have been crafted have led to more men of color ending up arrested than white people.  For example, when it comes to cocaine, sentencing is based upon weight. Cocaine in its crystal form, which is largely sold in inner cities, weighs more than the powdered form sold in the suburbs.  If you add to that the fact that so many inner city defendants can't afford to hire an attorney, then African-American and Hispanic defendants become particularly vulnerable to incarceration. 

Who are the people who have been increasingly arrested and put in jail as a result of the changing economic circumstances?

In 2009, approximately 92% of prisoners in American prisons were male.
34.9% of the prison population was black in 2009

20.4% of the prison population was Hispanic in 2009

In 2013, by age 18, 30% of black males, 26% of Hispanic males, and 22% of white males have been arrested. 
By age 23, 49% of black males, 44% of Hispanic males, and 38% of white males have been arrested. 

In some ways, we could even, actually, call this a war on men.
For the better part, this situation has affected men of color most severely, but when you think of it poor white men are coming up not far behind.  The problem is, if you are a working class male, with the loss of manufacturing and the shrinking unions, where are you going to get work?  Many simply end up at Walmart, McDonalds, Burger King or other minimum wage jobs that barely support a family, but with our high unemployment rates, they'd be lucky even to get that!

Many of these workers have been affected by depression and despair as they have been unable to obtain jobs and build lives for themselves and their families.  They have gotten involved in drugs, have ended up being arrested for non-violent, victimless crimes and jailed.  Then instead of being treated with compassion and understanding and given job training and mental health counseling so they can return to their communities and live productive lives, they have faced a punitive and punishment oriented criminal justice system that essentially destroys their lives, their hopes, and any dreams they have for the future.

What has happened as members of the African-American and Hispanic communities have become increasingly subject to arrest and imprisonment?

In her book, "The New Jim Crow:  Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness" author Michelle Alexander discusses how the advances in civil rights which took place in the sixties and seventies were subsequently undermined by the mass incarceration, particularly of African-American and Hispanic men starting in the 1980s. 

The last thirty years have been particularly striking in regard to the rapid increase in prison populations and the construction of both privately run and public jails.  Thus, while in early 1980 there were 300,000 prison inmates throughout the entire United States, currently we have approximately 2,266,800. 

The bottom line is that the United States has the highest documented rate of incarceration in the world--indeed, in all of history!  Since the 1980s, the prison population has quadrupled, mostly as a consequence of nonviolent, victimless crimes such as drug possession.  At least 60% percent of these prisoners are African-American or Hispanic. 

As an aside, for us here in Connecticut, one of the interesting aspects of these statistics is that Connecticut arrests and incarcerates proportionally more Hispanic men than any other State in the Union.  So if you are male and Hispanic and live in Connecticut you are seriously at risk of ending up in jail sooner or later because the odds are stacked against you. 

Not only is there a problem with the number of prisoners that have been incarcerated, there is the problem of lengthy sentences which have arisen as a consequence of mandatory sentencing guidelines.

So what are the numbers?  How serious is the problem we are talking about here?

The numbers we are talking about are quite striking because, not only do you have the folks that are currently in jail, you also have considerable numbers of individuals that remain under the supervision of the criminal justice system once they get out of jail.  Thus, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statics, in 2011 the breakdown was as follows:

2,266,800 adults in prison

4,814,200 adults on probation or on parole

6,977,700 adults in total in or supervised by the criminal justice system

70,792 kids in juvenile detention.

Again, it is worth noting that the U.S. incarcerates more youth than any other country in the world as well.  As a vulnerable population with few civil rights, the conditions for young people is jail are dire--overcrowding and violence is rampant in juvenile detention facilities. This has gotten to the point where in 2014, the United Nation Human Rights Watch cited the United States for its mistreatment of juvenile inmates.

For those of us interested in family court and DCF issues, it is also worth noting the direct link between child protective services and the prison system.  For example, in California, 70% of prisoners spent time in the foster care system. 

So what happens when hundreds of thousands, indeed, millions of African-American and Hispanic men are taken from their communities? 

Human Rights Watch believes the extraordinary rate of incarceration in the United States wreaks havoc on individuals, families and communities, and saps the strength of the nation as a whole.  What you are talking about is a situation where the State removes marriageable African-American and Hispanic single men from their communities just at the time when they are most likely to meet their wives, settle down, have families and begin a future.  Others who are already married and have families then leave their wives and children leaving these households fatherless with all the associated consequences to that situation.  Growing families have no means of economic support and then end up in poverty and living off financial support from the government.

Then what happens once these prison inmates are discharged back into the community?

Pretty much these African-American and Hispanic men become members of a permanent underclass subject to the same kinds of discrimination they endured back at the height of Jim Crow.  In other words, you have the reinstitution of segregation and discrimination. 

These men become pretty much permanently unemployable since whenever they fill out a job application they have to check off the box indicating they have been convicted of a felony for the rest of their lives, whether the offense took place six months ago, or sixty years ago. 

If by some chance, a former prison inmate is able to get a job they are often required to pay fines and fees associated with their crime, often including the costs of the proceedings that placed them in jail, in addition to back child support.  In fact, their wages can be garnished up to 100%!

In terms of housing, former convicts are prohibited from staying in public housing, so their own families could be kicked out of their homes if they tried to give them shelter.  Landlords are legally allowed to refuse housing to former prison inmates.  Former prison inmates are not entitled to food stamps, so they might not even be able to eat once they are discharged from prison. 

So what we have here is once a prisoner gets out of jail he will have no job, no housing, no food, and no money!  To top it off, ex-prisoners can be denied the right to vote and the right to serve on a jury.

Naturally, the recidivism rate is extremely high under these circumstances, often as a result of something minor such as breaking a condition of their parole.

Has massive incarceration and the reinstitution of Jim Crow in another disguise been the result of a deliberate policy on the part of the United States government?

Our government has consciously pursued the policies of deindustrialization, the destruction of unions, outsourcing, and globalization.  NAFTA, which has resulted in major job losses  for working class in this country,  was the brainchild of the Bush administration and signed into law by Bill Clinton. 

I certainly think it is interesting that we have replaced a manufacturing based economy with a prison based economy and all the associated industries that come along with them. 

For example, there is the massive expenditure of fatherhood funding through the Department of Health and Human Services to compensate for the damage that has been done to men in the African-American and Hispanic communities.  And, again, I have tracked how those funds have then been used to disenfranchise women through custody switching schemes.

Author Michelle Alexander states that the "Get Tough on Crime" rhetoric that emerged in the 1980s, the "War on Drugs", was part of the Nixon Administration's "Southern strategy" to reach out to racist voters and couch their racist views in a language that would be acceptable to the general public as a whole.  Many poor white people in the South saw the voter drives, the freedom rides, and the sit-ins at segregated restaurants as a form of lawlessness.  When they heard President Nixon say he would get tough on crime, they understood that as it was intended to be understood, as Nixon saying he would put African-American and Hispanic people back in their places.  And that is exactly what he did as we can see from the mass incarceration of men of color since the advent of his administration.

So how does this affect family court?  And how does this mean that family court is not just a white problem?

Our political leaders did not just incarcerate massive numbers of African-American and Hispanic men, indeed millions of these men, without any assistance.  They did this with the support and collusion of the Judicial systems of States all across this country, which means that there has been a breakdown of the law, a destruction and weakening of our constitutional rights in every courtroom. 

If you are denying men their due process and human rights in the criminal courtrooms of this State, there is no doubt that you are also denying people the very same rights in family courtrooms as well.  In fact, many of the judges that we see in family court are also cycling through the criminal courts at one time or another. 

African-American and Hispanic citizens may be seeing one face of justice in one courthouse, and White citizens may be seeing another face in another courtroom, but all of them have no doubt been infiltrated by the underlying corruption that inevitably results when you are incarcerating people at unprecedented rates never before seen in human history. 

Further, while you have 60% of these inmates people of color, and 40% white, that 40% is not inconsiderable.  Ultimately, the manner in which our justice system operates sooner or later affects everyone, and we all need to be committed to holding it accountable for acting fairly and equitably.