Mass Incarceration is a Human Rights Issue

Please join Maryland progressives on 15 September 2018 to spread the word about drug decriminalization and its relationship to the human rights violation of mass incarceration. At Discussing Drug Decriminalization: Cannabis to Opioids, discussion of drug decriminalization will extend into other issues related to criminal justice reform. The forum is at Montgomery College/Germantown. Among the speakers, hear Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous. Mass incarceration has motivated the need for criminal justice reform and those who have become a victim of our injustice system and want to be an advocate for human rights need to be heard. https://discussingdrugdecrim.eventbrite.com


 

/By Veronica Wright/ America has a new racial caste system and it is called mass incarceration. Some of the first racial caste systems in this country can be dated back to the black codes followed by Jim Crow. However, since the Civil Rights Movement, America has been relegated to the relentless inequities of our criminal “injustice” system fueled by racially charged laws designed to marginalize the poor and people of color. Think about the 3 strikes laws, mandatory minimum sentencing and life without parole. These kinds of laws affect mainly minorities and people of lower economic means and have contributed significantly to the mass incarceration of Americans.

It may be proper to define what is a human right. A human right is includes basic principles of justice, the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression and the right to work and education to name a few. Human rights are inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status.

cuffed_individual.jpgOne might ask, why is mass incarceration a violation of human rights? First, there is evidence that America incarcerates more people than any other nation in the world. The number of people being incarcerated is steadily increasing.  Between 1980 and 2015, the number of those incarcerated in America increased from roughly 500,000 to over 2.2 million.  Many individuals are subject to pre-trial detention without any due process. Many individuals are sentenced without any due process of the law.  These examples demonstrate how the basic principles of justice are violated.

Second people of color are overwhelmingly incarcerated more than any other demographic in the country. In 2015, African Americans and Hispanics made up approximately 32% of the US population and comprised 56% of all incarcerated people. In another report by the Human Rights Watch (2000) in seven states, African Americans constitute 80 to 90% of all drug offenders sent to prison. Studies show while African Americans are not the ones who use drugs the most, they are the ones sent to prison most often.  Here, African Americans human rights are violated based on race. Our right to life and liberty have been sanctioned.

Third, as exemplified through mass incarceration our criminal justice laws violate basic principles of justice by requiring disproportionately severe punishment. Mandatory minimum laws have made Americans serve long sentences, sometimes as long as 30 years, just for being in possession of marijuana. The United States criminal justice laws require penalties that are far longer than necessary to meet the purpose of punishment.

Furthermore, our punitive criminal justice system has exemplified how the punishment does not fit the crime - resulting in our criminal justice system being used to address social and public health issues within society. More than 80% of those incarcerated in federal and state prisons are serving time for drug possession. America has used our prisons as a place for rehabilitation. Evidence has demonstrated that jail is not a place for recovery from substance abuse. Individuals do not receive the help they need to recover and to become productive citizens of society. Many states are becoming open to diversion programs that provide an alternative to incarceration for addiction. Rates of recidivism are increasing because we choose to send people to prison for drug possession. To complicate matters, re-entry into society become hampered by the inability to find a job, housing, and government assistance of any kind, to include school loans to advance educationally. In essence, we use our criminal justice system as a way to deal with issues related to poverty.

In her book, The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander reminds us (p. 259) that Martin Luther King, Jr. warned Americans that justifying racial and social equality for all Americans would be limited by taking on a civil rights approach; rather, a human rights approach would have a far greater reach. King would argue that all human beings of all races should be treated with dignity, and have access to food, shelter, healthcare, education and security.  All of these basic rights are jeopardized and subsequently not fulfilled through the exercise of mass incarceration because as mentioned earlier, formerly incarcerated individuals can not find jobs after paying their debt to society. This result in being homeless, not having access to healthcare, not being able to attend college or qualify for school loans due to having a criminal record. As a result, access to food, shelter, healthcare, education and security are limited. Federal and state legislators should ground their moves for reform in core principles of human rights, including prudent use of criminal sanctions, fair punishment, and equal protection of the laws. Mass incarceration is a human rights issue.

Please join me on 15 September 2018 to spread the word about drug decriminalization. The theme of my forum willben_jealous_hustings.jpg be Discussing Drug Decriminalization: Cannabis to Opioids.  Democratic candidate for governor Ben Jealous is a confirmed speaker. The forum will not be limited to the discussion of drug decriminalization but other issues related to criminal justice reform. Mass incarceration has motivated the need for criminal justice reform and I encourage everyone to attend and hear those who have become a victim of our injustice system and want to be an advocate for human rights. https://discussingdrugdecrim.eventbrite.com


Veronica Wright, M.S., MBA, is a Change Advocate for Criminal Justice Reform

Democratic candidate for governor Ben Jealous
is a confirmed speaker.