Broken Hearts and Broken Homes: How Mass Incarceration Impacts Children and Families (May)

In May 2019, the Rights Writers discussed what perspectives have been left out of the major debates on their topics and how including them increase understanding or contribute to progress of the issue.

The American prison system is designed to punish individuals for their crimes as a means of preventing them from repeating the same behavior, yet this system serves as a revolving door for many criminals. Recidivism rates show that within three years of release, 68% of prisoners are rearrested and  within five years, 77% were rearrested. The vast majority of these individuals are arrested for non-violent crimes. Current perspectives on mass incarceration seem to only critique the efficacy of a punitive system and speak on the nature in which our current system violates basic human rights. Little emphasis has been put on how recidivism rates and the criminal justice system impacts children and families, but this framing can impact the way in which mass incarceration is seen as a human rights issue.  

Debates on the issues of the criminal justice system are currently focused on the manners in which the human rights of prisoners have been violated. Advocacy coalitions such as the ACLU and NAACP emphasize how prison practices, arrest protocol, and the quality of the facilities do not reach the bare-minimum standard of human rights. These groups fight for the right to improve the lives on the individual level but only emphasize how black men in particular are targeted at more than 5 times the rate of whites. It is common for people to  have difficultly empathizing with prisoners because they only view them as prisoners. Individuals may be more inclined to challenge the criminal justice system if they had knowledge of how it affects families.

Handcuffed Girls by Steven Depolo
Credit: Steven Depolo

Research estimates that over 5 million children have experienced an incarcerated parent at some point in their lives.  The vast majority of incarcerated mothers and fathers lived with their children prior to imprisonment. At least 32,000 incarcerated parents have had their children permanently taken away from them without evidence of abuse, but other factors related to poverty may be involved. Over 5,000 of these prisoners have lost their parental rights due to imprisonment alone. Research shows that mass incarceration is a system that primarily locks up lower socioeconomic class men. Black and minority men are disproportionately imprisoned because they are more likely to be lower class than white men. This proves to have a detrimental impact on families because children experience a loss of financial support, even when fathers did not live with their child, because many still provided support prior to incarceration.

The impacts of the loss of a parent are seen as one out of every three black boys can expect to go to prison at some point during their lives. Black boys are then criminalized at a young age, as by the age of 10, they are begun to be seen as less innocent than their white peers. This allows for black youth to lack equal rights in dignity, for they are criminalized throughout their childhood. An overwhelming 92% of parents behind bars are fathers, with the rates of mothers in prison increasing as well. These children are stripped of the opportunity to get to know their parents unless they have the privilege of being able to undergo a consistent visitation process, and many young black boys are left without a father figure.

March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C.
Wikimedia Commons

            Children with incarcerated parents are more likely to experience mental health issues and have difficulty performing well in school. This burden is often carried with the child throughout their lifetime, as they are more likely to experience poor mental and physical health throughout adulthood as well. Because of the emotional distress of having an incarcerated parent, these children are more likely to have disciplinary issues in school. Zero tolerance policies then push these children out of school and allow for the school-to-prison pipeline to form, increasing the likelihood that they will be imprisoned at some point in their lives.

Mass incarceration has become one of the most pressing human rights issues of our generation, with the prison population increasing at a rate of over 700% from 1970 to 2010.  Our current system thrives on the use of punitive punishment in hopes of deterring criminals from repeating their crimes. This does little to prevent instances of rearrests upon release from prison, and has a ripple effect and children, communities, and families. The desire to punish individuals for this crime in our current system allows children to become collateral damage and increases their likelihood of experiencing incarceration at a future point in their lives.

Understanding the holistic impacts of incarceration, rather than just on an individual level can help shape the future of criminal justice system reform. Perhaps a greater emphasis on the impacts of children and families can help to shift the American system to one that is more rehabilitation based. Doing so will help the incarcerated individual to have an experience of recovery so that they may be able to improve for the sake of their family.

Different Strokes: The Function of Mass Incarceration Activists in the United States and Abroad (April)

In April 2019, the Rights Writers discussed the role of advocacy groups and social movements in promoting human rights and social justice in their area.

The life of a Californian Fire-Fighter is worth just $1 an hour if they are volunteering as an inmate of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). Regular fire-fighters of the state make at least $10.50 an hour but there is a disconnect in the value of an inmate’s life. It is instances such as these that make the prisoners question if their role as an inmate functions as that of a modern-day slave.  Additionally, inmates at the Lee Correctional Institute in South Carolina began one of the country’s largest “Nationwide Prison Strikes” history to raise awareness of the horrific conditions of the American prison justice system, as well as racist police practices to unjust sentencing laws. 

Despite making up roughly 5% of the global population, the United States has nearly 25% of the world’s prison population. The incarceration population has increased by over 700% since 1970, with over 2.3 million people in jail or prison today; outpacing population growth and crime. The crime rate intensifies by demographic as well. One out of every three black boys can expect to go to prison in his lifetime, compared to 1 out of six Latinx boys, and 1 out of 17 white boys.  To combat such alarming rates, organizations including the NAACP, ACLU, and Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) are advocates for prison reform. Each organization works to combat racial disparities, harsh sentencing, and mandatory minimum sentences by using education, policy, and their political platform as a means to protest and advocate for the issue. 

By: miss_millionshttps://www.flickr.com/photos/marineperez/4698707308/in/photolist-8ad6YY-27KhamZ-a9BLAg-35vDvv-8iQJhZ-PD94Zg-2wEoWB-dPuaLw-eb3Hav-9jfERj-7fEZt7-rqhgPe-68mgL6-7fF62S-EGwoeS-9qrfvG-pLGfjp-bw5RJp-amcLGg-7fB87c-bGM5fa-yfDWsH-dvD8eF-7fF6gj-oCneEF-2BcFJH-oxFN35-288JvwG-7fB8oa-ogproG-6cSmXy-7fB51e-cdD8MS-2fsPSDk-5kkSs-2fsPSxD-XfGSUY-2fsPSe2-5BdK1N-2c2FmWq-2zEjAC-o1C8su-2emS4vd-6RqCPs-RDNtiP-SfN9Ln-i6o9KD-5FasGH-5FaseR-r3tGWi

There have been world-wide efforts to combat mass incarceration in a similar fashion to what the NAACP, ACLU, AND EJI have achieved. The fight on mass incarceration has been so widely regarded as an issue that as of 2015, the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council has formally adopted the first-ever UN report on mass incarceration. The council expressed concern about the negative impact of over-incarceration and over-crowding on the enjoyment of human rights”. Overall, the human-rights based approach outlined by the UN stressed the investment of crime prevention and rehabilitation efforts, including behavioral therapy, intensive treatment for mental health and substance abuse, and preventive programs can deliver crime reduction without destroying lives and families. 

By: Falcon Photographyhttps://www.flickr.com/photos/falcon_33/16836642265/in/photolist-rDNcaB-hMohhy-Y6Xje7-27F2yyb-5xvdBn-mmA8WN-5Rmyt-GwsSY-QZWgFT-SBubXy-Gwmph-Gwr25-GwmUW-FnxtY-6qQeDf-pXPPC-GwoJ1-DqHqji-b3G2gg-2Nw4uV-93Hi2S-6YHTqH-8gLyR8-dQUiS3-92gnMT-ivegLN-BdSW1-rk8vKy-2K44Q4-5bESqy-5xvdB8-eqmDBq-cdfop1-eqmPXQ-cdfoMC-qpHUkB-pVdkK1-GwqF9-SZBzCs-Wjeba6-YgTRuq-etJ6Ye-pEVCNE-djq9yy-8rRXZx-c2AeU-cdfqGm-bVT7Az-ayC1Nh-9YDsvZ

Countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, and South Africa do not share the same prison circumstances as that of  the United States itself because of their overall structure and approach to punishment. These countries have already committed to addressing the issue of mass incarceration following a similar format that was outlined by the United Nations. The American criminal justice system is known to be based on punitive punishment. In comparison, the German and Dutch prison system focus on rehabilitating inmates. These facilities are described as spacious with moderate temperatures and good light to mirror that of a rehabilitation center. The Dutch prison system is described as “therapeutic” and Germany’s Prison Act states that “the sole aim of incarceration is to enable prisoners to lead a life of social responsibility free of crime upon release.” Unlike the United States, the Netherlands and Germany use long mandatory minimum sentences far less often than the United States does. On average, inmates in the Netherlands and Germany spend less than a year in prison and are described to have a “fair amount of control over their daily lives” as described by the Vera Institute. These inmates get to wear their own clothes, work, takes classes, have privacy in their cells, and even have the right to vote and receive welfare benefits. Some inmates in the Netherlands can even “report” to prison during the week and spend the weekends with their families.

            South Africa is an example of a nation that was more unjust but has pushed for change in recent years. Wrestling with the legacy of apartheid, South Africa uses faith, confrontation and family in their justice system. South African Prisoners Organization for Human Rights (SAPOHR) works to make substantial strides to improve the criminal justice system of South Africa. By design, their mission is to “address the legacy of the apartheid criminal justice and prison systems and contribute to a culture of human rights and social justice in a non- racial, non-sexist democratic South Africa.” This coalition contains over 10,000 individuals, with the majority being prisoners and many who are ex-prisoners. Additionally, a 2004 White paper on Corrections sought to create a “ strategic policy and operational framework that recognizes corrections as a societal responsibility, and aimed to refocus efforts to make prisons places of rehabilitation and reform.” Though South African prisoners still continue to face some injustices, advocacy groups and policy initiatives have played a major role in attempting to improve the quality of life of prisoners.

Each advocacy organization in the United States holds the strength of a massive fact-based following that uses factual information to impact the representation, resources, and rights of marginalized communities. The US is making the right strides to approaching a criminal justice system centered on human rights, but they are missing the means to directly impact the quality of prison life as they must first challenge the institutional structure.  The challenge for American prison groups to apply the strategy is more difficult because these prisons function as a multi-billion dollar business in the United States. Therefore, we cannot directly translate the methods of other countries because we have to deal with the challenge of dismantling a for-profit prison structure that thrives on the free or cheap labor of inmates; threatening the massive income that these companies make. Additionally, American organizations have a limited approach  because only agents of political capital can be directly involved in contributing to change, with all other supporters serving as activists for the cause. Though this is difficult to change, a greater emphasis on grassroots organizers and the involvement of prisoners themselves in the movement will help to  bridge the gap between political agents and social advocates of the cause.

Behind Locked Bars: The Role of Media and Mass Incarceration (March)

In March 2019, the Rights Writers explore the role the media has played in covering their issues and what effects it has had — positive and negative.

Perception and framing of issues on mass incarceration  in the media has an overwhelming impact on public reaction to various news reports. To some extent, the media is able to raise awareness of the problematic conditions in the criminal justice system. At the same time, there is a question of the underlying manner in which the reporting is communicated. Do media outlets frame issues of mass incarceration in a way that encourages hopelessness or does the media manage to highlight organizations pushing for reform and change?  Public response to the inhumane conditions that prisoners face is shaped by the ways in which news outlets frame each given scenario. Backlash is also seen in the ways in which the media portrays advocacy organizations such as the ACLU and the Black Lives Matter Movement.

In September 2018, Americans all along the East Coast were in fear of the wrath that Hurricane Florence would bring. Local and media news outlets broadcasted live footage of several stores along the coast cleared out of non-perishable foods, water, and batteries in preparation for the storm. This, combined with a storm-tracker of the severity of the storm made residents fear for what the damage would bring. South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster ordered mandatory evacuation orders to the five counties that would be affected by the storm, but the government said that two prisons in that area would not be evacuated. When locals and twitter users alike were made aware of the evacuation refusal under the trending hashtag #HurricaneFlorence on Twitter, many made use of the little power that they had by calling the governments in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia to demand prison evacuation.

This situation is merely a repeat of what happened in what is coined the “world’s largest incarceration capital¾Louisiana¾” in the Orleans Parish Prison when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. These prisoners were locked in cells full of chest-high, sewer contaminated floodwaters. Prisoners endured unbearable heat, power outages, and generator failures; with some reporting that they went days without food or water. 

Reporting on prison conditions is often insufficient, demonstrated by the fact that this situation repeated itself 13 years later in South Carolina. In August of 2006, the ACLU released a report uncovering the details of the horrors that thousands of men, women, and children in Orleans Parish Prisoners faced during Hurricane Katrina. In one interview conducted by the ACLU, Eric Balaban, a staff attorney for the National Prison Project stated “because society views prisoners as second-class citizens, their stories have largely gone unnoticed and therefore untold”. Modern efforts to bring awareness of the issues that prisoners face today are still overshadowed by the political undertones of popular media outlets.

photo credit: Adriel Ifland

The Black Lives Matter Movement works hard to fight injustices, mass incarceration and police brutality; establishing themselves as the civil rights movement of our generation Black Lives Matter was the first United States social movement  in history to successfully use the internet as a mass mobilization device; a phenomenon that scholars refer to as “mediated mobilization”. The Black Lives Matter Global Network demands that Congress and current administration propose legislation in order to dramatically decrease mass incarceration that is rooted in the black communities that continue to disproportionately target the criminal justice system. They also vow to support “the fight to overhaul America’s criminal justice system until all Black, indigenous, and migrant people are no longer targeted and criminalized.”

 In August of 2017, a leaked report from the FBI’s counter-terrorism unit identified a group of domestic terrorists known as the Black Identity Extremists. The Black Identity Extremists essentially labeled black activists, including the Black Lives Matter movement, as a danger to public safety. Despite this, media outlets has shown the movement in a negative light, labeling it both as a hate group and terrorist organization by the alt right and United States government due to the strain that it has on political discourse. Fox News is an example of a widely accepted, mainstream conservative media outlet that has been especially active in shaping the portal on the Black Lives Matter movement, with articles and broadcasts titled “How Black Lives Matter is Killing Americans” and “Hey, Black Lives Matter, Stop Terrorizing our Cities”. These articles described protestors as “violent thugs” and a statement made by Bill O’Reilly, stating that  “there is a violent subculture in the African American community that should be exposed and confronted”.  Media outlets such as Fox News offer both news reporting and opinion pieces, which are opinions of the columnists which may or may not align with the paper of new channel’s editorial positions. This creates an issue where viewers listen to the perspectives of commentators such as Bill O’Reilly or Rachel Maddow’s liberally-biased Black Lives Matter opinion segments on MSNBC rather that critically examining the news they are receiving without bias.

March 2
photo credit: Annette Bernhart

Questioning the legitimacy of social justice organizations such as Black Lives Matter serves as a distraction to reader and the cause of the movement. Devaluing the suffering of prison population also leads to the repeating of mistakes and mistreatment over time. Rather to present the information in an unbiased viewpoint without underlying racial undertones, these outlets bring out competing political objectives to their reporting. Political objectives and bias in media reporting has a powerful influence over the viewers. This matter because viewers become indoctrinated with the underlying influence of the broadcasts.

The media has such a powerful influence on its viewers that allows bias to be demonstrated in some form. Despite how viewers of certain media outlets may be predisposed to certain perspectives because of opinion pieces, the public can benefit from strong opposing viewpoints on opposite ends of the political spectrum. Even what may be considered as raw, unbiased footage from behind the lens of a camera comes from a particular perspective. These videos that go viral on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are often modeled out of context and used to fit a given cause. In closing, it is almost impossible to report on something without any form of bias, but viewers should be aware of the influence and expansiveness that the media has, given that it is a key factor in showcasing the flaws of the American criminal justice system on a global scale.



Three Strikes, You’re Out: Mass Incarceration and the Tough on Crime Rhetoric (February)

For February 2019, the Rights Writers discuss their issues in the context of US political discourse (including public opinion), particularly in light of the two-year anniversary of Donald Trump’s presidency.

For more than 1,600 inmates in Brooklyn, New York, America’s “tough on crime” rhetoric meant more than just harsh sentencing during the Polar Vortex. These inmates had to survive without heat and power in the federal jail when temperatures plummeted to 2 degrees.  Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union stated that “It is shocking that the government would hold people for days on end in a dark, freezing jail during one of the coldest weeks in memory.” Though the inmates were set to have heat and power restored, politicians involved in the issue noted that “the warden is not approaching this with a sense of urgency.” This prison was home to inmates awaiting trial or sentencing on federal crimes. Public protests sparked discourse on the ways in which America treats their prisoners.

Before the 2018 Midterm elections, America’s tough-on-crime rhetoric barred 6.1 citizens from voting in 22 states. Approval of Amendment 4 in Florida restored voting rights in the state for people of previously convicted felonies. Politicians have been especially present in the conversation to see how such a dramatic change in legislation may influence future elections in the swing-state. Florida is one of many states that has such a large prison population due to mandatory minimum sentencing laws. These mandatory minimums do not take into account any outside factors, such as whether or not a person has committed their first offense. This causes many first-time offenders convicted of low-level crimes to receive unreasonably long sentences and punishes offenders who are addicts. The passing of Amendment 4 in Florida is a  positive stride towards criminal justice reform, but these efforts are not seen in most states.  

Jacques Lebleu; Attribution-Non-Commercial 2.0 Generic (https://www.flickr.com/photos/jihel/14096849985/in/photolist-ntG3nF-qCLPa5-HT8grm-8y3dYv-24TJRa9-24HaKZU-24BAz9p-5FURAu-bPdZY6-ZTXkpq-pRXdB4-8BoFwS-thEwHF-56h2xC-thJJog-7HwxLf-nfCgC-nfCgw-LVd7js-LYJBPS-jJA5hY-khCAsF-khBUa8-khBSHa-khmAVr-24VMrVf-6JooCr-YTYTfU-24LXine-qnvuFX-6JstBy-q5XMRJ-G32DVz-ZVVFYQ-pqKPyg-26i37FL-pqwpJu-CSzS2h-7CzE4d-khCC8p-khBWcp-8P7M3a-2mrevT-yBR5q-4UCSRj-KgLfXC-3go6s7-e6SJFH-LVd7sJ-5mNRNd)


Despite a number of flaws of the criminal justice system, the American government has been making strides in prison reform. In December of 2018, President Trump signed the First-Step Act  which helps to curb mandatory minimums and ease the severity of automatic sentences. It also expands job training and has targeted programming to reduce recidivism rates among the prisoners. For non-violent drug offenses, the mandatory “three strikes” penalty will be lowered from life in prison to 25 years.

Nationwide, 33 states and over 150 cities and counties have adopted the “Ban the Box” rule which helps employers to use fair hiring policies.  President Obama endorsed this policy that removes the conviction history question from job applications and delay background checks until later in the hiring process. This legislative movement creates a fair-chance policy that is beneficial for over 249 million people in the United States,  families, local communities, and the economy.  Though this policy can be helpful, other forms of discrimination may still occur. A study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic research found that the “Ban the Box policy decreased the probability of being employed by “5.1 percent for young, low-skilled black men, and 2.9 percent for young, low-skilled Hispanic men.” The researchers found that this occurred because employers tend to discriminate against racial/ethnic demographics when the record is inaccessible.

Derek Goulet; Attribution-Non-Commercial 2.0 Generic (https://www.flickr.com/photos/151996707@N06/32059821574/in/photolist-QR1Y1o-5QRG7v-LyKJNc-6NwKNf-8enaPM-kDxoNp-5TH265-bzLWoR-biR1E-5QRLFi-6ow5UN-oJq4fH-dG7TT-29cosQk-kDuLXk-9aMgR1-MEAz2y-6HhRLb-kZ53F4-kZ6HbY-bzLWqH-5QRVPM-4qskfX-nQ2Ftr-avmexu-5gTAuo-kDwnkz-dL6b9U-5QRLug-5QRVye-kDy1u4-2LsQFP-6HMsAq-5QRHtF-bmS5YQ-VbTssq-34LKFR-7FXhLP-7G2eeL-2afpSKd-JWeSCZ-5QW2ud-7D573F-7ciYuS-bqgerw-a5mob5-4WeTMH-7cms6J-5QRMtz-5QRHBH)


The American public has expressed the need for criminal justice reform. In 2017, the ACLU surveyed American citizens to determine their attitudes on criminal justice. 91% of Americans across the political spectrum support criminal justice reform. Additionally 72% said that they would be more likely to vote for an elected official who supports the elimination of mandatory minimums, which is a direct contrast to President Trump’s approach.

Public opinion on criminal justice issues has been influenced by the presence of these issues in the media. Kim Kardashian-West has advocated for the clemency of Alice Marie Johnson, a 63-year-old grandmother sentenced for a non-violent drug offence, and the clemency of Cyntoia Brown. Kardashian-West brought to life Cyntoia Brown’s case when she tweeted “It’s heartbreaking to see a young girl sex trafficked then when she has the courage to fight back is jailed for life”, with the post being liked by over 520,000 Twitter users. Twitter users responded to the news of Brown’s clemency by thanking Kim Kardashian-West for her efforts and stressing the importance of advocacy. This is best summarized by Twitter user @MaS1banda when she states “On 7 August 2019, Cyntoia Brown gets her freedom. Finally. Finally. People’s activism matters. People’s activism saves lives”.

The First Step Act and the approval of Florida’s 4th Amendment allow the criminal justice system to move in a direction that better respects human rights. Public opinion on criminal justice related issues is a hopeful sign that America is making strides towards a system that values human rights. Kim Kardashian-West’s advocacy revealed the power that social media has in raising awareness of the issue because people outside of politics are getting involved. Despite these efforts, there is still a lot of work to be done to achieve justice in the American criminal justice system.

Old Habits Die Hard: Mass Incarceration as the New Jim Crow (January)

For our first month, January 2019, the Rights Writers introduce their topics and give an overview of the main actors and debates.

In Mississippi in the 1940’s, you could not vote if you were unable to withstand the sheer intimidation, violence, and racial discrimination of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). This combined with literacy tests, poll taxes, and a number of loopholes on the ballot caused less than 1% of black people in Mississippi to be registered to vote. In 22 states today, felons lose their voting rights during incarceration and while on probation or parole. In 12 of America’s states, felons lose their voting rights permanently.

Modern statistics of incarceration and the criminal justice system reveal the extent to which mass incarceration enacts similar violations as Jim Crow Laws. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights highlights the ways in which incarceration conflicts with the fundamental human rights acknowledged by the United Nations. Article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “all are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law”, while Article 21 declares that “everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives”. This proves to be untrue for the 6.1 million Americans who are unable to vote due to their felony convictions. Civil Rights lawyer Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow highlighted the depth of the issue by stating “once you’re labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination—employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits, and exclusion from jury service—are suddenly legal. We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it”. Similar to Jim Crow Laws, mass incarceration violates fundamental human and civil rights.


https://www.flickr.com/photos/40969298@N05/14223435603/in/album-72157644751600933/, By Joe Brusky; Own work Attribution-Non-Commercial 2.0


            The United States justice system is retributive, meaning that one is punished for their wrongdoings when breaking the law. Courts review the circumstances, crime severity, and a person’s history before deciding a person’s sentence. Beginning in the mid-1970s, a change in the United States punishment of criminal offenses resulted in harsher laws and longer prison terms for convicts. As a result, there are over 2.3 million people in jail and prison today, outpacing population growth and crime rates.

Black Americans are overrepresented in the prison populations as they constitute 13% of the population but  34% of the total correctional population. Researchers under the Human Rights Watch found that the sentencing rate for black men in the United States is more than 13 times higher than that of white men for crimes such as non-violent drug offenses. All are to be seen as equal before the law and free from discrimination, yet racial bias in the criminal justice system allows for black Americans to be targeted at a higher rate.

There are a number of nonprofits and advocacy organizations challenging current laws in the United States and the way that they are implemented in society. Organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored people (NAACP) seek to educate the public on issues of mass incarceration and criminal justice in the United States when civil liberties are challenged. Additionally, the Black Lives Matter movement is especially prominent in the media; raising awareness when the civil liberties of black Americans are targeted and violated.  These organizations work to spread awareness, but the justice system continues to fail the public, evidenced by the American rate of recidivism, or likelihood of a criminal to reoffend, at a staggering 60%. By contrast, other countries with justice systems that favor rehabilitation and reform over punishment tend to result in prisoners with a much higher quality of life and rates of recidivism below 20%.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/elizabethbw/10445103064/in/album-72157636877087316/, By Elizabeth Brossa; Own work Attribution-Non-Commercial 2.0


Not all countries have America’s type of justice system, and most have lower numbers of incarcerated persons compared to their total population. These countries also do not share the same racial legacy as the United States, but can something be learned from them to better protect Americans’ human rights equally?

Rwanda, pursing nationwide reconciliation in the decade and a half since the genocide, is committed to healing, forgiveness, acceptance, and restorative justice. South Africa, wrestling with the legacy of apartheid, uses faith, confrontation and family in their justice system. Norway, a nation shaken by the one of the worst mass shootings in Europe in 2011, encourages intimate relationships and small community interactions with the prisoners and the guards. In learning the ways in which countries of different histories treat those who have committed a crime, we are exposed to a variety of approaches that may be especially useful if implemented in the American prison system.

In grappling with mass incarceration as both a cultural problem and an institutional one, I will address a number of questions in my upcoming blog posts. These questions include, what are US politicians doing about mass incarceration and is their response respectful of human rights? How is the media both a critic of and complicit in perpetuating an unequal system? What are the strengths and limitations of advocacy groups and social movements on mass incarceration? How can the perspectives that have been left out of the debate on mass incarceration help to contribute to progress and understanding?