Mass Incarceration. The New Jim Crow. The War on Drugs. Thanks to Professor Michelle Alexander these phrases are now intimately linked in the minds of social justice advocates and faith leaders as we begin a critical struggle for fairness, justice and human rights in the criminal courts, police precincts and prisons of America. The Next Movement is convinced that America can do better, and that the majority of Americans would want us to do better, if they knew the truth. The truth about systemic incarceration, structural second class status, completely uneven law enforcement practices, oppressive and selectively enforced laws that is filling the prisons of America.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Will Cold Facts Warm Hearts? New Reports Should Call Us to Action

Today, The Sentencing Project, an organization dedicated to researching, generating publications, and advocacy, in order to change America's thinking about crime and punishment, released two significant reports. Both are intended as shadow reports to the United Nations Human Rights Committee and were written in advance of its review of U.S. compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) later this month.

The first, Racial Disparities in the United States Criminal Justice System, delivers the data to show what most of us already know - that the justice system in America imprisons vast numbers of our citizens, far more than any other country in the world, and that there are incredible racial disparities.

  • Black men are 6 times more likely to be incarcerated than white males
  • Black men are 2.5 times more likely to be incarcerated than Hispanic males
  • If current trends continue, one in every three black American men born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime. ONE IN THREE! This is true for one in six Latino males and only one in seventeen white males.

Their findings lead them to conclude:
By creating and perpetuating policies that allow such racial disparities to exist in its criminal justice system, the United States is in violation of its obligations under Articles 2 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to ensure that all its citizens—regardless of race—are treated equally under the law. 
Essentially, our criminal justice system is deeply flawed and this report is a solid piece that provides evidence of those flaws at every level - from police activity, to trials that have well-equipped and motivated prosecutors against overworked indigent defense counsel, and the failure of our system of "presumed innocence" and ultimately, huge disparities in sentencing, once convicted, including the use of capital punishment.

The second report, Democracy Imprisoned: A Review of the Prevalence and Impact of Felony Disenfranchisement Laws in the United States, provides insight into, as Professor Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, explains it, a new caste system that has developed in America - the formerly incarcerated.

  • Despite decreases in overall prison populations in the last three years, the number of disenfranchised citizens has continued to grow, with over 5.85 million in 2010 (compared to 1.17 million in 1976).
  • 75% of these disenfranchised individuals reside in their communities
  • 7.7% of adult African Americans are disenfranchised, more than 40% of whom have completed their sentences

As with the first report, these findings show America to be in violation with the U.N. Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, specifically:
“general deprivation of the right to vote for persons who have received a felony conviction, and in particular for those who are no longer deprived of liberty, do not meet the requirements of articles 25 and 26 of the Covenant, nor serves the rehabilitation goals of article 10(3)."
While they detail the grievances associated with voting rights, there are a litany of other handicaps heaped on the formerly incarcerated, including federal housing, student loans, food assistance, and various job licensing restrictions.

Unfortunately, These Facts Are Not New 

All of this has been adequately documented by Professor Alexander among others, and in fact The Next Movement, through various methods, has been working to educate the community and grow awareness.

But where is the community uprising, the indignation, the mass outrage, the ACTION?

It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the issues of our time and to let that feeling of hopelessness "move" us to inaction. Fortunately, the evidence of our victory has already been witnessed by how far we have come.  As I was seeking to be accurate with Dr. King's quote on the "arch of the moral universe," I came across what is purported to be the first documented use of this metaphor, from Rev. Theodore Parker, an abolitionist who in an 1857 collection of sermons included this language in his message, Of Justice and the Conscience:
"Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice."
Clearly there are incredible injustices at work in the criminal justice system in America. Certainly, as people of conscience and people of faith, we know that something must be done. The Next Movement is one organization that is working to end this era of mass incarceration, and can use all the help, ideas, and energy, we can get. Join us! Email us at for more information.

Rev. Courtney Jenkins, in a sermon delivered here at Trinity UCC, taught that (paraphrasing), "Our God wants to show off His power. In our prayers, we need to ask for great things, awesome things, change that can only come about by the intercession of God power." Ending the mass incarceration epidemic in America is worthy of our prayers and will prove to be an incredible example of God's power.

2 Corinthians 9:8-10, NRSV translation, states:
8And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.  9As it is written,
“He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor, his righteousness endures forever.”
10He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.
God bless you.

A luta continua

Daryle Brown

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