— President George W. Bush
Noted in Alexander’s best selling book, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” more African Americans are under correctional control today than were enslaved in 1850.
According to the Philadelphia Department of Prisons, the annual cost to incarcerate one person in Pennsylvania is $840 a week, which is $43,680 annually — this amount is equal to a life-sustaining salary.
The fiscal burden of incarcerating people at this expense is taxing on our communities, particularly impoverished communities because they are losing members to the prison system the most. When they become absent from the community, they are unable to do their part to sustain and grow the community.
To that end, the City of Philadelphia has invested $6 million in an initiative aimed to reduce the city’s prison population by 34 percent in three years.
This will be achieved by creating programs to expedite the release process, working with nonviolent offenders to keep them out of the system and creating alternative methods to rehabilitate people other than imprisonment.
For instance, a third of the county’s prison population is detained for minor traffic violations and probation violations. There are more cost-effective ways to penalize people for such offenses and it is a heavy burden putting the onus on taxpayers to bear the exuberant expense of incarcerating minor offenders.
The Washington Post examined the racial disparities at each level in the criminal justice system and discovered that every aspect of the system — from arrest rates and bail amounts, to probation time and sentencing — showed inconsistencies in the outcomes based on race.
Per the Philadelphia Department of Prisons in January nine in 10 of those in prison are men. Of that number, seven in 10 are African-American men.
This study shows that Blacks are arrested at twice the rate of whites for comparable offenses.
Being a person of color is already challenging enough because of the disparities in opportunities that are associated with being Black. This bias coupled with being an ex-offender can be life-crippling.
When people enter the prison, it becomes systemic. Re-entering society is a challenge because employment becomes an issue.
In Philadelphia, the recidivism rate is 65 percent and the three-year reincarcerated rate is 41.1 percent. This is largely attributed to the lack of jobs that are available to re-entrants.
As president and CEO of Philadelphia OIC, some of our students are re-entrants to society, looking for an opportunity to earn a life-sustaining wage. We teach them that if they possess the drive and determination, then they have the wherewithal to overcome their setback.
We are working directly with our national office, OIC of America, and other satellite OIC offices across the country to solve this complex issue and provide an opportunity for people to acquire industry-recognized credentials to obtain a life-sustaining job. We realize that we must tackle this issue at its core to keep people out of the prison system.
And, it is only then that they will be able to truly re-enter the working world and reach their full potential. As David Millar said, “People do make mistakes, and I think they should be punished. But they should be forgiven and given the opportunity for a second chance. We are human beings.”
As always, keep the faith!