Mass Incarceration- America’s newest Plantation
On the plantation there was a power structure like that which still exists today. There were the masters or landowners and doing their biding was the overseers who made sure that all the rules, regulations and policies set down by the masters were carried out by the slave. Then of course there was the slave, the laborer, the worker, the true backbone of the prosperity of the landowner and consistent employment of the overseer.
In a much better world, the master would always intelligently choose which crops should garner him and his family the best price that year and whether the grounds could handle it. The smart ones made sure that their overseers did not go beyond the point of respect toward the very reason he and his family was able to live so well. The smart overseer would insure that the policies, rules and regulations passed down by the master were adhered to but they would do so with the retaining of dignity of the slave in mind. Many of the good and decent ones were often slighted by the others for treating their slaves so well but still they continued to do as they saw right and with that came many years of prosperity and growth. Those others, on the other hand, were not quite so lucky. So how does this equate to mass incarceration as the newest plantation, simple. Just strap yourself in and get ready for this ride.
In an article titled “What Can the U.S. Do About Mass Incarceration?” written by Clare Foran for The Atlantic, she reports that “America is a world leader in incarceration. The U.S. locks up more people than any other country, the University of London’s Institute for Criminal Policy Research reports. An estimated 1.6 million individuals were held in state and federal prisons at the end of 2014, while roughly 1 out of every 36 adults fell under correctional supervision, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Democrats and Republicans alike agree that mass incarceration is a problem, and state and federal efforts are underway to enact criminal-justice reform. But enacting effective reform requires an understanding of what caused the problem in the first place. America’s War on Drugs is to blame for mass incarceration. Needlessly harsh laws have put large numbers of nonviolent drug offenders behind bars”. Now based on this information, one would argue that correction of a policy would go quite far in the remedy of this very large and complex issue. If that is what you assume then I have to honestly and respectfully disagree with you because the issue is not large nor is it that complex. By making something seem complex, we provide ourselves with a built-in excuse to lag on fixing it or hoping it will eventually be forgotten like slavery, the Holocaust, the Trail of Tears and so many other unforgettable events in the history of this nation.
While I do agree that you must first know the cause of a problem in order to find its solution but what I do not agree with is the false tenant that all we need to do is institute criminal justice reforms. There is a very large piece of this puzzle missing and is being ignored the more we speak on this problem. That large missing piece is the players involved in this game. We think of a master as one man on a large piece of land directing others to do their bidding but in this situation a master is much more than one man, it’s a mentality, an ideology that says who are worthy of equal justice and who is not. Let’s assume that the masters in the criminal justice system are the lawmakers and legislators making policy, rules and regulations to govern the masses and let’s say that the overseers are the judges, lawyers and police officers who carry out these policies. Of course that only leaves one category for you and me and that is the slave.
Now as slaves, we are made to feel as though we do not have a voice in how we are treated and because of that many of us seldom express how we truly feel about the way we are categorized, labelled, tagged, prodded and forced to adhere to a system that does not serve us as equally as it does others. Our cowardice, unwillingness to stand and inability to muster the courage necessary to challenge those rules, regulations and policies are a part of the problem as to why mass incarceration exists today and will continue to as long as we remain as quiet as a church mouse. For the overseers, whose idea is not to be the best example of one, they only do as they are told and refuse to challenge the system as well. Many slaves who are not able to afford adequate representation must choose to have their rights defended by an overseer who cares so little about their welfare that it is amply apparent in how he or she represents them. The overseers, whose idea is to see a certain class of people as inferior are less willing to extend even a slight hand up and instead do all that they can to maintain that boot on your neck many slaves figure that they were born with. These overseers know the law but refuse to exercise that knowledge when it comes to certain people and therefore cast them into that lion’s den as willingly as those who they would have a very different opinion of if the same actions were taken against them. Now we come to the masters of this scenario, the legislators and policymakers who the slaves know work for them but the slaves never wish to make them aware that they know this fact. They silently accept what is being done to them by these masters and do nothing to stop it. The masters, feeling as if there is nothing that they cannot do and get away with, continue to serve only themselves because there is no accountability for their actions.
Mass incarceration is not about black, white, red, or yellow skin. It is about refusal of those in positions to make change not exercising that position and staying quiet. The lawmakers, policymakers and legislators who know better than to place a bounty on the heads of people could stop the mass incarceration by simply removing those labels, tags and stigma in their policies, rules and regulations. The lawyers, judges and police officers who enforce these rules, regulations and policies could stop mass incarceration simply by refusing to accept what is written and operate on the principal that all events which occur is never exactly the same and where one may have certain facts pertaining to it, those same facts may be absent in another. The rest of us could stop mass incarceration simply by learning exactly what those policies, rules and regulations are, fighting those that infringe upon our rights and abiding by those that don’t. The disparity between the number of blacks in jail as opposite to white and other races rests not only on the shoulders of the masters and the overseers but also on the shoulders of the slaves as well.