Heather Thompson gave a fascinating talk tonight regarding incarceration as the root of many civil rights problems today. The statistics she gave were daunting. I knew that there was inequality in prisons but it was a little sad to know that 1 in 9 young African American men are in prison. It’s shocking actually. Race has so much to do with it, yet law enforcement swears there is no such thing as racial profiling. Something is wrong here. Inner cities are ‘ground zero’ of these issues. Thompson noted that Lyndon Johnson essentially started it all with the signing of the Law Enforcement Administration Act, and the federal government started funneling money to cities whose crime rate is high. Money provides incentive to have higher crime rates, so people began to categorize crime differently. Incarceration is such a vicious cycle. Cities are so heavily policed that no one is left. There is a massive orphaning of children because of prisons. My mom works as a P.E. teacher at an elementary school and has had numerous students tell her “my mommy’s in prison”. I don’t know for sure, but I feel like that would definitely affect a child’s behavior as well, maybe getting them into trouble within the school system because of them acting out. Thompson also discussed public health, which I am really interested in. I had never heard of the New York-Rikers Island TB outbreak in the 1980s but it’s scary that diseases that spread easily in confined spaces (i.e. prisons) can also begin to come in contact with the general public. Of course, it seems the worst violation is use of prison labor and paying prisoners cents per hour. Thompson did a really nice job tying this issue to minimum wage and why the public also receives low wages. While I am not sure where I stand on having murderers loose in the United States (I watch way too many crime shows for that) Thompson definitely convinced me to reevaluate how I feel about incarceration. It seems prisons haven’t fixed much, as there are still plenty of crimes (heinous or not) committed every day.
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