No Surprise to US
By Mika’il DeVeaux, Co-Founder Citizens Against Recidivism, Inc., Member MANA Re-Entry Resource Cmt
The Pew Report lamenting the number of people currently incarcerated in the United States (One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008) was a surprise to many, but should have come to no surprise to people of color. At current Bureau of Justice Statistics’ estimates, a black male has a 1 in three chance of being incarcerated in his life time compared to a 1 in 6 chance for a Hispanic male and a 1 in seventeen chance for a white male. In addition, the chances of a black female going to prison in her lifetime was more than twice as likely as that of a Hispanic female and six times as likely as a white female.
What is not commonly known, is that one of every 5 people incarcerated in any of the penal intuitions around the world are housed in a prison or jail in the United States (See R. Walmsley’s World Prison Population List, Seventh Edition, 2007). Since the late 1990s, the United States has been known by some researchers as “The Great Incarcerator”. Beginning in the early 1970s, the US prison population count has steadily risen some 700 percent because of the nation’s over-reliance on the use of incarceration as a means to solve both economic and social problems. In 1903, WEB DuBois wrote in his The Souls of Black Folk that “the black folks say that only colored boys are sent to jail, and they not because they are guilty, but because the State needs criminals to eke out its income by their forced labor.”
What’s puzzling about the continued growth in the nation’s rates of incarceration is that it has come despite increasingly lower rates of crime; crime rates now are lower than they were in the 1960s. What is known is that changes in criminal justice policies that include increases in the likelihood of being sent to prison as a result of a conviction and increases in the length of the time spent there as a result of “truth in sentencing” and “three strikes you are out” policies are partly to blame for the spike. Even so, researchers at the Sentencing Project have long since illustrated the disproportionate rates at which people of color, particularly blacks, have been and are currently incarcerated compared to others in their report on this issue (Uneven Justice: State Rates of Incarceration by Race and Ethnicity). The state level variations unearthed in their study are generally obscured when national figures are highlighted. Each state, however, shows the same trend: black to white rations of incarceration run from 14 to 1 in Iowa to 2 to 1 in Hawaii.
Rising numbers present additional challenges
The Bureau of Justice Statistics projects that at least 95% of all State prisoners will eventually be released from prison. Some estimate that as many as 700,000 people will return from prison per year around the nation. These figures present additional hardships to already stressed mostly urban communities of color. Many of these communities receive both adult and juvenile offenders in environments that are plagued with drugs and criminal activities, broken dysfunctional families and homes. Furthermore, the receipt of those returning will challenge poor communities’ ability to provide housing and employment to a population with limited skills and education; for example, about 50% of black males in New York City are already unemployed. In addition, some researches advise that a large percentage of the people incarcerated in prison are over 55 years old .
The role of the ‘din’ (religion)
Despite the challenges, communities of faith and their allies may increase the likelihood of positive outcomes for people returning from prison. Recently, there has been increasing attention drawn to the supposed strength of collaborations between faith-based community efforts at crime prevention and re-entry. Since the development of penal philosophy, religion has played a role. People of faith have influenced education and rehabilitation programming during incarceration and provided even more services to people returning from prison and their families including guidance, food, clothing, shelter, assistance obtaining employment, help finding treatment and more. There is a growing body of literature suggesting that religion not only reduces crime, but also has an impact on the rate at which people return to prison after being released.
Every Muslims who makes a sincere effort to adhere to the tenants of Islam, knows the extent that Islam can influence the psycho-social/psycho-spiritual transformation of any who have strayed from the path of Allah and seek to return. The Muslim Alliance in North American (MANA) has put the re-entry of people returning from prison at the top of its domestic agenda. MANA is currently engaged in efforts to develop strategies to assist Muslims and others interested in developing re-entry initiatives and establish re-entry programming in places where there is a need. While reports of rising incarceration rates and the numbers returning from prison might frighten some, people of faith have no reason to despair. We are in the unique position to provide a wide variety of supports when collaborating with like minded people.
“Say: O My servants who have transgressed against themselves! Despair not of the mercy of Allah, verily, Allah forgives all sins. Truly, He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (Qur’an 39:53)
“Never give up hope of Allah's mercy. Certainly no one despairs of Allah's mercy, except the people who disbelieve.'' (Qur’an 12: 87)