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Kevin Park, Samantha Wetton, Olivia Wise December 13, 2012 Social Justice and The City Prof.

Laura Liu Mass Imprisonment & The City Introduction Imprisonment has become normalized as a defining institutional experience in the lives of males of color living in low-income urban neighborhoods. Rather than understood as a possible threat to oppressed communities, this racial disparity is widely hidden and has become a symptom of poverty accepted by the American public. Low-income urban neighborhoods, otherwise termed ghettos, and prisons work in similar ways as they both capture and contain marginalized groups of urban residents, creating a set of social and cultural norms that function to segregate and immobilize. One such system is the school-to-prison pipeline, a uniquely poor urban phenomenon, which functions within the American public education system. Upon release, ex-prisoners have severe trouble re-entering society due to the lack of support and rehabilitation practices. In many respects, release from prison does not represent freedom for these individuals, but a new phase of prison like control, which perpetuates the cycle of oppression and exclusion in low income communities of color. The War on Drugs has allowed for the criminalization of people of color, specifically low-income males of color; this criminalization, manifested on the federal level, directly creates disproportionate impacts for local, urban communities through oppressive systems, such as the School-to-Prison Pipeline and the establishment of the urban ghetto as a second prison in itself. Following the War on Drugs, new legislation and policies have enabled disproportionate impacts on poor populations of color, their families, and the low-income neighborhoods in which they live. These impacts have been perpetuated by the prison-industrial-complex, which counts on the militarization and heightened surveillance of inner-city neighborhoods to ensure mass incarceration of a targeted group. The misleading media sensationalization, linking drug crime to marginalized populations, has been especially problematic due to its level of high social influence. The overexposure of these linkages has led to a shift in policy, upheld by the federal government, which emphasizes punishment rather than prevention. De jure and de facto laws and practices currently in place, leave arrests and criminality open to the interpretation of the police force. Like the general population, police officers have been overexposed to inaccurate narratives of drug use in relation to poor residents of color in urban neighborhoods, which manifests itself in acts of racial profiling and disproportionate arrests of targeted groups. The Mechanisms of Mass Imprisonment

In the last thirty years, the United States penal population has rapidly increased from around 300,000 to more than 2 million. Approximately sixty percent of Americas prison population is African American, and one quarter of all black men are likely to be imprisoned at some point in their lifetimes. The racial disproportionality of the American prison system is largely due to institutional racial discrimination (Silverstein 1). This monumental increase in prison occupants does not reflect a nationwide crime wave as the majority of the prison occupants are in fact locked up for non-violent drug convictions. In actuality, the rate of violent crime has dropped significantly in the past three decades. Similarly, the stark racial disparities cannot be explained by rates of drug crime. Studies show that people of all races both use and sell illegal drugs at remarkably similar rates (Alexander 7). If there are differences, they seem to suggest that white youth are more likely to engage in drug crime than people of color. However, despite this data, dynamic urban areas across the country see as many as eighty percent of their young black male population acquiring criminal records and being thrust into a system of continued oppression for the remainder of their lives (Alexander 7). It seems absurd that a country which claims racial equality could support a system that blatantly disproportionately affects low-income communities of color. However, what has changed since the collapse of slavery and Jim Crow has less to do with the basic structure of society than with the new justifications for how and why we discriminate. In this current era of colorblindness, society generally frowns upon the use of race as a justification for discrimination, exclusion or contempt. Therefore, there is a widespread belief among whites, deeply and ironically reinforced by the demise of open racial prejudice, that African-Americans enjoy equal colorblind opportunity (Street 31). This view allows society to blame inner-city minorities for their own failure to match white performance and to believe in the argument that people of color who do not succeed fall short due to their poor choices or inherent cultural or even biological limitations (Street 36). However, the truth is that we utilize our criminal justice system to systematically label people of color as criminals. Once unfairly categorized, the systematic exclusion and mass incarceration of an entire racial group becomes socially acceptable. Therefore, many people attribute the staggering increase in incarceration rates in low income communities of color to the predictable, though unfortunate, consequences of poverty, racial segregation, unequal educational opportunities, and the presumed realities of the drug market, including the mistaken belief that most drug dealers are black or brown (Alexander 4). If we take this new racism as an unfortunate fact of our modern colorblind society, it becomes pertinent to ask how it has become institutionalized, resulting in the mass imprisonment of a staggering percentage of the American black population. The rise in the prison population directly coincides with President Ronald Reagans announcement of the War on Drugs in 1982. Although it would be a an exaggeration to state that mass incarceration rests on the drug war alone, the sensational media frenzy that surrounded this legislation worked to villainize the black community in the minds of the American public at large. The media saturation showing images of black crack whores, crack dealers, and crack babies, worked to confirm the worst

negative racial stereotypes about poor inner-city residents, creating a moral panic that solidified prejudices about crime and communities of color (Alexander 5). The resulting damage of the media frenzy surrounding the War on Drugs can be observed in the institutionalized racial discrimination which inherently links black communities to violent drug crime. In 1995, the Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education published a study in which they asked participants to close their eyes and describe their vision of a typical drug dealer. The results showed that ninety-five percent of the respondents pictured a black drug user (Alexander 106). These results sharply contrast the reality of drug crime in the United States, where African-Americans constitute only fifteen percent of drug users. It is therefore apparent how impactful racially charged political rhetoric and media imagery of the drug war has been on shaping public opinion, including that of law enforcement officials. Given the way in which crime has been framed in the media and political discourse following the War on Drugs, there has been a high risk of racial bias in the administration of criminal justice. The injustice in that people of color are more likely to be targeted for crime should be of great concern to the Supreme Court, who has the responsibility of guaranteeing constitutional rights for all Americans. However, not only does this institution of high power not protect citizens of color from racial profiling, but have actively granted law enforcement officials extraordinary discretion regarding whom to stop and where to stop them, ensuring that both conscious and unconscious racial beliefs are given free reign (Alexander 108). The Supreme Courts evisceration of the Fourth Amendment, which includes protections against unreasonable searches and seizures by the police, is key to understanding how the overwhelming majority of people who get swept into the criminal justice system turn out to be black or brown, even though the police adamantly deny that they engage in racial profiling (Alexander 123). Defending against claims of racial bias in policing has become easy due to the fact that race is never the only reason for a stop and search, and therefore any police officer with a fifth grade education will be able to cite multiple nonracial reasons for initiating an encounter (Alexander 124). This discretion has led to controversial policies, which include New Yorks stop-and-frisk, that bring up important social justice issues such as racial profiling, illegal stops, and privacy rights. These are the social problems that ultimately lead to a disproportionate number of black and brown people in the prison system. The effects of the increased militarization and surveillance of impoverished inner-city communities of color have deeply impactful consequences at the local level. The hypersegregation of poor communities of color in the inner-city has made mass drug arrests easy. Not only do narratives of the poor black drug user inform policing efforts, but mass arrests and police brutality are more active in low-income neighborhoods than anywhere else. Populations that live within these urban ghettos lack political power and have little knowledge of their citizenship rights. What happens to these communities is scarcely noticed by urban populations living outside of low-income neighborhoods and beyond the ghettos invisible walls. Thus it is here, in Americas poverty-stricken, racially segregated inner cities, that the drug war has been waged with the greatest ferocity (Alexander 124). This overt discrimination and concentration

of drug law enforcement in low-income communities of color is often justified in our color blind era, and the assumption that drug related crime occurs strictly within urban ghettos has become normalized within American culture. Therefore, there has been no question about the increased militarization and heightened levels of surveillance within the inner-city, which has both led to and reinforced a cyclical system of mass imprisonment between the prison and the ghetto for the last thirty years. The Prison and the Urban Ghetto The United States prison system has become a fast producing machine of cultural and social symbolism (Wacquant 83). There seem to be two defining features of mass imprisonment: an increase in the size of the prison population and the systematic imprisonment of marginalized groups (Garland 1). The latter adheres to a distinctive shift from the incarceration of individual offenders to that of an entire population. The socio-spatial impacts of mass imprisonment are generally concentrated in urban low-income neighborhoods. Although the mass imprisonment holds national and international importance, it becomes localized to urban centers due to the disproportionate number of low-income males of color in prisons, negatively impacting their everyday lives, and those of their families. The American prison has become the most defining institution of power in the life structure of this targeted group as well as their families and communities. Due to a normalization of imprisonment for low-income males of color, a criminal underclass had been created in the United States (Garland 2). Imprisonment has become a centralized feature of the contemporary metropolis. There is a racialized socio-spatial pattern within urban centers resulting from the disproportionate number of inmates and ex-convicts coming from our cities most devastated neighborhoods (Simon). In his writing, Loic Wacquant (2001) explores the over-incarceration of blacks through a carceral continuum in the never-ending cycle between the prison and the urban ghetto. His argument is both historical and institutional, noting that there are continuing economic and political forces that have been a result of mass incarceration making the makeup of the ghetto more like a prison and simultaneously impacting prisons in ways that resemble the existing social order of urban ghettos. Contemporary prisons are most obviously linked to urban ghettos in that the majority of inmates come from central areas of the nations major cities. Together, these two institutions function to further define, confine, and control African Americans in the U.S. (Wacquant 85). Dominant groups and social institutions exclude black residents, forcing them to live in underserved low-income neighborhoods, and denying them equal access in mainstream society (Wacquant 89). This continuous cycle perpetuates the marginalization of low-income urban black populations as well as the remaking of racial stereotypes through a criminal lens. Once released, prisoners return to disinvested neighborhoods, only to be soon caught again in a self-perpetuating cycle of escalating socioeconomic marginality and legal incapacitation (Wacquant 83).

There is an undeniable relationship between the disproportionate incarceration of lowincome people of color and the federal, economic, and social systems which fail them outside of prison. Mass incarceration leads to the civic death of these young males of color. They return home as second-class citizens in that they are denied access to cultural capital, excluded from social redistribution, and banned from political participation. Such inequalities manifest themselves in societal systems including education, the workforce, public housing and welfare, thus exhibiting ways in which new vacuums of state bureaucracies and social controls are problematically placed within low-income urban neighborhoods. A decline in employment opportunity and denied access to the workforce may lead young black males to other forms of profit such as illegal drug selling, then increasing their risk of arrest and imprisonment (Pettit and Western 154). Upon their release from prison, individuals have their voting rights retracted for twelve years, are turned away from public and subsidized housing, and denied access to necessities such as food stamps, accessible health care, and quality public schools. In addition, due to a lack of prisoner rehabilitation, individuals often become homeless after they have been released. Once homeless, ex-prisoners may even get their children taken away from them as they are now considered unfit to support a family. The heightened surveillance of low-income urban neighborhoods operates as an additional threat and form of social control for males of color. The number of police cars on the ground and extended parole sentencing periods, creates a confining atmosphere in urban ghettos. Due to this extensive surveillance, ex-prisoners, their families, and their surrounding communities experience confining and controlling life cycles, similar to that within prison walls (Wacquant 93). The contemporary criminal justice and prison systems continue to increase the already widening gap between the rights and privileges of marginalized groups of color and the rest of society (Wacquant 83). Upon release from prison, ex-convicts re-enter society in hopes of beginning a new life for themselves and their families. However, they soon discover that the life in which they return to is not so different from the institutional framework of the prison that they have left. The causes and effects of this unjust pattern are cyclical. Failing welfare programs, lack of housing, little access to quality health and education, and heightened on the ground policing are just examples of tools used to further contain, surveille, and marginalize ex-prisoners. This cycle is only restarted upon release from prison and, once again, individuals enter a world of limited mobility. Today, the urban ghetto is not a place of safety with community support for the reentry of ex-prisoners, but serves the negative economic function of storage of a surplus population devoid of market utility, in which respect it also increasingly resembles the prison system (Wacquant 92). The School-to-Prison Pipeline The School-to-Prison Pipeline is one systematic tool within the public education system, which further contains, surveills, and segregates groups of low-income black students in urban areas. The School-to-Prison Pipeline (STPP) refers to the collection of education and public safety policies and practices that push our nations schoolchildren out of the classroom

and into the streets, the juvenile justice system, or the criminal justice system (Archer 2010, 868). This system disproportionately impacts youth of color (NYCLU, Factsheet). What makes STPP an urban issue is that these policies and practices excessively effect under resourced schools, which are predominantly racially segregated and tend to be located in poor areas (Hatt 478). The means by which the STPP operates to push students of color into the prison industrial complex are through excessive disciplinary referrals, suspensions and expulsions. In addition, the STPP makes the reentry of violating students into the public school system after their extremely difficult. Though framed as a measure to increase safety in schools and improve the quality of school environments, the use of harsh disciplinary practices actually produce disproportionately harmful effects for students of color. Reagans War on Drug campaign, which emphasizes harsh punishment over treatment and prevention, has led to a shift in policies toward increasingly punitive measures (Tuzzolo & Hewitt 61). Policies that have come as a result in this shift have led to the rise of Zero Tolerance policies in the 1990s, a national educational policy, which mandates a 1 year expulsion for the possession of a firearm and the referral of violating students to the police. However, this policy has been reinterpreted by school administrators, districts and state legislatures to include mandatory expulsion for drugs and alcohol, fighting, gang membership, threats, and/or swearing. Since the implementation of the Zero Tolerance policy in the public education system during the 1970s, the number of suspensions have doubled. This is extremely problematic because Zero Tolerance disproportionately impacts black students: black students are 2.6 times more likely to be suspended than white students (Hatt 478). Strategies for Rehabilitation Ex-convicts have severe trouble re-entering normal life cycles upon their release. In many respects, release from prison does not represent the beginning of freedom but a new phase of prison like control. Many laws, rules, and regulations systematically work to keep these prisoners at a disadvantage. The further marginalization of ex-prisoners, who are disproportionately low-income men of color, will not be fully addressed until contemporary cities focus their efforts on prisoner reentry (Delgado 2012). That said, there is a slow increase of nonprofits and community organizations who serve as source of support and leadership for exconvicts upon reentry. These organizations initiate forms of community development and organizing, which encourage the reconnection of former prisoners and ask for empathy from their families, neighborhoods, and cities outside of prison. Programs, such as the Brownsville Community Justice Center community garden, provide ex-prisoners with a means to reintegrate themselves into their neighborhood and lessen the possibility of recidivism. This collaborative project between the Department of Probation, Xmental, and the public art group Groundswell, has created a community garden program and a series of mural projects within the neighborhood. This program allows for local probationers to design and sustain a community garden, which benefits their fellow neighbors and supports exprisoners in a time of social immobility. Similar programs provide support needed in order to

help ex-offenders return to their communities while also bringing stability to urban neighborhoods with high incarceration rates. Such efforts focus on finding employment, healthcare, and housing for individuals on probation. The Million Dollars Blocks project by the Justice Mapping Center has also created a positive change in the communities affected by prisons through the visual representation of the city-prison-city-prison migration flow. In the 1980s, three out of every four inmates came from one of seven low-income majority black neighborhoods (Wacquant 101). Neighborhoods such as Harlem, the South Bronx, and Brownsville, represent some of New York Citys poorest communities and also provide city prisons with a disproportionate number of inmates (Wacquant 101). The neighborhood of Brownsville is one low-income community, which continues to cycle local residents in and out of the New York prison system. However, due to statistical data published by initiatives such as the Million Dollar Blocks Project, and the publicity surrounding these projects, the community have gained attention and have been able to garner forms of reinvestment by the city, state, and Department of Probation. Further marginalizing already criminalized ex-offenders and their impoverished neighborhoods through failing public programs, threatening forms of surveillance, and confining labels of criminality, eventually leads to cycles of re-incarceration and a carceral continuum between the prison and the urban ghetto (Wacquant). Community organizations have the potential to interrupt this institutional continuum and spark a rehabilitative process by building social capital within urban neighborhoods and serving as a beacon of inspiration for the community (Delgado 142). Conclusion The way in which racism, masquerading as criminality, has been widely accepted by the general public as an unfortunate truth of poverty, has served to underemphasize the large immoral disparities in the U.S. prison population. The systematic mass incarceration of lowincome males of color has had horrible effects on their families, communities, and inner-city neighborhoods. The failing institutional systems that curb the life chance of the population living in Americas inner cities, work in conjunction with the militarized surveillance of the inner-city by law enforcement to ensure that these populations will be locked up whether they are inside or outside the prison walls. The ways in which these racially discriminatory systems operate necessitate approaching the issue of mass imprisonment in new and radical ways. While the cycle of imprisonment for poor males of color seems unapproachable, solutions for reform and rehabilitation are being initiated on the neighborhood, city, and national level. Ideas for policy reform have included the repealing of the War on Drugs, a stricter adherence to the Fourth Amendment by the Supreme Court, a repeal of jail time for non-violent crimes, amnesty and release for prisoners convicted of non-violent crimes, ending of new prison construction, and the repeal of laws that deny voting rights, public housing, food stamps, and higher education to ex-prisoners. However, the most

radical solution remains to be the universal decriminalization of narcotics, an idea that is slowly taking shape across the United States. The issue of mass incarceration negatively impacts a variety of marginalized groups within low income communities of color in the United States. The recent increase in the rate of incarceration of women and students of color with disabilities, exhibits a trend in the militarization and punishment of our society. In order to ensure that other populations do not also become heavily impacted by the system of mass incarceration, the social discourse around mass incarceration must change. We need to begin to understand which groups are both directly and indirectly targeted and impacted by the failing carceral system in the United States.

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