Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, writes in the July issue of Sojourners Magazine that when it comes to the U.S. system of mass incarceration, “We face a profound moral and spiritual crisis, not merely a social, political, or economic one.” Alexander references the newly released book by Prison Studies Project Director Dr. Kaia Stern regarding our moral and spiritual obligation to dismantle the U.S. penal system, i.e. the New Jim Crow. As excerpted from the article: “The system of mass incarceration is rotten to its core. As Kaia Stern eloquently explains in her book Voices from American Prisons, the quintupling of our prison populations in a few short decades and the relegation of tens of millions of people to a permanent second-class status is a reflection of the fact that we in the United States are captive to a ‘spirit of punishment.’ She writes, ‘There is no more pressing human rights issue, no more urgent spiritual crossroads or threat to democracy, than the current penal crisis.'” You can read the full article by purchasing a short- or long-term subscription to Sojourners, or look for the issue in your local bookstore or public library.
Voices From American Prisons: Faith, Education and Healing is a comprehensive and unique contribution to understanding the dynamics and nature of penal confinement. In this book, author Kaia Stern describes the history of punishment and prison education in the United States and proposes that specific religious and racial ideologies – notions of sin, evil and otherness – continue to shape our relationship to crime and punishment through contemporary penal policy. Inspired by people who have lived, worked, and studied in U.S. prisons, Stern invites us to rethink the current ‘punishment crisis’ in the United States.
In October 2013, the Mayor of Philadelphia issued an executive order to change official city language in reference to previously incarcerated individuals. The article states: “The hundreds of thousands of Philadelphians who have served time in prison will no longer be referred to as “ex-offenders” in official city language, the mayor’s office announced Thursday. Instead, an ordinance will be introduced to call them ‘returning citizens.’ In a statement, Mayor Nutter said that the new term emphasizes reintegration, while “‘ex-offender’ carries with it a stigma which may increase the challenges these citizens face.””
Read the full article on The Inquirer website, philly.com.
In a simple graphic seen in the States of Incarceration: The Global Context report on the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) website, PPI charted the comparative incarceration rates of every U.S. state alongside the world’s nations. While there are certainly important differences between how U.S. states handle incarceration, placing each state in a global context reveals that incarceration policy in every region of this country is out of step with the rest of the world. If the incarceration rates of individual U.S. states and territories are compared with that of other nations, for example, we see that 36 states and the District of Columbia have incarceration rates higher than that of Cuba, which is the nation with the second highest incarceration rate in the world. As U.S. states continue to reevaluate their own hefty reliance on incarceration, this study recommends that they look to the broader global context for evidence that incarceration need not be the default response to larger social problems.
To read or download the report for free, visit The National Academies Press website. The Growth of Incarceration in the United States examines research and analysis of the dramatic rise of incarceration rates and its affects. This study makes the case that the United States has gone far past the point where the numbers of people in prison can be justified by social benefits and has reached a level where these high rates of incarceration themselves constitute a source of injustice and social harm.
The Growth of Incarceration in the United States recommends changes in sentencing policy, prison policy, and social policy to reduce the nation’s reliance on incarceration. The report also identifies important research questions that must be answered to provide a firmer basis for policy. The study assesses the evidence and its implications for public policy to inform an extensive and thoughtful public debate about and reconsideration of policies.