Sharon Higgins, parent activist in Oakland, writes:
Comment Mass incarceration is the huge elephant in the room that arrived AFTER Lyndon Johnson was trying to address the harmful effects of poverty in 1965. Its effects must be added to the mix of what public school teachers have to deal with.
Back in 1972, the U.S. had 300,000 people in jails and prisons. In 2008 that number was up to 2.3 million, with an additional 5 million on probation and parole. The astronomical increase was largely due to “drug war” policies.
Get this: the U.S. ranks #1 with imprisonment of its citizens at 715 prisoners per 100,000. To put this in perspective, Russia is #2 at 584, and Belarus is #3 at 554. Finland is #113 at 71. http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/cri_pri_per_cap-crime-prisoners-per-capita
The mass incarceration being carried out in the U.S. has disproportionately affected people of color. In 2004, the Kirwan Institute reported that the number of incarcerated African Americans increased 800% since the 1950s. From a Sentencing Project report: “The rapid growth of incarceration has had profoundly disruptive effects that radiate into other spheres of society.
The persistent removal of persons from the community to prison and their eventual return has a destabilizing effect that has been demonstrated to fray family and community bonds…” In other words, it is damaging to kids. http://www.sentencingproject.org/doc/publications/inc_iandc_complex.pdf (865 KB) It is a national disgrace that politicians and ed reformers in our “land of the free” won’t bother to acknowledge our grotesquely ugly mass incarceration problem, not to mention our child poverty rate.
The impact of mass incarceration on children is just one of our many societal ills heaped on public school teachers’ plates. Michelle Alexander and Bryan Stevenson talk about mass incarceration with Bill Moyers here: http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/04022010/watch.html .