Thursday, December 22, 2011

Is Prison Culture Killing Our Children?

A. Scott Washington, J.D. | Hip Hop Justice | December 2010

A factor that cannot be ignored when discussing urban violence is over reliance on incarceration in this country. To ignore the causal connection between contemporary criminal justice policy and the rise in youthful urban violence is turning a blind-eye to factors that are rotting the foundation of contemporary urban society.

There are nearly 2.4 million persons incarcerated in state or federal prisons in this country. Half of those persons are African Americans. Obviously, identifiable behavior patterns are associated with African Americans being disproportionately incarcerated. On the other hand, the intersection of public policy and poverty has collided with the forces of history, race, economic theory and human vulnerability to create a social pathology like none seen before in this country. As a result, “prison culture” is now firmly embedded in inner city America.

Following 35 years of tough on crime policy, the affect of generational incarceration and recidivism has created an environment ripe for this new subculture within the inner city. This subculture is fueled by the extremely violent and brutal customs and values that were born within the concrete walls of this country’s correctional institutions.

Prison culture, which is now abundantly present in the inner city, is directly connected to the extreme and pervasive violence we are experiencing in the African American community. These conditions grow exponentially, parallel to the prison population in this country. This phenomenon is cyclical and, as the statistics suggest, actually increase violent criminal activity in both the inner city and suburban communities. Therefore, community safety is significantly compromised by the tough on crime mentality associated with contemporary criminal justice policy; particularly, this country’s drug control efforts that have become the fundamental premise of our national crime policy.

Our children have become the collateral damage of contemporary American criminal justice policy. For many inner city residents and African American children in particular, criminal justice policy and poverty have contributed to a blurring of cultural, as well as social values. During the welfare reform era we spoke about children raising children. What prison culture has resulted in today is children raising themselves. A significant proportion of our inner city youth today are the children of prisoners that inhabit this nation’s prisons. When these children reach adolescence they are typically raising themselves in the bowels of contemporary urban America.

What criminal justice policy and poverty have perpetuated in this country is the social disenfranchisement of African American children. The forces of public policy, poverty, and human vulnerability have conspired to create this new and peculiar universe within the inner city. The apparent evolving nature of this new inner city subculture and its intersection with poverty and social pathology has created an environment ripe for youthful urban violence to flourish.

The questions that must be raised here are: 1) what are we going to do with the massive numbers of unskilled, undereducated, and often, recalcitrant felons that will be returning to our communities over the next several decades (98% of the 2.4 million prisoners in this country will be released)? 2) When will policy be implemented to deal with the flaws and inadequacies in current drug control policy? 3) When are our lawmakers going to present concrete solutions for problems that cannot be conquered by locking up millions of Americans?

A. Scott Washington, J.D. is a formerly incarcerated person who has earned a Bachelors Degree in Urban Studies with an emphasis on contemporary urban problems and a Juris Doctor Degree from the University Of Dayton School Of Law. Also, he is Assistant Professor of Criminal and Social Justice at the University of St. Francis in Joliet, Illinois. A. Scott Washington also co-hosts a radio program entitled, “Hip Hop Justice Radio” which airs Tuesdays & Wednesdays from 6-8 PM CT on Party 934 and 94.9 FM, Hudson Valley New York.

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