It was against the law during slave days, to teach a slave to read or write — denial of education goes way back. Also, during reconstruction, and later, there were efforts by white lawmakers to have more punitive and longer sentences for crimes they thought black people were more likely to commit. Today, we face a whole spectrum beginning with racial profiling and ending with the large number of black men who have been executed or who await execution on death row.
Then, when looking at issues of public education, I realized the school system here in Atlanta and indeed all over the country was re-segregating and the process was closely connected with the large number of young black men going into the prison system.
Several groups began working to stop this “school to prison” pipeline and we continue today as the problem worsens. One of the worst elements of this tragedy is the connection to money — of course — and the vast sums being spent on building prisons and keeping them filled.
Under President George W. Bush, private prisons started flourishing, often in poor rural areas where people welcomed them, hoping it would improve the local economy. The number of beds for prisoners in each institution and the prison population determine the income the state pays to these private corporations. One can see the analogy of a system where people are traded on Wall Street instead of a slave block in Charleston.
With more than 2 million people in prison, the United States has the world’s highest incarceration rate. If you add those on probation and parole, the figure is 6.5 million, or one in every 32 adults. The majority of U.S. inmates are black males, but prison populations increasingly include Latinos, other minorities, and the poor in general.
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