Many commentators have referred to the U.S. as a throwaway society. Typically, they are referring to our excessive consumption of disposable products. We are a society in which the average family throws out a quarter of its food, and each individual generates around 4.5 pounds of trash every day, all year long. As bad and unsustainable as this is, even more bothersome is our penchant for throwing away people.
One in three black men in America will go to prison during their lifetime. This means families left fatherless. It means that when they are released, these men will likely not be able to vote, hold office, serve on a jury, or obtain many professional licensures. Consequently, job opportunities are severely limited and the chance for re-offending is maximized. Although not nearly as staggering, one in six Latino men will also end up in the wasteland that is an American prison.
Critics might contend that these statistics reflect higher crime rates, but the primary thing they reflect is a system in which Blacks and Latinos are more likely to be stopped, searched, arrested, tried, and convicted than their white counterparts. Indeed, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of South Carolina found that nearly half of all black men in the U.S had been arrested at least once before the age of 23, and about 30 percent had one arrest before their 18th birthday.
Sadly, studies have shown that while we are throwing these young men into the abyss of the corrections system, prison is actually the safest place to be a black man in America. A study conducted in North Carolina in 2011 found that black men were half as likely to die in prison than they were out in society. This isn’t the first time that researchers have found lower death rates among incarcerated marginalized groups, who often receive healthcare and square meals routinely for the first time in their lives when they are inside the big house.
Mahatma Gandhi once commented that you can measure the greatness of a nation by the way it treats its weakest members. Given the statistics presented above, we are, so far, an epic fail.
Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology. Her column is syndicated by Peace Voice.