Saturday, December 3, 2016

New York State Prisons and Racial Bias

   Unfortunately, many of the reactionary, knee-jerk comments in the NY Times piece The Scourge of Racial Bias in New York State Prisons by Michael Schwirtz, Michael Winerip and Robert Gebeloff on December 3, 2016 reflect why radical prison reform is practically impossible in this country; especially in the wake of the contentious 2016 presidential race as an administration - comprised predominantly of aggrieved white ethnics strikingly similar to the rural, isolated communities many of the guards and institutions are located - comes to national power.

   Many of these same people would be outraged if the ignorant, racist guards (many who can barely read or write) treated an animal - e.g., pet, dog, cat, gerbil ex cetera - in the same despicable manner they treat these inmates (or other guards who happen to be black. Interestingly, I read no comments on systemic racism impacting black guards) with little or no oversight or accountability.

   So, what these self-righteous commentators - making overly broad generalizations, casting a huge swath of non-violent offenders as "violent criminals" because they may be housed in a "maximum security facility" sans any objective evidence to support such conclusions - fail to note is that the vast majority or approximately 90% of these inmates are serving on average six year sentences.

   Demoralized, brutalized, under-educated, and under-trained, most invariably return to the same environment that nurtured their criminal exploits upon release. Unless they are fortunate enough to land a conscientious parole officer (which is a huge stretch considering most parole officers are barely a cut above the very parolees they supervise), who can immediately divert them into job training and job readiness programs that leads to actual employment (and, hopefully, a liveable wage).

   Until that occurs routinely, prison is not the end of the line for these people. It is just the beginning. And black and brown communities will continue to be plagued by broken families, drug and alcohol abuse, and disproportionately high crime rates. If progressive thinking prison reform advocates, mass incarceration opponents, radical reformers and change agents want to see wholesale reform that will have a ripple effect on crime and punishment in this country, tie prison vocational-education programs to United States Department of Labor apprenticeship or journeyman models enabling inmates to gain a marketable skill before release that can take them from the "big house" to the "club house."

   This reform will never happen, though. There is little or no will for it within the state legislature. So, the same aggrieved white ethnics who are over-represented among the guards in these brutal warehouses will fight tooth and nail to prevent it from threatening their livelihood while their buddies offer up a hackneyed refrain complaining that a common-sense proposal to train these inmates to discourage recidivism is rewarding the criminals...

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