#MassIncarceration #NewJimCrow #Judicialinjustice #ForProfitPrisons
“How we treat each other is how we treat the Earth”
“Is our water safe? Surrounded by water that no one can drink!”
Located at the entrance of DeWayne Barton’s installation section known as Urban Nightmares Silent Screams, “Sleeping Justice” sits as a reminder and warning for all about the dangers of enslavement and its many forms in modern society. Mass incarceration in the U.S. has replaced slave-era shackles with prison cells and life sentences for an alarming number of Black and Brown Americans.
The art piece is quite simple: A ship with two flags, one representing freedom covered by a second flag representing enslavement. Accompanied by an African mask, this sculpture is a tribute to those who journeyed across such dangerous waters to the supposed land of freedom.
The sculpture goes even further to draw a parallel between the deadly waters of the past to the toxic waters of today, which can be further explored in the installation section “Is Our Water Safe?”
Content Created by Gemma Gentlesk and Lilley Washburn
Starting with the war on drugs in the Reagan administration (1981), jail time soared for African Americans possessing small amounts of drugs. These nonviolent crime convictions remain the leading cause of mass incarceration. Out of 125,000 federal inmates, 97% have been sentenced for nonviolent crimes (Peláez, 2019).
What started off as a War on Drugs turned into a War on Crime during the Clinton and Bush administrations. During Clinton’s presidency, he signed into effect the 1994 “three strikes provision” to a crime bill, which made life sentences mandatory after two former drug crime convictions.
"The common denominator between convicts that experience recidivism is the lack of opportunities open to them after their sentence." Read more from Caleb Field's essay on Sleeping Justice.
At birth, an African-American male has a 28.5% chance of going to prison; whereas a white man at birth has a 4.4% chance of going to prison. For more information see Growth of Incarceration in the United States (Beck et al, 2014).
Other research-based texts include:
In Asheville, Blacks and African Americans make up approximately 12% of the population, but 40% of the total population in our region's jails and prisons. "Thirty-five percent of resist charges were made against African-Americans, though people who are black make up 12 percent of the city’s population." Even when dismissed, these charges stain the records of those accused, furthering racial disparity by decreasing the likelihood they will be accepted to jobs or receive fair pay.
(See Citizen Times) Only 4.5% of higher education degrees last year were earned by a Black student.
On a local level, Buncombe County alone historically contributed to 22% of black individuals on North Carolina's death row in 2010.
Luckily, the Asheville Police Department is recognizing the need for a change in policy and a revamping of programs to raise awareness of, as well as hopefully deter, racial profiling. Such processes being taught include "Fair and Impartial Policing," "Racial Equity Institute," and "Integrating Communications, Assessment and Tactics (ICAT)."
(See Citizen Times)
PRIVATE PRISON PROFIT MOTIVES
The rise of for-profit prisons has created a financial incentive to persecute social groups. Companies such as IBM, Boeing, Motorola, Microsoft, Target, Revlon, and Macy’s are laying off regular workers to hire labor from private prisons because they can pay workers a tiny fraction of what they would have to normally pay (Peláez). In state-run prisons, inmates usually work for minimum wage; in privately run prisons, the inmates can earn as little as $0.25 per hour for a six-hour shift, or about $20 a month (Peláez).
This amounts to little more than slavery, and when the fact that most of the inmates are black is considered, it begs the question, is this just a new, justified, form of human bondage?
Legislative Efforts / Advocacy Efforts
1. Eliminate Imprisonment for Lower-Level Crimes
2. Make Sentences Proportional to Crimes
3. Abolish Cash Bail
4. Reform Prosecutor Incentives
5. Reform Marijuana Laws
6. Calibrate Fines to Defendants’ Ability to Pay and Eliminate Fees
7. Reduce Opioid Deaths
COMPOUNDING ECONOMIC INEQUALITIES
Economic inequality among African Americans is cyclical. Low-income housing in low-income neighborhoods produces low quality schools. In consequence, on average children have low education levels compared to wealthy neighborhoods. Low education leads to few legitimate jobs creating an unstable economy in the neighborhood.
"The problems plaguing poor communities of color include problems associated with crime and rising incarceration rates are functions of poverty and the lack of access to quality education (which is separate and unequal), thus continuing the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow." Read more of Michelle Alexander's book The New Jim Crow.
STORIES FROM THE GARDEN
Under the direction of DeWayne Barton and Jessica Pisano, UNC Asheville LANG 120 students picked a sculpture and explored the complex social issues hidden behind each work through written reflections:
"I was confused on why these two flags were placed together on this piece, the meaning behind these pieces couldn’t be more different. Then as I approached the rear of the ship (the stern) it contained a constructed cage of sorts with pictures of modern inmates. That is when I realized what this specific installation represents within our society in the peace garden. It represents a dark part of our society’s history and how it still looms over us and manages to suppress people. This new leading industrial system as we know it is prison."
"Incarceration in the US is socially concentrated among African Americans. African-American males with little or no schooling have a statistically higher chance of being imprisoned during their lifetime. The discrimination towards this race is seen throughout their lifetime, but statistically starting as soon as they are born. At birth, an African-American male has a 28.5% chance of going to prison; whereas a white man at birth has a 4.4% chance of going to prison."
"Urban Renewal, a program of land redevelopment in areas where there is urban decay, had played a major role in transforming many African American communities in Asheville. Many
neighborhoods were left so fragmented by this policy, they never recovered their identities."
"Asheville schools, like Asheville City Schools are still under a desegregation order. Asheville City Schools’ Racial Equity Report Card shows that 60.6 percent of students in the district are white while black students make up 22.4 percent. Black students also receive 57 percent of all short-term suspensions, even though they make up such a small percentage of the student population."