Thursday, June 26, 2008

This is OUR problem

In the United States, a democratic and free country, there are 2.3 million adults in prison and jail. That means one of every 99 adults is behind bars. In China, a communist and oppressive country, there are 1.5 million adults in prison and jail. That means one of every 708 adults is behind bars.*

Also, minorities continue to make up an enormously disproportionate percentage of the incarcerated. Approximately 41% of the adult prison/jail population is black, while 19% are Hispanic.

One in every nine black men between the ages of 25 and 29 are sitting in prison. Of the same age group, one in every 26 Hispanic men are sitting in prison and one in every 59 white men.

When the numbers are expanded to black men between the ages of 20 and 29, the figure rises dramatically. One in three black men between 20 and 29 are in prison or jail.

Finally, black men have a one in three chance of serving time in prison at some point in their lives. Hispanic men have a 17 percent chance, while white men have a six percent chance.**

Its easy for "white folks," the majority and most privileged population in the US, to look at these figures and say, "Wow, what's their problem?" I've heard this response many times over. But, the truth is, this is not their problem. If African-Americans are Americans, if Hispanic-Americans are Americans, then this, my friends, is OUR problem.

These men are our citizens. These men are our brothers. These men are our family. We need to be concerned and working to make a change.
*Pew Center on the States, February 2008 and the CIA World Factbook, 2008.
**Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2006.


Steve said...

The homes that produce the future inmates are often lead by immature or incompetent parents, and they are sent to urban public schools designed to educate students barely enough to function in society. The settings these youth grow up in feature all manner or illegal and immoral activities which the parents appear unconcerned or too busy to try to counteract.

What seems to have triggered the fastest steps toward this morass is the Great Society programs of Democrat President Johnson, who knew a method to lock in voters when he saw one. I daresay today's liberal political activists in and out of government would not take the mistakes of the sixties back if they promised a plantation-like hold on the political support of the true victims of these programs. We have all learned the costs of telling two generations of black and poor white men that they were unnecessary, and the costs only start with money and prison space.

UnderMidnight said...

The justice system. I just have one thing to say about the justice system: O.J. Simpson.
Twisted Sister has a song proclaiming the need for street justice when evil people get let off the hook for stupid reason. Do I agree with this? I bet even Dee Schneider doesn't agree with that, but the song expresses his frustration about how things have gone.
I honestly don't have a solution to the disproportionate racial numbers and the high number of citizens behind bars. I can run my mouth a lot, but in the end I don't have any answers.

Some people prefer prison to live outside of prison. 3 meals a day. a shower. a bed. and I'm sure other amenities. If I had a say in anything, prison would never ever be considered a viable option. If someone got out they would never ever want to go back. Prison is punishment. I bet China sees things that way as well.
Blah blah blah.

tikesbestfriend said...

Here is a book review by Marty Duren, that I believe speaks to this some extent. Yes, it is our problem, all our us. Here is the link:

Tim Dahl

tikesbestfriend said...

I noticed that the link was broken...

Strider said...

I have not followed Tim's link yet but the other commenters seem to think we should do something with the criminal justice system. It is broken to be sure but I don't think that fixing it will be the solution we are looking for. Back in the 80's my dad was chaplain for a state school for boys. This was a school for Juvenile Offenders. The statistics there were amazing. Almost 97% of inmates there ended up being rearrested and sent back in or moved up to the adult system. One notable exception: If the inmates accepted Christ they almost never came back. I think I see our answer- but it will cost our white churches alot to reach out effectively to the very broken black community in this country.

Mel said...

Strider said it best!

Alyce Faulkner said...

Thanks for calling attention to this Emily.
The fastest growing population in prison is actually women. It's grown 757% since 1977. I was in a women's prison last Monday and visited the PAL, program. (Principles and Life Applications). This is a 12 week Bible study. They memorize Exodus 20, Romans 6, 7, 8 and Matthew, 5, 6 and 7-The entire chapters. The chaplain told me several months ago, these women had to backslide to go and join most churches. Frankly, I was offended and didn't believe it. He was right. I went to minister to them, they ministered to me.

tikesbestfriend said...

I wonder if reaching out to a very broken black community would entail the acknowledgment and repentance for the white community's role in breaking it?

We have many examples in Scripture of whole communities repenting, but that seems to be a foreign concept in our highly individualistic society.

Tim Dahl

Michael and Jenny Clark said...

Emily, thanks for pointing this out. It is amazing to see just how sin tears people apart, and therefore families, neighborhoods, and communities as well. Some of the most amazing stories I have heard from people who do prison ministry is the amount of violence that is completely reduced/halted all together in these prisons when these men repent for the sins in their lives, and receive the grace and forgiveness that comes from the Gospel. Its just awesome to see people desire to turn from their sin in this way and I hope that prisons continue to allow beleivers to minister in those contexts and love and encourage these people with the Gospel.

Christians should wihtout question be concerned about the increasing number of inmates and realize that we are not doing our job in evangelizing our neighborhoods and communities, and offering them the truth of the Gospel which can transform their life, versus a life filled with despair and hopelessness, often filled with crime, poverty, broken homes, and so much more, everything that the World and sin brings.

The witness of the body of Christ can be so much stronger in loving and supporting these people through the challenges of their everyday lives, regardless if they receive Christ after hearing the Gospel or not. Obviously I emphasize the hearing of the Gospel part, because its so important to not only help people with their physical needs, but that should never happen instead of or without sharing the life giving truth of the Gospel with them. Thanks again for pointing this entire issue out.

Joel said...

Emily, I'm not sure what you are driving at here. Are you saying that as Americans we need to do something about the justice system, or as Christians we need to do something about reaching the black and hispanic community, or are you saying something else?

My assumption is that you are saying that we need to do something about the justice system (hence the reason why you compared it to China's), but these numbers don't in and of themselves, make me think that there is something wrong with our justice system. Moving from statistics to an 'ought' is a hard thing to do without further evidence to support the 'ought', but then again, that may not be what you are doing.

Cheerio friend.

Emily Hunter McGowin said...

Joel, I can see why you read me in that way. I should have been more clear. My intention was not to address the problems with the criminal justice system (though there are legion and there may be those who are called to such a task). My intention was to draw attention to the fact that a significant portion of an underprivileged minority are being criminalized in our society, but few have seemed to notice, let alone be alarmed by it and moved to compassion for their plight.

The way I see it, if 30% of young white men were behind bars, the people of God in America would be deeply concerned. Instead, we lament the corruption of the "ghettos" and speak of it as "their issue."

It would seem to me that Jesus would see this group as a "field white unto harvest," like he viewed the Samaritans in John 4. The hopeless, despairing, and demoralized minorities of the US are grasping for something more. And, as others have said, the only real solution is the Kingship of Jesus. I just wish the Bride of Christ in America would be "moved with compassion" just as her Bridegroom was for those "like sheep without a shepherd."

Love you, Joel. Give my love to Gabby,


Steve said...

I certainly hope that all Christians remain truly moved with compassion for these brothers and sisters of ours seemingly trapped in this maelstrom of hopelessness - poverty, addictions, tattered families, illness both chronic and acute, lack of education and wisdom, joblessness, feeling unneeded and unseen....

I feel awed and defeated by this situation. As a nation, we have tried everything, so it seems.

I simply feel like an observer of the Old Testament field of cast-away bones BEFORE the miracle, feeling overwhelmed at the lost hopes and opportunities the bones represented. We can ask our Dear Lord to come to our current scenes of devastation and show His hand of restoration again!