The African-American Community and Incarceration: Silent Too Long!

Written by

Henrie Treadwell
Henrie Treadwell Dr. Treadwell is Director and Senior Social Scientist for Community Voices of Morehouse School of Medicine and Research Professor in the Department of Community Health and Preventive Medicine. Her major responsibilities include program oversight and management for Community Voices: Healthcare for the Underserved, a special informing policy initiative that is funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Dr. Treadwell is the co-editor of “Health Issues in the Black Community (2009)” and is Section Editor-Social Determinants in the Journal of Men’s Health. Dr. Treadwell was appointed to the Georgia State Board of Corrections by Governor Sonny Perdue and selected to serve on the Advisory Committee for the Georgia Justice Project.

The impact of the mass incarceration of African American men in the U.S. for largely the same group of drug-related crimes are monstrous and devastating on all of society. In the United States, African Americans, who are 12% of the population, are 44+ percent of the prison population.

But there is particular poignancy when one notes that 43% of African American women will never marry, largely due to the incarceration of many African American men with disproportionately long sentences (absolutely and when compared to the sentences of White men). The impact of a felony conviction generally means that the men will have a difficult to impossible time finding work at a living wage that pays health benefits. It means that the children of these men have a higher possibility themselves of following in the footsteps of their fathers into jail and prison. It means that in some states in the United States, examples of the unwillingness to help heal spirits is demonstrated when state-level legislators refuse to permit Food Stamps for those returning home from prison even though these Food Stamps could help pay for treatment in a recovery center, even a faith-based one. This silent almost invisible movement that has led to incarceration of as much as 15% of the African American male population has gone largely unremarked by the African American community. Often, when remarked upon, there has been much blame to pass around. However, given the severe impact of mass incarceration on state budgets, many policymakers now seek to find alternatives to incarceration and effective pathways back home. The major barrier may be the everyday exercise of leadership by everyone who has administrative access to policies that affect the ability to open the doors to public housing, to jobs that pay a living wage, to education, to reunification with the families when this is a mutual goal without the fear of overwhelming childcare debt that makes it impossible for father, mother, or child to thrive and survive. The solution to the mass incarceration of African Americans rests on the shoulders of the African American community. Policymakers can only do so much; the extended African American family must embrace and help heal those who have made mistakes, who have paid their redemptive debt to society, and who now seek to join again in the work of building a strong community. Silent still,..  Or silent no more. Which way will the community go?

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