by Rev. April Johnson, Reconciliation Ministries
"Justice Not Jails", "Graduation, Not Incarceration", and "School Yards, Not Prison Yards" are all taglines intended to draw attention and build awareness for the phenomenon called Mass Incarceration. It refers to the disproportionate number of namely, black and brown men represented in the nation's prison system in comparison to their representation in the nation's total population. People of color represent 30% of the United States population, yet they comprise 60% of the prison population according to 2010 Census data. When added to the data which shows a 500% increase in the overall prison population over the past 30 years, we begin to see the trend of over-criminalization and over-incarceration.
The system of mass incarceration is devastating communities and rendering non-violent, low impact offenders unable to return productively to mainstream society. Several factors including socio-economic and implicit race bias effect harsher and longer sentencing for people of color. For this reason, the rate recidivism in offenders of color increases, creating a cycle hopelessness and despair for affected individuals and their communities.
When one of the elders of East Dallas Christian Church became aware of this system of over-incarceration, he along with other elders of the church began a book study. At the end of their study and conversations, their church sponsored General Assembly Item for Research and Reflection #1323 - "Incarceration, Justice and Restoration in the United States." During this biennium between Assemblies, each expression of our church is involved in educational opportunities focused on Mass Incarceration. In addition, a workshop will be held at the General Assembly in Columbus. Below are some models of engagement that may prove helpful in your congregation's efforts to learn what is being done throughout the faith community to affect reform and restorative justice.
- Members in the Kentucky Region working together on pro-reconciliation are exploring the issue through study of Michelle Alexander's book The New Jim Crow; Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.
- The Illinois/Wisconsin Region through their 'One Region, One Book' initiative are studying the impact of institutional injustice in the book A Lesson before Dying by Ernest Gaines.
- The Prison Ministries of the National Benevolent Association provides information and collaboration on topics related to prison and restorative justice.
- PBS Religion & Ethics Newsweekly: Mass Incarceration (Jan. 13, 2012 - 7.5 minutes)
- Overview video (April 2014 - 3.5 minutes)