Monday, January 20, 2014

On MLK Day, Commitment and Leadership Necessary for Solutions

Here are some disturbing statistics. According to The Sentencing Project, "More than 60% of the people in prison are now racial and ethnic minorities," and "two-thirds of all persons in prison for drug offenses are people of color." These disproportionate numbers indicate a serious problem in the criminal justice system, a problem that begins with many people of color at an early age, for a report by the National Council of Crime and Delinquency shows that
the juvenile justice system is anything but equal for all. Throughout the system, youth of color--especially African American youth— receive different and harsher treatment for similar offenses.
The report explores the disparities in justice meted out to whites and to minority populations. Anyone concerned about justice in our country should be concerned about these disparities, disparities that show up throughout the criminal justice system, beyond youth detention. Concerned citizens and legislators are coming together to address the issue and to offer solutions. Community support--local commitment and leadership, as well as national--is the first step. And that's what we are beginning to see in Louisiana--people joining together to look for solutions to this state's high incarceration rate.

The "Safe and Fair Louisiana" forum scheduled this week at the Abita Springs Town Hall is one outcome of this movement to guarantee equal justice for all. The event, sponsored by The Pelican Institute and the Louisiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, will take place on Thursday, 23 January, at 7 p.m.. We are looking forward to the panelists' educating the public about the issue and discussing solutions.

Of course, we also have years of research available that demonstrate that early childhood education for at-risk populations is one way of addressing the potentiality of criminalization. Providing people with a good education (click here for a well-known study) has long been recognized as a deterrent to crime. We know this, and yet there is always political resistance to increasing funding to childhood education programs such as Head Start. We know this, and yet support of good public schools continues to be eroded. As one of our own local leaders, Bishop E. René Soulé, says:
When we are willing to invest our tax dollars in incarceration, which has a small return on investment, instead of education, which has a huge return on investment, there is a priority problem at the state level.
Perhaps with leadership and public commitment, Louisiana can shed its dubious distinction as the prison capital of the world.

video below accessed first from ActionNews17 website. See also, Northshore Black Elected Officials Coalition and Associates.

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