Illustration courtesy of the Pioneer Log Archive

Biden should take a stand against mass incarceration, systemic injustice

The first year of Joe Biden’s presidency has come and gone, and Biden has not done enough to end of mass incarceration. This is not to say that Biden has not made progress in other realms. However, mass incarceration and the system that supports it is one of the most glaring domestic problems in the United States and must be addressed. 

Almost 2% of the U.S. population are under correctional supervision. This includes those in prison, jail, parole or probation. While 2% may  not sound like a large number, it represents over six million people. Of that group, an estimated two million are made up of imprisoned people. 

People tend to focus on the two million imprisoned. However, including those on probation and parole paints a more accurate picture. Recidivism rates in the U.S. are overwhelming. A report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics examining released prisoners from the years 2012 to 2017 found that out of the 34 states that were monitored, 70% of released imprisoned people would later be sent to prison again.

Mass incarceration is not just affecting the two million people that the Biden administration cites. It is ruining the lives of three times that when accounting for all those trapped within the system. This also does not even begin to look at how many homes, families and communities are actively harmed from this complex network of dehumanization. 

Stemming from systemic racist policies like redlining and the war on drugs Black and Brown communities have historically been targeted by the U.S. government for correctional supervision. 

According to a Pew Research report in 2018 it is estimated that over a third of the imprisoned population are Black Americans, which comes to over 660,000 people. Out of the estimated 10 million people imprisoned in the world, 6.6% are Black Americans. In comparison, Black Americans make up 0.025% of the world’s population.

The Biden administration claims to fight for racial equity, yet it is overlooking some of the grossest human rights violations perpetrated on racial grounds. While I may have focused on statistics representing Black Americans, the problem of mass incarceration extends far beyond one race. 

Unfortunately, Biden has only managed to stop renewing the Department of Justice (DOJ) contracts with private prisons. Do not get me wrong, this is a victory, but it is small compared to the work that needs to be done. This executive order could affect private federal prisons, which only hold about 14,000 Americans.  

An estimated 100,000 Americans are currently incarcerated in private state prisons. The imprisoned are often not paid for any work that they may do, and when they are, 80% of the $0.50-$2.00 per hour wages can be deducted. These are not people imprisoned, these are people enslaved, which is unconstitutional since the implementation of the 13th amendment. 

These prisons remain untouched by the Biden administration and will continue to profit off of an enslaved workforce that is responsible for work of all kinds: farming, furniture, balloons and fishing boots, among many other things.  

Apart from taking public stances and endorsing organizations that are trying to raise awareness of this issue, Biden has the power to change this. As the president, Biden has the clemency power to release those convicted of charges related to marijuana.

Enacting this change would limit the incarcerations caused by the war on drugs. This would also most likely be a favorable decision by the public, because according to the Pew Research Center 91% of adults say marijuana should be legal. 

Biden could take a stance on monetary bail, which keeps an estimated 500,000 poor Americans in pretrial detention facilities. These are imprisoned people who are legally presumed innocent.

Mass incarceration is harming the lives of millions in our country. It can be considered one of the greatest issues of racial inequity in our country. If you are interested in staging a protest outside FCI Sheridan, a federal prison in Yamhill county, email me at gabriel@lclark.edu. If you are interested in learning more or connecting with others that seek to promote change in this area, contact Prison Abolition club at prisonabolitionlc@lclark.edu. 

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