Unless, you never leave your home or access any type of media, every day you see more and more people who are poor, disadvantaged, condemned, and marginalized. I think that we both can, and should, to better, to create a more hopeful and encouraging array of solutions to poverty, crime, and inequality in this country.
In the last 40 years, our society has witnessed unprecedented technological change, incredible innovation, and a great deal of success and future promise in almost every area.
We have also seen growing inequality, increased levels of poverty, and unprecedented rates of imprisonment. I personally believe that, in spite of all of the things we have accomplished, these injustices, poverty, and mass incarceration are stains on the very fabric of our society. They cannot be ignored any longer.
In 1970, there were roughly 350,000 people in our jails and prisons. Today, there are over 2.2 million. And that is not counting the nearly 5 million people who are on probation or parole.
The sad fact is this-one in every 31 Americans are subject to some form of correctional control.
One in 31.
The policy of mass incarceration did not come out of nowhere. It was born out of the politics of fear and anger, based on now-discredited theories. It was our response to the problems in our society that we were not creative enough-or perhaps courageous enough-to solve. Public safety is a legitimate priority for any nation, but it cannot explain the fact that the United States now has one of the highest rates of incarceration in the world.
Mass incarceration has been our response to poverty.It is no coincidence that the boom in imprisonment has coincided with a retraction of the programs intended to pull Americans out of poverty. And incarceration itself has a lasting impact, not just on the economic mobility of former prisoners, but on thier children and families as well.
There are now more than 49 million people who are living below the poverty line in the United States. That is over 10 % of our total population.
Mass incarceration has been our response to mental illness. More than half the people in our jails and prisons have some sort of mental health problems, and they are either not currently receiving treatment, or not receiving the appropriate treatment for their condition. Many of these people also have substance abuse disorders. Veterans, suffering from PTSD from their combat experience, have a documented increased rate of suicide in prison.
Mass incarceration has been our response to our oldest and most enduring problem of our nation-the problem of race. While more than 1 in 100 adults in America are behind bars, that number is 1 in 15 for Black American men. We frequently target communities of color with unequal enforcement of the law and subject too many young people of color to a presumption of guilt that results in disproportionate sentences and mistreatment.
But the numbers alone do not tell the full story. Our sentencing practices in individual cases reveal gross excesses of our system.
As we have locked up more and more people, sentences have gotten harsher. Misguided three strikes laws have had the perverse effect of sending people to prison for the rest of their lives for petty crimes like stealing a set of golf clubs. We are also the only nation in the world that sentences children as young as 13 to die in prison.. And we continue to have a death penalty that not only costs billions, but also produces unfair and unreliable results.
For every nine people we have executed over the last 40 years, we have found one person on death row who was innocent. This error rate would be unacceptable in industry, yet where the difference is life and death, we are unwilling to speak up.
Why? How has a problem that affects one in 31 Americans (not to speak of their children, families and communities) been ignored for so long? The answer is that mass incarceration impacts mostly the poor, the disenfranchised, the historically disfavored, the racial minority-those whose voice is rarely heard.
Spending on jails and prisons has required taking money away from education, public benefits, and social welfare in many states. Some conservatives and progressives have begun to recognize that it is time to dismantle the policies of mass incarceration, but they are still in the minority.
More of us must speak up, we must start to take responsibility for some of the human suffering and despair, even when we have been conditioned not to see it. We should challenge ourselves to work towards meaningful solutions, like education, rehabilitation, and reform. We need to talk about the ugliest chapters in our history, we need to talk about race, and we need to talk about poverty. Most of all, we need to talk about injustice. Because I believe that until we confront injustices, its stain will continue to shadow our accomplishments.
We also need to talk about injustice, because who we are as a society cannot be accurately defined by our wealth, our technology, or our celebrities. We will ultimately be defined instead by our treatment of the poor, our compassion for the condemned, and our commitment to our own humanity.
We need to talk about injustice, so that we can create justice.
Here are a few more numbers for you to puzzle over.
Nearly 1.5 million Americans live on 2 dollars a day-or less-per person.
2 dollars a day.
Now, add in another 2.8 million children.
We should be ashamed of ourselves.
The National Poverty Center reports that the number of households living in "extreme poverty"surged by 130% in the last 15 years. It is estimated that more than half of these families are run by a single woman, while more than a third are headed by a married couple. One half where white, one quarter were black, and less than one quarter were hispanic.
The Center used the 2 dollars a day measure since one of the World Bank's main indicators of poverty in developing countries. That is a pretty sad commentary on the state of affairs in our developed country.
Researchers also did not include food stamps in this measure. Once you factor in food-stamps, the number of households living in extreme poverty drops by almost half, to a little over 800,000.
Overall, a record 46.2 Americans are living below the poverty line.
The government spends hundreds of billions of dollars on programs to feed, house, and shelter the poor, and it is estimated that 1 in 6 Americans rely on some form of public program-with Medicaid and food-stamps being the largest by far.
Mitt Romney says that he is not concerned with the extremely poor, because there is a "safty net" out there.
Not exactly the voice of a compassionate conservative now, is it?
Here's the deal-anyone can throw numbers around and make their case for whatever agenda they are trying to promote, but let ME ask YOU.....
What does it mean to you when you see that 1.5 million American Families live on less than 2 dollars a day?