Black History and Mass Incarceration

Black History is American History. There is no aspect of America’s history that you can consider and leave Black people out. When taking a look at mass incarceration in the USA, you might wonder about statistics which imply that Black people must be born with a gene that makes them natural born criminals. Of course, that’s ridiculous. Nothing could be further from the truth. So many Black bodies in the jails and prisons of this nation should tell you that there are problems with this country’s criminal justice system.

 While February is designated for the observance of Black history, many Black icons and achievements are honored. Let us not forget the Black icons that have been assassinated and lynched and unjustly imprisoned. While something will be said, this month, about Black contributions to this nation and the world, something must also be said about a criminal justice system, defined by racial bias, that causes Black people to be denied opportunities for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Some commonly recognized statistics are that this nation incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country in the world. America has only 4.25 % of the world’s population and about a quarter of the world’s prison population. A growing body of research shows that people of color are more likely to be stopped, frisked, questioned, charged, and detained. African Americans are more likely to be arrested and they are more likely to be sentenced to more time than whites for the same crime. This is a part of our history too.

When the movie “13th” was released in 2016, many were surprised to learn that slavery was abolished in 1865 but a person could be re-enslaved with the commission of a crime. The 13th Amendment said:

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

Of course, when you stepped foot off the plantation you had essentially committed a crime… the crime of vagrancy, without a residence, a job, or i.d.

Following the so-called abolition of slavery, the convict leasing system was established. Convict leasing was a system of penal labor practiced in the Southern United States and overwhelmingly targeting African American men. Convict leasing provided prisoner labor to private parties, such as plantation owners and corporations. 

 According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU):

“One out of every three Black boys born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime, as can one of every six Latino boys—compared to one of every 17 white boys. At the same time, women are the fastest growing incarcerated population in the United States.”

 Black Codes, Jim Crow, and the enduring myth of Black Criminality, which has been  with us for decades, all contribute to the imprisoned Black population.

All are a part of Black History. While we celebrate the good, we must also recognize the not so good and continue to fight for prisoner justice reform. The next monthly meeting of PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO, will take place on Monday, February 24, 7:00-9:00 p.m. at the Rafi Green Center, 1423 Fillmore Avenue @ Glenwood.

For more information: Karima, 716-834-8438,; BaBa, 716-491-5319,

(library of congress image)