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Harsh sentencing is not the answer, but what is?

By Ashahed M. Muhammad -Asst. Editor- | Last updated: Apr 22, 2011 - 3:52:32 PM

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Solutions to escaping the New Jim Crow

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Graphic: MGN Online
CHICAGO - The 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution section 1 reads: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

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Despite the careful wording of the amendment, and the apparent upward mobility of a few Black faces in high places, the painful reality for many Black men and women is that they are modern day slaves within the sprawling prison industrial complex of the United States of America.

In his Saviours' Day 2011 keynote address, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan pointed out that America mockingly refers to Black people as “citizens” and that in the 14th Amendment of that same document, Black people were made “lawful captives.” In the minds of those who established the social order, political structure and economic systems of America, Black people were destined for a life of servitude as a perpetual workforce.

“They fill the jails and the prison with us, and then lease us back out to private industry to build the roads, the bridges, the canals, the railroads—back in slavery again!” said Minister Farrakhan in his Feb. 27 message.

Michelle Alexander, author of the book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” recently said there are more Black men in prison, jail, on probation or parole than were enslaved in 1850 prior to the beginning of the Civil War.

Despite reportedly massive increases in state spending on prison, recidivism—defined as repeated or habitual relapses into criminal behavior even after experiencing negative consequences for that behavior —remains extremely high according to a new report by the Pew Center on the States.

The report titled “State of Recidivism: The Revolving Door of America's Prisons” found overall figures to be discouraging: more than 40 percent of offenders return to prison within three years of their release.

Neither the Pew Center's report nor the recently released report from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People decrying what they believe are American society's misplaced priorities, emphasizing punitive measures for crime, while neglecting education in areas blighted by crime are really pointing out anything new.

Ironically, a letter of support for the study was written to the NAACP by possible right wing presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, who led the revolt that ushered in the “get tough on crime” political atmosphere that currently exists in America. Mr. Gingrich led the charge in 1994 which led to the “Contract with America.” Under the guise of reducing teen pregnancy and reforming welfare, the “Contract with America” denied welfare benefits to mothers under 18, denied additional benefits to those having children while on welfare, and promoted what later became known as a “welfare to work” policy setting time limits on length of welfare benefits.

Borrowing from ideas promulgated by the conservative Washington, D.C-based think-tank The Heritage Foundation, the “Contract with America” also contained what many activists considered draconian sentencing laws. It was in this climate that dozens of states over the next two years would adopt “Three Strikes” crime laws, which significantly limits flexible sentencing options and increases prison sentences for those previously convicted of felonies. Not to be outdone, also in 1994, The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act—originally written by then Delaware Senator Joe Biden—passed Congress and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton.

Going back even further, under President Ronald Reagan—another favorite of the radical right—his “War on Drugs” and “Just Say No” rhetoric was simply a cover for waging war on Black and Latino youth and their communities. It was in 1986 that Congress passed laws creating a 100 to 1 disparity in sentencing for those caught with crack cocaine versus those caught trafficking powder cocaine. Though the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act reduced the sentencing disparity to 18 to 1, Black youth are still disproportionately impacted by harsh drug sentences.

The emphasis on harsh sentencing caused by many of the previously heavy-handed policies established in the mid-90s has led to overcrowded conditions in prisons nationwide and tremendous financial strains on those responsible for budgetary decision making.

Syndicated columnist and political analyst George Curry said the disproportionate emphasis on imprisonment and punishment within American society is an “embarrassment” and that much of what drives it is the fact that the prison industry is “big business.”

“The United States incarcerates more than any country in the world. That is absolutely amazing, especially when you consider all the other oppressive countries in the world,” Mr. Curry told The Final Call. “The reality of the matter is that most people who go to prison are going to get out and they are going to live in our neighborhoods, and we'll be better off as a society trying to help them work their way back into society, instead of punishing them by withholding certain licenses and certain grants from them if they try to go back to college to become productive citizens,” he added.

Other crime fighting solutions have taken aim at reducing the availability of guns in Black communities.

Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) introduced the Blair Holt Firearm Licensing and Record of Sale Act in 2009. The bill would require all who own guns to register for a federal firearms license. Additionally, all firearms sales would have to go through a licensed dealer. The bill would also make it a criminal act not to register as an owner of a firearm.

“The purpose of this bill is to restrict the availability of firearms to criminals, youth, and gang members, and to protect the public against the unreasonable risk of injury and death associated with the unrecorded sale and transfer of guns,” said Rep. Rush in a statement posted on his website.

While some state political officials may claim they are unable to fix the prison system, others are asking the question, can the states afford not to? According to Pew researchers, total state spending on corrections amounts to over $50 billion a year, and as most states struggle with budged deficits, “state corrections spending, driven almost entirely by prison expenditures, has quadrupled over the past two decades, making it the second fastest growing area of state budgets, trailing only Medicaid,” according to the Pew Center's report.

Clearly, the move towards harsher sentencing which has dominated political discussion for the past three decades has not worked to reduce crime, and neither has the death penalty, according to researchers.

Citing recent studies and available statistical data, the Death Penalty Information Center, a non-profit organization that tracks and analyzes data related to the issue of capital punishment found that a large majority of leading criminologists do not believe the death penalty acts as an effective deterrent to homicide.

Often ignored as a possible solution is the successful work of the Prison Reform Ministry of the Nation of Islam and the redemptive power of the Teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad under the guidance and direction of Min. Farrakhan.

An evil picture has been painted by anti-Islam bigots and false media depictions of followers of Islam. The recently televised hearings focused on the so-called “Radicalization of American Muslims” sponsored by Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, added to this tainted view. Another set of hearings is scheduled for later this year, and this time, Rep. King is reportedly focusing on the issue of Muslim extremism in American prisons.

Given Rep. King's long-time Islamophobic history, effective outreach of the Nation of Islam's successful Prison Reform Ministry will be ignored, said Abdullah Muhammad, the program's national director.

“He probably won't mention the good works of the Nation of Islam because he knows the government does not give any funding to the Nation of Islam to reform the incarcerated and the ex-offenders. Our program deals with spiritual and mental resurrection and the United States government and politicians have no knowledge or wisdom to resurrect the sprit of God that has been buried underneath this world of evil that they have created and allowed to exist using the name of God to shield their dirty religion,” Mr. Muhammad told The Final Call.

Another long-time nemesis, the Anti-Defamation League, in a report titled “Bigotry Behind Bars: Racist Groups in U.S. Prisons,” ignores Minister Farrakhan's effective work of reforming prisoners with the word of God. Instead, they participate in creating a false view of Minister Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam writing that they “worry that Farrakhan's rhetoric—including a long record of anti-Semitic and anti-White statements—may spill over into NOI's prison outreach program and radicalize prisoners.”

This particular view is at variance with the facts since an overwhelming majority of prison officials who come into contact with representatives of the Nation of Islam's Prison Reform Ministry report that the focus on the knowledge of God and the knowledge of self leads to self-discipline, self-help, learning, and improved morality. This makes rehabilitation easier and better prepares them for re-entry into society, said Mr. Muhammad.

“Minister Farrakhan taught us that politicians and lawmakers have created a world that is contrary to God's will, and as a result we have a world of injustice and unrighteousness which leads to human beings that act as savages. Our effort is to change that reality by connecting the soul of the inmate to his Creator,” said Mr. Muhammad.

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