The third annual forum on Understanding and Responding to Mass Incarceration took place at the Metropolitan State University campus in St. Paul on April 8. The theme this year was “Voices from the Inside.”
The event was originally created to bring together students from the alcohol and drug prevention program as well as students of the criminal justice programs at Metropolitan State to discuss Michelle Alexander’s book, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.” Since then, the event has grown and now brings members of the community together along with students of Metropolitan State.
The forum started out with opening remarks and an address from Ramsey County Attorney John Choi, who talked about how he wants to reduce the number of people in prison. “I don’t believe that sending drug offenders — or even drug dealers — to prison for a really long time necessarily makes our communities safer,” he said. He also mentioned that some counties are more likely than others to send people to jail versus giving them lighter sentences.
Pastor Danny Givens of Above Every Name Ministries and the clergy liaison for Black Lives Matter was the first keynote speaker. He spoke about growing up and his experience with prison and the effect it had on him and his family.
Faith, however, helped him grow. “When God came into my life it changed my life, and showed me who I wasn’t, and who God called me to be,” Givens explained. “So I had made it my life’s mission and purpose to get out and make a difference.
“My last six years of my prison sentence I was a different man,” he continued. “I was preaching in there, ran programs, did all kinds of wonderful stuff. I came home in 2008 with a heart full of passion, ambition and courage only to be met with closed doors.”
The second keynote speaker, Dr. Artika Tyner, spoke on eight strategies to end mass incarceration. They are as follows:
1. A call to leadership: “A leader is a planter — a planter of ideas, seeds of change, and a vision for justice.”
2. Create jobs and end poverty through prevention by creating opportunities for upward mobility and through intervention; develop post-release employment opportunities and provide incentives for employers.
3. Promote educational opportunities.
4. Disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline. The widening “path from the class to the courtroom increases the likelihood of future incarceration. Incarceration of a child is one of the biggest predictors of future incarceration as an adult.”
5. Address implicit bias. The “criminal process, despite the fact that racial discrimination in the courts is often subtle, its ultimate effects are anything but. One glaring signpost of the specter of racism in the disposition of criminal cases is the fact that although people of color comprise six percent of the state’s population, they comprise 45 percent of the prison population,” according to the 1993 Supreme Court Race Bias Task Force Report.
6. Engage in policy reform: End prison gerrymandering, promote Restore the Vote, address collateral consequences, difficulty gaining employment, barring from obtaining professional licenses, college admissions, financial aid, scholarships, and denial of public benefits and housing.
7. Take a comprehensive approach.
8. Build restorative communities.
According to [nationwide] statistics regarding those who are incarcerated, “62 percent of incarcerated women are mothers, 51 percent are fathers, and 2.7 million children have incarcerated parents,” said Dr. Tyner.
As for incarceration’s financial effect on the community, she said, “It costs $41,000 a year to incarcerate, but only $10,000 a year to educate.”
The forum ended with a discussion about what the participants hope to do to bring change to the system.
Chris Juhn welcomes readers’ responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.