Last week, news media across the nation reported that one in 100 adults is behind bars in the United States of America. This startling analysis stems from a study conducted by researchers of the Pew Charitable Trust. The study also said that more people are incarcerated in the U. S. than any other nation on Earth.
According to Justice Department figures for 2006, one in 15 adult black males is incarcerated – one in nine is between the ages of 20 and 34. One of every 100 black women is behind bars.
Back in the day, our so-called “black president,” Bill Clinton, supported by the Congressional Black Caucus, pushed his omnibus crime bill through Congress. Clinton signed that bill into federal law. It called for a wide disparity in sentencing regarding powder and crack cocaine offenses.
As a result, according to The Sentencing Project, a national organization that seeks alternatives to incarceration, “A person convicted in federal court of possession of five grams of crack automatically receives a five-year prison term. A person convicted of possessing five grams of powder cocaine will probably receive a probation sentence.”
It is widely known that crack cocaine is mostly found in poor and near-poor black neighborhoods, while powder cocaine is more often found in predominantly white communities. This means that 3,042 per 100,000 blacks are incarcerated, while only 487 per 100,000 whites are in jail or prison, thanks in part to Clinton and many black political leaders.
While Justice Department figures indicate that there are 1.6 million people in U. S. prisons and 723,000 in jails, a Broward Sheriff’s Office researcher told me recently that, in reality, some 5 million people are in the system when those on probation and parole, and those doing community service are counted.
Many people, especially those who are innocent, are behind bars simply because they are too poor to make bail while awaiting trial. They may suffer rape, gang violence, assaults and death threats, no matter the institution. Penal culture anywhere is debased, immoral and plagued with debauchery.
Too many first offenders, people who made an unwise decision and violated a law, enter prison as remorseful, God-fearing human beings. For surviving the “system,” these souls return to society as mad men and women – some paranoid and otherwise psychologically messed up – predatory and prone to violence. Many are also diseased.
According to famed medical researcher Harriet A. Washington, in her revealing book, Medical Apartheid, “17 percent of the incarcerated have HIV, six times the rate on the outside. . . most HIV-positive people in the United States – and in U. S. prisons – are black . . . .”
Washington reports that inmates have the highest hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection rate in the U. S. “Two percent of all Americans but 20 percent of inmates are HCV-infected. For imprisoned black men, the HCV infection rate is much higher, as high as 60 percent.”
Maybe black elected officials will feign ignorance about goings-on in penal institutions, but black clergy are proud of their prison ministries. Hopefully, they will become vigilant enough to monitor the resurgence of prison medical research that ceased during the 1970s.
For a long period, black inmates were routinely utilized, Washington reports, by “thirty-three major pharmaceutical and cosmetic companies” for dangerous clinical trials. Black inmates were also used for “chemical-warfare tests for the Army and the CIA using psychotropic agents.”
Washington cites universities, government agencies and industries that performed medical experiments on prison inmates, the majority of whom were black.
“Until American medicine achieves a better record of providing care while avoiding abuse,” Washington writes, “an utter ban on prison research may be the only protection.”