Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

Stop Mass Incarceration in the USA

Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

Stop Mass Incarceration in the USA

Article excerpt

Recognizing that all human rights derive from the inherent dignity of the human being, international human rights law requires that the essential aim of all penal systems must be to allow, encourage, and facilitate rehabilitation. Yet, since 1980, the U.S. prison population has quadrupled, an increase largely driven by heavier penalties for non-violent offenses. At the same time, as prison building costs escalate, many states have cut funding for rehabilitation, education and other programs.

The United States accounts for only 5% of the world's population, but is responsible for nearly 22% of the world's prison population. More than 2 million people are incarcerated in U.S. prisons as well as local and county jails. 1 in 3 men of African descent (Black men) in the United States will go to prison or jail if current trends continue. Averages of 5 million people are under state or federal supervision in the form of probation or parole.

The U.N. Human Rights Committee, which monitors states' compliance with their obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, has expressed ongoing concern about racial disparities at different stages in the U.S. criminal justice system, including sentencing disparities and the overrepresentation of individuals belonging to racial and ethnic minorities in prisons and jails. These issues point to the failure of the United States' to respect, protect and fulfill its obligations in regard to the rights to be free from discrimination, to liberty and security of the person, to be equal before the law and to equal protection of the law. To that end, the Committee has called for reform of mandatory minimum statutes and for retroactive application of the Fair Sentencing Act.

The School-to-Prison Pipeline

Under international law, children's human rights are underpinned by the fundamental principle that all decisions relating to children should be guided by the best interests. Yet current school educational and disciplinary policies in the U.S. are dovetailing to create an environment that funnels youth into the criminal justice system at an unprecedented rate. Zero-tolerance discipline policies have resulted in skyrocketing rates of suspensions, expulsions and school-based arrests. These policies disproportionally affect children of color and those living in poverty or with a disability, gravely undermining all children's rights to education, to be free from discrimination, and to the highest standard of health and well-being. …

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