When in prison, chances are your roommate will be Black. But, chances are, the warden, the chaplain, your social worker and your health-care professional will be White.
I really never gave much thought to the plight of a Black person in our criminal justice system until I met Maurice Carter. As I began to try to help my wrongly convicted friend, I discovered just how “white” his world was.
Maurice was charged and prosecuted by a white prosecutor. He was convicted by an all-white jury. He was tried and sentenced by a white judge. Yes, there were some Black cops involved in the investigation and actual arrest, but I’m convinced at least some were dirty. His Parole Board review was conducted by a white PB chairman. He was questioned in the public hearing by a white Assistant Attorney General. And, in the end, his sentence was commuted by a white Governor who dragged her heels for a year.
Our readers know I’ve grumbled a lot about this. While the population of African American people in Michigan remains at about the 13% level, more than half of the population in our state prisons is made up of Black people.
In response to a recent article in The Banner, official publication of the Christian Reformed Church of North America, which criticized mental health care behind bars, a reader responded. “Addressing mental health issues is much needed. However, you can’t address the American prison system without acknowledging the racial disparities.”
She went on: “Prisoners of color make up more than half of the population, yet the administration, chaplains, wardens, guards, social workers, medical/dental professionals, as well as mental health workers, are by and large white.”
She’s absolutely correct. Of the 112 people listed in MDOC “Administration,” for example, 22 are Black...less than 20%. Of the 2,136 persons listed as “Professional” who work for the department, 588 are Black...less than 28%. And, there are 368 para-professionals hired by the MDOC. Of that number, only 73 are black. Again, less than 20%.
It’s a problem on the national level. It’s a problem on the state level.
It is the human face—a face of color—of the racial injustice of the United States criminal justice system that is the most compelling reason for reform. It is time for the United States to take affirmative steps to eliminate the racial disparities in its criminal justice system.
The Sentencing Project report to the UN, 4/19/18
Amen and Amen!