How & Why of Dismantling Discriminatory Systems of Mass Incarceration

Take Action Now...

You can help dismantle discriminatory systems of mass incarceration in our community and in the United States by taking these actions:

Tell Governor Snyder: Veto HB 4467

"Reopening the private prison in Baldwin, MI is a bad idea and Governor Snyder should veto HB 4467. Having worked in the prison industrial complex and near a private prison, I can tell you unreservedly that private prisons risk community safety by housing the highest security inmates and supervising them with the most poorly trained staff. In spite of promising jobs, private prisons actually impede job growth.  Private prisons also inflicts tremendous emotional distress on inmates and their families and increase recidivism rates by moving inmates hours away from family and immediate support networks."  Rev. Dr. Bill Lyons

Stuff the Pack

By donating the following items for our youngest Food Truck clients, and community partners like St. John's Home and Family Promise, you help kids do better in school. Bring your donations (items or money) with you on Sunday, or donate online.

Crayons - 24-packs • Rulers – 12 inches • Pencils – No. 2 in 10 packs • Glue Sticks/Paste – 2-pack • Folders – 3 tab • Notebook Paper - college and wide ruled • Notebooks, Spiral - 150 sheets • Pens - 10 packs in blue, black and red ink • Eraser – 2 pack • Scissors – blunt tip

How does helping kids in school dismantle the prison industrial complex? Reliable data  indicates that 85% of  juveniles who interface with the court system are functionally illiterate and 70% of inmates in prison cannot read above fourth grade reading level. Inmates who receive no reading help have a 70% chance of returning to prison; this risk reduces to 16% for those who receive such assistance.

Here's Why...

The United States imprisons more of its own people than any other country in the world in what has become a $300 billion/year industry. While the U.S. comprises 5% of the total global population; it alone accounts for a staggering 25% of the world’s prison population. Indeed, more than 2.2 million people are currently incarcerated in U.S. prisons and jails, while more than 5 million additional persons are under the supervision of its justice system, either on probation or on parole. All totaled, there are over 7 million people currently subject to the U.S. criminal justice system. (U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. U.S. Census Bureau) 

Adam Gopnik (“The Caging of America,” The New Yorker) has observed: "Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country today—perhaps the fundamental fact, as slavery was the fundamental fact of 1850. In truth, there are more black men in the grip of the criminal -  justice system – in prison, on probation, or on parole – than were in slavery then. Over all, there are now more people under 'correctional supervision' in America – more than six million – than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin at its height." 

Moreover, the U.S. prison population is far from representative of the nation’s population as a whole. For instance, while African American males comprise only 6% of the U.S. population,  they make up 40% of those in prison or jail. African American males have a 32% chance of  serving time at some point in their lives, while white males have only a 6% chance. 

The situation isn't as simple as saying, "If you can't do the time, don't do the crime."  For example,

  • 66% of the men in prison are Black, even though drug use among Black Americans is no greater than among White Americans.  
  • Jails and prisons hold more individuals with serious mental illness than the largest remaining state psychiatric hospital in 44 of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. In 2012, there were estimated to be 356,268 inmates with severe mental illness incarcerated, at the same time, there were approximately 35,000 patients with severe mental illness in state psychiatric hospitals proving that the number of mentally ill persons in prisons and jails was ten times the number remaining in state hospitals. (Treatment Advocacy Center: TACReports.org/treatment-behind-bars)

To make matters even worse, people caught in the snares of what Professor Michelle Alexander calls "the New Jim Crow" have little or no hope of ever fully re-entering society. (The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness) Once labeled felons, people cannot vote or serve on juries, may be (and usually are) legally discriminated against in employment, and are ineligible for all types of federal assistance for housing, food stamps, job training, etc. Having a job is often a requirement of their parole or probation; such a stipulation, however, turns out to be an agonizing source of stress for those who have served their sentences, because they have so few employment opportunities available to them. 

Given these realities in our culture, the United Church of Christ General Synod will consider two resolutions purposed to empower congregations to dismantle discriminatory systems of mass incarceration - what many people call 'the New Jim Crow' - in our communities:

Dismantling Discriminatory Systems of Mass Incarceration in the United States. 
Dismantling the New Jim Crow 

Both resolutions are grounded in Isaiah 10:1-2, and the interpretation by both Jesus (Luke 4:18) and the early Church (1 Cor. 12:12-13, 24-26) of these prophetic words:

Woe to you who issue unjust laws, who write oppressive statutes, to turn aside the needy from justice, and to rob the poor of my people of their rights. (Isaiah 10:1-2a) 

If adopted, these resolutions will:

  • name the system of discriminatory mass incarceration "as a critical human and civil rights issue in the U.S. because of its disparate impact on and disenfranchisement of people of color, youth, and people with limited economic resources."
  • reaffirm the United Church of Christ's commitment to speak and act prophetically to disrupt and dismantle the growing prison industrial complex in the United States.
  • invite, encourage, and provide resources for local congregations to provide opportunities for education, mobilization, public witness, and public policy advocacy in the effort to dismantle 'the New Jim Crow."

Follow General Synod live or subscribe to our Twitter feed where Pastor Bill, one of this year's delegates, will post often about what's happening at General Synod 30.