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Mass Incarceration Creates Big Mess Across America

By       Message Linn Washington     Permalink
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Herman Garner doesn't dispute the drug charge that slammed him in prison for nine years.

Garner does dispute the damning circumstance that doing the time for his crime still leaves him penalized despite his having ended his sentence in the penal system.

Garner carries the "former felon" stain.

That status slams employment doors shut in his face despite his having a MBA Degree and two years of law school.

"I've applied for jobs at thousands of places in person and on the internet, but I'm unable to get a job," said Garner, a Cleveland, Ohio resident who recently published a book about his prison/life experiences titled Wavering Between Extremes.

Recently Garner joined hundreds of people attending a day-long conference at Princeton University entitled "Imprisonment Of A Race," that featured presentations by scholars and experts on the devastating, multi-faceted impact of mass incarceration across America.

The U.S. imprisons more people per capita than any country on earth, accounting for 25 percent of the world's prisoners, despite having just five percent of the world's population.

America currently holds over two million in prisons with double that number under supervision of parole and probation, according to federal government figures.

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Mass incarceration consumes over $50-billion annually across America -- money far better spent on creating jobs and improving education.

Under federal law persons with drug convictions like Garner are permanently barred from receiving financial aid for education, food stamps, welfare and publicly funded housing.

But o nly drug convictions trigger these exclusions under federal law. Violent bank robbers, white-collar criminals like Wall Street scam artists who steal billions , and even murderers who've done their time do not face the post-release deprivations slapped on those with drug convictions on their records, including those imprisoned for simple possession, and not major drug sales.

"Academics see this topic of mass incarceration as numbers, but for millions it is their daily lives," said Princeton conference panelist Dr. Khalilah Brown-Dean of Yale University.

Exclusions mandated by federal laws compound the legal deprivations of rights found in the laws of most states, such as barring ex-felons from jobs and even stripping ex-felons of their right to vote.

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"Mass incarceration raises questions of protecting and preserving democracy," Dr. Brown-Dean said, citing the estimated five-million-plus Americans barred from voting by such felony disenfranchisement laws.

Many of those felony disenfranchisement laws date from measures enacted in the late 1800s which were devised specifically to bar blacks from voting, as a way to preserve America's apartheid.

During the 2000 presidential election Republican officials in Florida manipulated that state's anti-felon voting law fraudulently to bar tens of thousands of blacks from voting. For example, many people with common names like John Smith who shared their name with a felon were barred from voting, despite having no criminal record.

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Linn Washington is a weekly columnist for the Philadelphia Tribune and This Can't Be Happening. Washington writes frequently on inequities in the criminal justice system, ills in society and failings of the news media. He teaches multi-media urban (more...)

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