following “call to action” was issued by the National Religious
Affairs Association of the National Association of Blacks
in Criminal Justice (NABCJ)
in conjunction with Justice Sunday, January 18, 2004. The
National Religious Affairs Association is comprised of 16
religious denominations, linked through the National Black
Force on Crime and Criminal Justice.
a result of thirty years of change in social and criminal justice
policy, the use of imprisonment in the United States has reached
world record levels. The impact of incarceration has been
borne most directly by racial and ethnic minorities. African
Americans and Latinos constitute more than three-fifths of
the nearly two million Americans in prison and jail.
causes of disproportionate imprisonment are complex. Root
causes of disproportionate crime rates for certain offenses
include poverty, inadequate education, and economic disadvantage. Also,
while there is only limited data on Latinos, research demonstrates
that African Americans are treated more harshly than their
similarly-situated white counterparts at each stage of the
criminal justice process.
more than 875,000 African Americans and 300,000 Latinos are incarcerated
nationally; more than half of each group in state and federal
prisons are serving time for a non-violent drug or property offense. One
of every seven black males in the age group 25-29 is incarcerated
on any given day, as well as 1 in 24 Hispanic males. While the
overall figures for black and Latina women are lower, the number
of women in prison has been rising at nearly double the rate
for men since 1980.
large-scale use of imprisonment has not only had a dramatic
impact on the life prospects of prisoners, but has also led
to repercussions that extend to prisoners' families and communities. As imprisonment has become almost
commonplace in many communities of color, family and community
stability is eroded, with significant implications for the
next generation of children. These effects include:
crime and drug abuse are issues of concern in communities
of color, as in other communities, the massive use of imprisonment
as a response to those problems has resulted in a distortion
of priorities and has contributed to a host of negative consequences
for families and communities.
we call on policymakers, community leaders, and the public
to develop more constructive solutions to crime and substance
abuse. We encourage a national dialogue and action designed
to: reconsider sentencing, drug, and imprisonment policies;
examine the role of community and religious organizations
in responding to these problems; and empower communities
by providing resources that enable them to build on the strengths
of individuals and families.
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