Ending Mass Incarceration to Close the Racial Achievement Gap

Nationally, African American children are six times more likely to have a parent in jail than are white children. Photo Credit: Amanda Mills/pixnio.com

Andrea Sears
Public News Service

Mass incarceration of African Americans has contributed significantly to the racial achievement gap in the nation’s schools, according to a recent report.

The so-called war on drugs vastly expanded the U.S. prison population. But while African Americans are no more likely to sell or use drugs, they are three times more likely to be arrested, more likely to be convicted and will serve more time in prison than whites.

According to Leila Morsy, co-author of the report and senior lecturer at the University of New South Wales, when parents are sent to prison, their children become more susceptible to depression, behavioral problems and ADHD.

“Their grade point average drops, they’re also more likely to drop out of school,” Morsy said. “Boys are more likely to drop out because they themselves have been incarcerated.”

The report, published by the Economic Policy Institute, urged educators to join with criminal justice reformers to advocate for policies that would end mass incarceration.

In Connecticut, African Americans are about 10 percent of the population, but make up 40 percent of inmates in prisons and jails. Ames Grawert, counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, said the effects of mass incarceration are serious and pervasive.

“It can’t possibly be just a criminal justice issue, just a racial justice issue – although it is both of those things,” Grawert said. “It’s an economic justice issue. It’s an education issue. It’s an issue that affects all of us in a myriad amount of ways.”

This year, Gov. Dannel Malloy again is pushing to reform the bail system and keep young people out of jail by extending the juvenile justice system to the age of 21.

Morsy stressed that sentencing reform and increased educational and employment opportunities for released offenders also would benefit those left behind when a parent goes to jail.

“Improvements in our criminal justice policies will lead to improved outcomes for children and are very likely to contribute to narrowing the achievement gap,” she said.

In 2014, more than 600,000 inmates nationally were serving sentences of a year or more in state prisons for nonviolent crimes.

The report, “Mass incarceration and children’s outcomes”, can be seen at http://www.epi.org/publication/mass-incarceration-and-childrens-outcomes/.