Monday, December 29, 2014

Back on the Chain Gang: Fixing the Damage of the Prison-Industrial Complex

For many Black and Hispanic youth, going to jail has become a badge of honor. This is a very puzzling phenomenon. The stigma of going to "juvenile" or jail used to be shameful, it is now a sign of being "hard" or being "down". Why is it that so many "minority" youth have become willing to abide with "doing a bid?"
Many people blame hip-hop culture for this phenomenon. They believe it glorifies violence, criminal behavior and living the "thug" lifestyle. However, it seems that this is putting the cart before the horse. Young Black and Hispanic men have been disproportionately incarcerated in America long before there were any such things as hip-hop music recordings or the associated films that tell similar stories. Therefore, hip hop culture is only a platform for young people to give their version of a certain narrative, not the cause of the problem.
According to a 2002 study conducted by the Labor Studies Journal"Over the last two decades, the U.S. prison population has quadrupled." In response to this occurrence, the study concludes that "corporations are seeking profit-making opportunities from this prison population" and there are "two major areas through which corporations are capitalizing on prison labor: prison privatization and creating prison based industries" This is in spite of solid evidence that a better solution to the crime problem might be improving the education system. A 2012 study conducted by the Justice Policy Institute concluded that: "As education is correlated with crime rates and incarceration, addressing shortcomings in the [D.C.] education system should be part of a comprehensive public safety strategy."
Yet rather than exploring how to invest in transformative education reform, the business community has positioned itself to capitalize on the anticipated robust growth in the incarcerated population as a source for cheap labor. The public sector has settled on promoting "tough on crime" rhetoric rather than renovating the education system. While business people and politicians vilify rappers for profiting from glorifying fantasized acts of criminality in songs, they plot and scheme to profit from the increasing prison population in reality.
As stated in the July/August 2006 issue of the Associated Oregon Industries Business Viewpoint"Although it is adults that go to prison, the likelihood that a child will ultimately end up there can be predicted before they can tie their own shoes. Some prison systems have noted a correlation: they have started to project the number of beds needed in the future based on current 3rd grade reading scores" A progressive nation simply should not adapt to such a cynical vantage point. Working to create and implement policies that would diminish dropout rates and instituting a relevant modern curriculum that prepares students for the economic realities of today and the opportunities of the future are better solutions.
The leaders of society should look to the "Hip-Hop Generation" as a source to search for answers. Instead, it seems that many of the powers that be are looking at disadvantaged youth as a legalized source for slave labor. Instead of objects on which to place the blame for the ills of society, we would all be better served if the business community looked at educating young people as an opportunity to improve society. That should be regarded as one of the nation's top priorities for competitiveness in the global economy of the future.
Sadly, educating the disadvantaged has not recently been a genuine national priority. Therefore, young Black and Hispanic youth are looking to jail of all places for a sense of structure, family and community that is lacking in their homes, schools and neighborhoods. The aim of government policies in America's urban communities should be to eradicate drugs, crime and poverty. Instead, they aspire to demonize, incarcerate and ruin the lives of young people who struggle to exist alongside these challenging circumstances. To paraphrase the lyrics of a song by controversial rap duo Dead Prez, policymakers and business people must realize that the real problems plaguing our society are "... bigger than hip-hop…."
Instead of taking an optimistic view, many people would rather continue casting poor Black and Brown people as the villains in the story of America’s economic saga. They view investing more resources into these people’s failing schools as just another bad investment. They believe that their past investments in the shameful institution of slavery (which made the greatest contribution to building the wealth of America) come with no obligations to the slave's descendants. That is what makes their investment in the new slavery of the prison-industrial even more deplorable.
Furthermore, they believe that the time limit has expired for the inferior education system that they provided for the descendants of slaves to pay dividends. This is the reason why “minority” communities must continue to demand that investments be made to provide quality education. Uplifting disadvantaged Black and Hispanic youths should be something that we are all committed to, not allowing “Corporate America” to continue legally enslaving them. Innovative programs that respect diversity and adequate funding to the degree necessary to make a real difference must be sought from both public and private sources.
The two most recent U.S. presidential candidates identified budget deficits, foreign currency manipulators, and other abstractions as national security issues. Intensive investment in education that will elevate minorities into the mainstream American society of the future should also be regarded as a national security goal. It is a goal that should be viewed as strategically vital to America’s continued economic viability. Recent events involving the killing of unarmed Black men by overly militarized police forces occupying poor communities is evidence that something must change in America. It should be clear that creating more opportunity for disadvantaged Black and Hispanic youths is an issue that is vital to preserving a more perfect union.
Vince Rogers is an experienced resource manager, communications strategist, change agent and thought leader; trained in economics, marketing, project management and business communication.

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