Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Recidivism, The Revolving Prison Door

Recidivism, according to Webster's Dictionary is, the repeated or habitual relapse, as into crime.
When I was a teenager back in the 80's one of my best friends was the neighborhood Barber. He always cut hair in his mother's living room and there was always a group of guys that we both knew, coming in and out. We talked about everything that guys talked about back then, girls, cars, rap music, and jail.
Yes, jail! I have personally never had the experience of repeatedly being institutionalized, and I was always shocked by the attitudes of my counterparts who had been locked up on multiple occasions and often knew the law well enough to represent themselves. I would regularly hear adventurous tales of crime, and I was often puzzled by the complete indifference to imprisonment. They would say things like, "I can do a nickel up North, that's nothing." Translation, it's easy for me to do 5 years in a prison far north of the city. For them prison time had become an inevitable way of life. I have always found this attitude both disturbing, and fascinating at the same time. When I was a child there were two things that were taboo in our family, going to jail, and getting pregnant out of wedlock. Both were the exception and not the rule. But today it is quite common to have experienced one or both. Out of the two, going to jail was considered the worst, and if you found yourself in the system it was a shame and a disgrace. Today the Black male incarceration rate is 6 times more than that of white males. What that means is that for every 100,000 black males 4,777 are in the prison system. In comparison, there are only 777 white males for every 100,000 in the prison system.
The recidivism rate of African American males is 55.9%, and studies show that Black males return to jail at a significantly higher rate than white males. It is no secret that factors such as racism, lack of opportunity, and the failure of the system to rehabilitate individuals once they are in custody, have had a huge impact on allowing a one time felon to transition into being a productive citizen but, there is something much deeper involved.
72% of all black babies are born to unmarried mothers. Given the fact that some are girls, and some young men do have their fathers in their lives despite not being married to their mothers, the percentage may drop to about 60% which is still too high.
I believe that there is a direct correlation between the high percentage of African-American unwed mother's and the incarceration and recidivism rates of black men. A vast number of Black men have either abandoned their sons or have not been allowed to actively participate in the development of their sons. The result has been generations of young black men seeking to define themselves by any means necessary. These young men go through life in search of manhood and identity because their mothers capacity to guide a burgeoning man into adulthood is limited. Some believe that money will make them men, while others believe that sexuality is the key to manhood. There has even been a tendency to seek validation as men through violent aggression. But the reality is that these temporary fixes do not heal the wound that has been left by their father's absence, and these temporary fixes are just that, temporary. This search is one that is often never ending, and unforgiving in a merciless world where personal responsibility is the be all, and end all, and any deviation from that value system is not appreciated or tolerated, often resulting in repeated incarceration. There is really no excuse for breaking the law, but just like anything else, recidivism has a cause and effect, and the corrections system will never correct anyones behavior or rehabilitate even one individual if there is not even an effort to scratch the surface. Until then, the system will just be a modern day plantation used for cheap labor and warehousing repeat offenders who will "live" and die institutionalized.


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