We cannot ignore the holocaust of mass incarceration

In a recently published book “Invisible Men: Incarceration and the Myth of Black Progress,” researcher, author and professor, Dr. Becky Pettit, told us that the United States incarcerates a higher percentage of its population than any other society in recorded history. In 2008, the Pew Charitable Trusts reported that more than two million inmates were behind bars. These statistics paint a picture that should scare us all:

  • There are more people in U.S. prisons than are in the country’s active-duty military.
  • We have more men and women incarcerated than the top 36 European nations combined — including Russia.
  • Over the past 35 years, the number of Americans behind bars has increased five-fold.
  • Today, one in 31 American adults is under some form of correctional supervision.

Nowhere is incarceration more prevalent than in the African American community. According to an estimate by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, one in three black men will serve time in prison over their lifetimes.

The mass incarceration epidemic affects all of us, even those who haven’t gone to prison: It affects the child who grows up without a father who has been incarcerated, the children who are bullied at school by that child, the woman seeking a husband who can’t find a good man to marry, the list goes on and on.  When so many of our men are marginalized and incarcerated, this has a powerful impact on the sociological ecosystem of the black community, the same way an economy crumbles when a few large companies go bankrupt.

The point here is that we cannot look at the holocaust of mass incarceration as someone else’s problem or something that just affects criminals.  The punishment should fit the crime, and when every study imaginable says that black people are more likely to go to jail for the same crimes, this means that Jim Crow is alive and well.  Something must be done at the grassroots, state and federal levels.  We cannot allow this epidemic to exist any longer.

Jesus spoke time and again about fairness, justice and equality. If we call ourselves Christian, so should we.

So, tell me friends, what shall we do about this? I am ready to help.


  • smrnda

    It’s also worth noting that violent crime has decreased while rates of imprisonment have gone up, as most people are in prison for non-violent drug offenses. There’s a lot of disparity in sentencing, but even before that there’s a significant difference in terms of how the police treat minority communities.

    One thing that might help is to have more public oversight of the police. The police should answer to the communities they serve, not treat them like a territory under occupation.

  • http://www.pubtheologian.com Bryan Berghoef

    Thanks for this, Cameron!

    In Washington DC, area churches are coming together over this very issue. We are calling it: Why We Can’t Wait: Washington DC’s Church-Wide Response of Prayer and Action to mass incarceration and ongoing civil rights abuses, inspired by the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington.
    Check us out on FB and Twitter:

    Also, check out today’s post at Sojourners about our efforts:

    Thanks for bringing more awareness to this pressing issue.

  • Matt Purdum

    What we shall do about this is we shall continue to remove dangerous beasts from the streets and protect our families, that’s “what we SHALL do about this.”