New York, NY, January 26, 2016: RAPP testified at a fact-finding session held by the United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent. Along with other human rights advocates (full list and submissions here), RAPP delivered testimony on the racism that governs many structures of civil society—including a prison system that continues to incarcerate elders, most of whom come from communities of color—in the U.S. today.
ORAL TESTIMONY BEFORE THE
U.N. WORKING GROUP OF EXPERTS ON PEOPLE OF AFRICAN DESCENT
By Mujahid Farid, Lead Organizer
Release Aging People in Prison / RAPP
January 26, 2016
We present on what has been called the human rights issue of the 21st century—mass incarceration in the U.S. One driver of mass incarceration is the reliance on a system of permanent punishment, a culture of retribution and revenge rather than rehabilitation and healing. And this revengeful culture is driven by what W.E.B. DuBois called the problem of the 20th century: “the color line.” In the 21st century this color line is reflected by mass incarceration.
Over the past 40 years we have witnessed the Implementation of draconian measures supporting accelerated punishments.
- These draconian punishments were first tested on dissenters—the so-called “canaries in the mines”—political prisoners.
- When there was no widespread outcry over them, we witnessed these punitive measures being applied on a wider scale.
The punishment paradigm has taken on such profound proportions that researchers now say it has morphed into the “carceral state,” having collateral consequences on every social and political institution. RAPP calls your attention to the negative impact it has on the elderly, which illustrates how it is not motivated by a concern about crime, or a concern about public safety, but is instead directly linked to the historical oppression and control of the Black population.
IMPACT OF DRACONIAN PUNISHMENT ON ELDERLY POPULATION
- At the current rate of growth, it is projected that by 2030 there will be more than 400,000 older people behind bars, a 4,400 percent increase from 1981 when only 8,853 of the country’s incarcerated people were elderly.
- Here in New York over the past 13 years, the overall prison population decreased by 23%, while during the same 13-year period the population of elderly people over 50 years of age increased by 81%
- This increase occurred in New York even though it costs 2 to 4 times more to house an elderly person in prison compared with the average cost.
In New York State and elsewhere, the ballooning population of elders in prison can be tied to the failure of systems to utilize release mechanisms such as parole, compassionate release and clemency to avoid imprisoning people beyond the point when incarceration serves any useful purpose. So we find parole-eligible people being held twenty to thirty years beyond the time when they became eligible for release.
The continued imprisonment of people who have aged out of crime and pose little public safety risk truly expresses the revenge principle. It tells us that for some people—especially people of color—growth and change do not entitle you to a second chance.
REQUEST OF COMMITTEE AND WORKING GROUP
HELP SPREAD THE WORD—TELL THE WORLD THAT MASS INCARCERATION IN THE U.S. HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH CRIME OR CONCERNS OF PUBLIC SAFETY!
We ask that your report specifically:
- Advocate for the imposition of independent monitoring of parole and release hearings in the U.S. to ensure that decisions reflect recognition of the human capacity to change and rehabilitate;
- Advocate for the transparency of all parole and release practices.
Thank you for your time.
In Washington, DC, DCRAPP participated in a Town Hall for the Working Group to hear from the Black community directly impacted by issues like gentrification, police brutality, and gender oppression.
Read about the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent.
Read about the Working Group’s fact-finding tour of the US.