What Four Questions must we ask about Mass Incarceration?

1. Why does the U.S. have the highest incarceration rate in the world?

The U.S. comprises less than 5% of world inhabitants, and yet holds 25% of incarcerated inhabitants (Coates, The Atlantic). America’s incarceration rate skyrocketed post-1965 as result of the Law Enforcement Administration Act and Crime Control & Safe Streets Act, making up the “War on Crime.” Crime rates were actually on the decrease when the War on Crime was instilled- and the Broken Windows policy encouraged officers to make arrests for all petty crime. The War on Crime also increased militarization by giving state authorities federal funding for weapons- including tanks and arms.

2. Why are people of color incarcerated at extraordinarily high rates?

African Americans are jailed 4x the rate of white Americans (in New York City, this figure is 12x the rate). African Americans make up 13% of the U.S. population and yet 36% of the jail population. Nixon asserted himself as a creator of prison policy, and wrote a “Long Rang Master Plan” to dramatically increase incarceration. A California chart was found in his cabinet predicted a 1975 crossover of more non-white people incarcerated than white.


3. What is the relationship between mass incarceration and mass deportation?

To address this question, first we must define neoliberalism. Neoliberal reforms are economic changes that focus on opening up the economy to global markets and reduce state spending on social welfare (Golash-Boza, Deported). The U.S. government profits from mass deportation among undocumented people by keeping their wages low and their work ethic submissive. Once undocumented people have lived long enough in the U.S. to become bilingual, their deportation benefits their home country because they can work for transnational corporations- which are absolutely necessary to sustain a liberal economy. From 2008-2013 over 2 million people were deported, more than the sum of all deported people pre-1997 (Golash-Boza, Deported). Amnesty International and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights have denounced immigration detention conditions as draconian.


4. Why should we as Jews care about mass incarceration?

Because it is one of the greatest issues plaguing our nation today. Because on Seder we remember that we were once slaves in Egypt, and the U.S. now perpetuates a new kind of slavery. Because our purpose as Jews is to bring spirituality to the physical world and mass incarceration is a grave violation of morality.

haggadah Section: -- Four Questions