Mass incarceration impacts our lives in ways that are not always understood, claiming a huge proportion of government budgets, imbedding racism in our culture, and perpetuating violence. Explore the dynamics of mass incarceration spiritually and socially, focussing on the advocacy work being done and yet to be done by Friends.
We want this workshop to provide context to the issues of mass incarceration and it’s consequences on all aspects of our society so as to awaken the participants and to inspire them to work towards a more just and equitable system that values restoration over retaliation and healing over punishment.
The United States leads the Western World in incarceraton with over 2.3 million people behind bars –a 500% increase over the last 30 years. The United States has 5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. When we look at this population, some harsh realities come to light: 60 percent of the U.S. prison population are people of color; 1 out of 8 black men in their twenties are in jail or prison on any given day; governments spent 6 times more money on incarceration than on higher education; undocumented immigrants and women are the highest growing prison/detention populations.
This policy has not reduced crime rates and instead has established a permanent underclass made up heavily of people of color. Rates of re-incarceration are as high as 70% in some states. There are a number of driving factors behind this trend:
Zero tolerance policies in schools
Stop and Frisk practices
Excessive and unreasonable denials of parole
Poor reentry preparation
Unaddressed disparities between rich and poor.
Racism that is both overt and covert
The tendency in the U.S .is to address problems with violence and repression, rather than in ways that speak to underlying issues and practice restorative/transformative solutions.
“Secure Communities” policies and practices
Profiting from incarceration/privatization
This workshop will not be focused on restorative justice as much as on understanding the predicament in which we find ourselves and our own relationships to it. We will weave back and forth between providing content, through presentations and films, and wrestling with our own experiences and responses to it. Topics covered will include:
• Grappling with definitions of crime and attitudes toward punishment: Criminal Justice as the domestic peace issue.
• The realities of incarceration today – including the death penalty and solitary confinement
• Where race comes in and how mass incarceration has become the new Jim Crow
• Economic factors, especially the impact private prisons are having
• What happens to victims/survivors, how do we define victims, and how can faith communities accompany survivors.
• The collateral consequences of convictions and incarceration
Friends have been involved in prison work for their 350 year history and we expect many participants to come with knowledge based on their own involvement, however this is not a requirement. We are looking forward to working with whoever comes, and what they bring to the discussions. Although this is not primarily a healing workshop, we cannot address issues of violence without tapping into our own woundedness. Therefore we expect to ground the space in 20-30 minutes of worship each day, and to do worship sharing 2-3 times during the week. We will also have 30 – 40 minutes of discussion each day on a particular topic that will precede or follow 30 minutes of interactive exercises that will help us work with our own experiences, the baggage we may be carrying, and where we find hope. Each session will end with 20 minutes of reflective commentary and 10 minutes of silent worship
Advanced reading might include:
• The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Era of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
• The Caging of America by Adam Gopnik http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/atlarge/2012/01/30/120130crat_atla...
• Religion and Ethics: Mass Incarceration (with video) http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/episodes/january-13-2012/mass-...
• Beyond Prisons: A New Interfaith Paradigm for Our Failed Prison System by Laura Magnani, Augsburg/Fortress Press, 2006.
About the leaders :
Laura has led FGC workshops at three previous Gatherings, a class at Pendle Hill (Fall 2008 most recently), and classes at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, as well as in many other settings.
Lewis has conducted workshops at Summer Sessions for New York Yearly Meeting and with the Riverside Church Prison Ministry. As a teacher (both high school and college) he has extensive experience using workshops as learning tools. Lewis has also conducted workshops in a variety of other settings including with Students Against Mass Incarceration at Columbia University and with the New York State Black and Puerto Rican Legislative Caucus.
Both of us are committed to a format that is quite interactive and that maximizes opportunities for open, honest discussion of difficult issues.