The Pact for the Future Must Include the Unique Needs of Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Persons

There are over 2 million incarcerated people in the United States of America, the highest number of prisoners in the world per country. Credit: Bigstock
There are over 2 million incarcerated people in the United States of America alone, the highest number of prisoners in the world per country. Credit: Bigstock
  • Opinion by Oswald Newbold II (west palm beach, florida, us)
  • Inter Press Service

This was a crucial moment for civil society to influence country positions towards the adoption of this Pact and its annexes – the Global Digital Compact and the Declaration on Future Generations.

An often-sidelined constituency in global development discourse are incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people who are relegated to the periphery of international global development discourse. Where included, they are combined with a wide range of ‘marginalized groups’ which does not address their unique issues. Instead, it perpetuates their exclusion.

Consider that there are over 2 million incarcerated people in the United States of America alone. Those most at risk of this discrimination are poor people, people using drugs and racial minorities.

This is the highest number of prisoners in the world per country. It is larger than the population of Bahrain or Djibouti. In fact this statistic is higher than the combined population of the world’s 10 least populated countries.

Notwithstanding, crime rates have reduced over the past 3 decades, yet imprisonment and sentences continue to become higher and longer.

Ironically, the United States’ national anthem, the Star-Spangled Banner, expresses the country to be the land of the free.

To accelerate our development goals including our aspirations on peace, justice, and strong institutions; and those of reducing inequalities, it is imperative that the scourge of mass incarceration in America is mitigated and ultimately ended.

There have been relative national efforts towards this. Since 2017, April is designated as Second Chance Month in the United States, to raise awareness about the challenges faced by individuals with a criminal justice history.

Additionally, the enactment of policies provides opportunities for second chances, such as workforce training, education opportunities, and wraparound reentry services. Nonetheless, it is not enough as there is need for more political will in harnessing the potential of this opportunity.

Moreover, while it is crucial for breaking stigma and supporting systemic-impacted persons with their reintegration to society, it is important to recognize that some individuals do not even get first chances in life.

Significant correlations exist between mass incarceration and the dispossession of first chances; disproportionately impacting many who have never had genuine opportunities in life.

Poverty, in its various manifestations including access - or lack thereof, to education; and income inequalities among others often forces individuals into desperate situations for survival.

Furthermore, cycles of drug use which many are born into, are harder for poor people to break due to lack of health insurance and proper support systems.

Prisoner’s statistics from the Bureau of Justice shows that every state incarcerates black residents in its prisons at a higher rate than white residents. These racial biases are also present in sentencing, upsurging the disparities in the criminal justice system.

It could additionally be argued that there is an economic incentive to maintaining mass incarceration. The free labor by prisoners evidenced by the “convict leasing program” that started in America in 1908, is still mimicked to date in a modified form.

Essentially, jails and prisons have become the legalized slavery system afforded by the 13th Amendment, of the United States Constitution.

The repercussions of mass incarceration are deleterious. These include mental health deterioration, declining physical well-being, the spread of diseases and sexual violence.

Economically, upon release, formerly incarcerated individuals face systemic obstacles in obtaining sustainable incomes, affordable housing, and societal acceptance.

Post-incarceration life is burdened with collateral consequences rooted in stigmatization and marginalization, leading to social ostracization. Failing to reintegrate successfully, some individuals succumb to recidivism.

While society operates under a social contract defined by laws and regulations that governs order, there must be consequences for contravention. Nonetheless, these should not solely focus on punishment but also on rehabilitation, never resorting to destruction.

As the world envisions a new global governance system and a post-2030 development agenda, it is imperative that these reforms are reflected at regional, national, and grassroots levels, towards a just and equitable world.

United Nations members in their ongoing negotiations on the Pact for the Future, must consider criminal justice reform and its implication to development and human rights. Until then, we will fail in the promise of leaving no one behind towards our collective goals for people and the planet.

Oswald Newbold is the Chairman of the Board of Directors for the National Association of Reentry Professionals Inc. He also holds the position of Reentry Coordinator at The Reentry Center of Riviera Beach. He is reachable at [email protected]--

© Inter Press Service (2024) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service