Report Finds That Class is a Better Predictor of Incarceration Than Race

In America, there are two systems of justice under the law: one for the rich and politically powerful, and then one for everyone else. Under this corrupt, two-tiered system of justice, few U.S. bankers (and none of the most high-ranking ones) were sent to prison in the aftermath of the 2008 crash, despite how big U.S. banks largely caused the global crisis that happened around ’08. This is noted as millions of Americans have been arrested (and some imprisoned) for relatively innocent activities such as the nonviolent possession of marijuana.

IT’S A FACT that African-Americans are disproportionately represented in America’s prisons. In state prisons, where the majority of prisoners are held, African-Americans are incarcerated at 5.1 times the rate of white Americans.

But what remains an open question is what explains this racial incarceration gap; what needs to change to eliminate that gap? Is it a racist economic system that produces a disproportionate population of impoverished African-Americans who then are ground up by a criminal justice system that targets the poor? Or is it better explained by racial bias in policing and sentencing?

A new report from the People’s Policy Project argues that while both exist, it’s economic oppression that matters most — or, at least, matters first.

Researcher Nathaniel Lewis sought to examine the role of both race and class in male incarceration as they impact four different outcomes:

  1. Whether or not men aged 24-32 years have ever been to jail or prison
  2. Whether or not men are jailed after being arrested
  3. Whether or not men have spent more than a month in jail or prison
  4. Whether or not men have spent more than a year in jail or prison

[…]

Ultimately, Lewis concluded that his data showed that the primary reason we see overrepresentation of African-Americans in the criminal justice system are factors related to poverty.

“I think that people are used to hearing the statistics about glaring racial disparities in the justice system, and police brutalization and the police murder of black individuals, plus the long history of stark racism in America, and they add this all up and, quite reasonably, the New Jim Crow framework of explaining mass incarceration as a racist system designed to oppress black people seems inarguably correct,” he told us. “But most of these studies and statistics don’t control for socioeconomic status, and the ones that do, I would say, do so inadequately. It could be that mass incarceration is primarily a system of managing poor people, rather than black people, and the racial disparities show up mostly because black people are disproportionately represented in the lower classes. This is what my study finds.”

Lewis concluded that his research suggests that one of the best ways to reduce the total prison population would be to embrace social democratic policy that would address poverty, the education gap, and other class divides.

“One implication, at least to me, is that policies aimed at alleviating class disparities may be the most effective way of helping black people, and all people, subject to being ground up by the criminal justice system,” he said.

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Toxins from Air Pollution Damage Child Development and Disproportionately Affect Those in Poverty

Air pollution causes health damage that’s too often overlooked, and the research that’s coming out has been showing this more and more lately.

Schoolchildren across the US are plagued by air pollution that’s linked to multiple brain-related problems, with black, Hispanic and low-income students most likely to be exposed to a fug of harmful toxins at school, scientists and educators have warned.

The warnings come after widespread exposure to toxins was found in new research using EPA and census data to map out the air pollution exposure for nearly 90,000 public schools across the US.

“This could well be impacting an entire generation of our society,” said Dr Sara Grineski, an academic who has authored the first national study, published in the journal Environmental Research, on air pollution and schools.

Grineski and her University of Utah colleague Timothy Collins grouped schools according to their level of exposure to more than a dozen neurotoxins, including lead, mercury and cyanide compounds.

The research found that:

  • Only 728 schools achieved the safest possible score.
  • Five of the 10 worst polluted school counties have non-white populations of over 20%
  • The five worst polluted areas include New York, Chicago and Pittsburgh, as well as Jersey City and Camden in New Jersey. One teacher in Camden told the Guardian that heavy industry was “destroying our children”.

Cash-strapped authorities have routinely placed schools on the cheapest available land, which is often beside busy roads, factories or on previously contaminated sites. Teacher unions worry that the Trump administration’s enthusiasm for charter schools, championed by education secretary Betsy DeVos, will diminish federal intervention to reverse this.

The study found that pre-kindergarten children are attending higher risk schools than older students – a stark finding given the vulnerability of developing brains.

Pollution exposure is also drawn along racial lines. While black children make up 16% of all US public school students, more than a quarter of them attend the schools worst affected by air pollution. By contrast, white children comprise 52% of the public school system but only 28% of those attend the highest risk schools. This disparity remains even when the urban-rural divide is accounted for.

Schools with large numbers of students of colour are routinely located near major roads and other sources of pollution, with many also grappling with other hazards such as lead-laced drinking water and toxins buried beneath school buildings

Grineski said there were a range of consequences. “We’re only now realizing how toxins don’t just affect the lungs but influence things like emotional development, autism, ADHD and mental health,” she said. “Socially marginalized populations are getting the worst exposure. When you look at the pattern, it’s so pervasive that you have to call it an injustice and racism.”

The research is “important and is consistent with other localized information we’ve seen over the years,” according to Stephen Lester, science director of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, who wasn’t involved in the study.

“Children are facing risks that will affect their ability to learn,” he said. “It’s a serious problem that needs a serious government response.”

As scientists have pieced together evidence showing the link between air toxins and neurological harm, American cities are still largely wedded to a legacy that has juxtaposed certain neighborhoods with heavy traffic and hulking industry.

Only a handful of states require that schools are not placed next to environmental hazards. In 2010, the EPA issued national guidelines on picking school locations but backed away from imposing mandatory buffer zones.

The guidelines were deemed voluntary “after a whole lot of pushback from various financial and political interests,” according to Lester, who was part of a group advising the EPA.

[…]

Scientific endeavour is uncovering a jumble of neurological reactions to air pollution, from early onset Alzheimers to schizophrenia. Much of this work is in its infancy, but scientists say there is well established evidence that children are far more susceptible to pollutants than adults, with potentially severe consequences for their development.

[…]

“Before, we might have labelled a kid with bad behaviour as just being a bad kid,” said Keith Benson, who taught history in the Camden school system before becoming the head of the local teacher’s union.

“Now we are thinking about it another way. There’s no telling how much potential has been lost because of environmental issues, how many hopes were stunted because these kids were not close to clear air and water.”

The Trial That Could Shape the Future of Free Speech and Protest in the U.S.

There are people who now face decades in prison for merely being at a protest. This runs counter to the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which supports the right of people to peacefully protest, but even if that wasn’t true, the J20 Trial would still be absurd.

Final arguments are underway today in Washington, D.C., in a case that could shape the future of free speech and the right to protest in the United States: the first trial of the nearly 200 people arrested during President Donald Trump’s inauguration. As demonstrators, journalists and observers gathered in Northwest D.C. after the inauguration on January 20, some separated from the group and vandalized nearby businesses and vehicles. Police officers then swept hundreds of people in the vicinity into a blockaded corner in a process known as “kettling,” where they carried out mass arrests of everyone in the area. The first so-called J20 trial could go to a jury as early as today, and involves six people, including one journalist, Alexei Wood, a freelance photojournalist. The defendants face multiple felony and misdemeanor charges, including multiple counts of destruction of property. Evidence against the defendants has been scant.