By Kayla Williams
Incarceration rates in the U.S. disproportionately impact African American men. Minorities as a whole are more likely to be swept up in the criminal justice system than their white counterparts. But it is black males in particular that are most dramatically impacted by the U.S. criminal justice system. In 2015, one in every 15 black men is incarcerated compared to one in every 36 Hispanic men and one in every 106 white men, according to the NAACP.
At an HBCU like Morgan State, that means many students have friends or family members who have been affected by the high incarceration rates for minorities.
Tamika Watson, a Morgan State University senior, recalls a boyfriend who was arrested.
This young man, a 20-year-old African American college student, was arrested for robbery. He had grown up in Queens, New York, in a neighborhood plagued by poverty and crime. The relationship between the police department and citizens there was strained at best. Growing up in the middle of four children with a single mother, he often found himself involved with the wrong crowd, Watson says.
Though he had committed a few minor offenses throughout grade school, it wasn’t until Joe entered college that the law caught up with him. He and a group of friends began stealing radios out of parked cars and eventually, he was arrested.
Though Joe only served a two-month sentence, which Watson believes can largely be attributed to his mother hiring a good lawyer, his life has never been the same.
“Its hard for him to actually get a job,” she says, reflecting on his struggles since he’s been released. “The only jobs he’s been able to get since his sentence were FedEx or some other security jobs. He’s not really getting hired like that because he got convicted.”
That is common and can lead to more crime. According to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, 50 percent of those who don’t find employment within five years are re-arrested. Some people, whose lives have been tainted by the criminal justice system, spend the rest of their lives marginalized by society. Re-entry into society as normal citizens is so cumbersome and often impossible for so many. Ex-offenders rarely get the opportunity to shake the stigma that prior arrests, convictions, and incarceration carry – whether minor or severe.
“He also wasn’t able to return to school,” Watson said of her ex-boyfriend. “He used to go to a four-year institution. He has to go to a community college. So basically he went from a four-year-college student athlete to coming back home and starting all over from nothing.”