The quagmire our Alabama Department of Corrections finds itself in has as its source the same cancer that has plagued this state since its inception. As with most structural injustices this, too, can be traced back to America’s sinful incestuous affair with race. It is disingenuous to speak comprehensively about the complications of the prison system in America, let alone Alabama, without speaking on the influence of race.
Consider seriously the debilitating effects of racist policies which create
overwhelming racial disparity such as disproportionate sentencing, whereby
blacks get a longer sentence for the same crime as compared to whites, racial
profiling, the ill-fought and wrongly aimed war on drugs, underfunded and
understaffed public defenders and schools in the inner city, and you will see
structural impediments which lay the foundation for the current horrifying
statistic that one in three black males will be incarcerated at some point in
In 2013, the United Nations Human Rights Committee argued that,
“racial disparity pervades every stage of the United States criminal justice
system, from arrest to trial to sentencing.”
Critics argue the lack of supportive fathers is the culprit for all the troubles, which young black males suffer. Tell that to the parents of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin; both had loving and supportive fathers but were still seen as a menace to a sinfully racist society. Space would not allow me to give an exhaustive monologue on the depth of the historical events surrounding these issues. Suffice it to say, our prison problem began to manifest itself when nostalgic, white supremacist ideologues created incriminating laws such as the Black Codes immediately following slavery, which preyed upon the newly freed slaves. Even businesses profited off the backs of legally entrapped blacks.
Moreover, today according to author Michelle Alexander, the word “felon” is now
seen with the same angst as the word “negro” or “colored” did during the Jim
Crow era. It is extremely hard for former nonviolent inmates to find jobs, vote
and even get a student loan for college.
If people who committed crimes involving no moral turpitude have paid their debt to society why do we feel it efficacious to stigmatize and punish them for the rest of their lives? I am exuberant that God does not still label me based on past sins. For all those who come to Him in repentance, confessing their faults, and accept Him as their Lord and Savior, God welcomes. Hebrews 10:17 says, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”
Until we get honest about the source, it will do us no good to try to remedy the problem. Otherwise, we will only be treating symptoms and never cure the disease. Not talking about racism does not make it go away. Likewise, exposing a problem is not the same as creating one. People of faith need to stand up against injustice even if it is being done to the vilest among us. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Let us not just eradicate our prison overcrowdedness and staffing problems. Let’s get to the root and finally address the role of race in our criminal justice system.
If Jesus, a man of color, were in an Alabama prison today, would you care about the conditions, sentencing guidelines and societal stigmatization post-release then? Well, several of His servants are incarcerated, and we are called not to judge, but visit them. Always remembering what Jesus says in Mathew 25:36, “I was in prison and you came to visit me.”