The American carceral state has burgeoned into a catch-all solution for difficult issues—from drug addiction to mental illness—with which society has otherwise failed to grapple. Prisons metastasizing unchecked for decades has rendered mass incarceration an epidemic unique in scale to the United States.
Students from Women’s Studies 201: Mass Incarceration hosted a discussion on the American prison system in the Hunt Room to introduce intersectional perspectives on Friday Nov. 10. The talk highlighted the complexities of race, class, education, gender, sexuality, disabilities and religion within the framework of mass incarceration.
The presentation commenced with a video that conveyed the racial disparity afflicting the American justice system and emphasized the limitations imposed on former convicts upon release. More broadly, the message reiterated how discriminatory policies that mainly criminalize people of color have fueled mass incarceration.
“In my opinion, mass incarceration is like a modern time slavery,” international relations major sophomore Juan Mendez said. “I consider it to be outrageous.”
Mendez’s portion of the presentation addressed how law enforcement officials disproportionately target people of color—particularly black men, according to statistical analysis from The Sentencing Project. In their patrols, police tend to over-saturate black communities, raising the chances that black Americans encounter law enforcement officials, Mendez explained.
Childhood special education major junior Alyssa Catholdi focused on the intersection of class and education with mass incarceration during her discussion. Catholdi highlighted the correlation between low levels of education and the risk of incarceration. Her section of the presentation, furthermore, proposed the possibility of mass incarceration as an intergenerational problem.
“Look at the impact prisons have not just on parents but on kids as well … it creates a cycle,” Catholdi said.
Evidence suggests that children with incarcerated parents struggle more academically, indicating that mass imprisonment might risk evolving into an inherited trait, according to Catholdi.
The discussion’s intersectional paradigm also incorporated narratives from prisoners of varying gender and sexual identities. Like people of color, sexual minorities—members of the LGBTQ+ community—also endure incarceration disproporitonaly, according to physics major senior Margaret Downs, who cited studies by The Williams Institute.
Downs further discussed how incarcerated sexual minorities face an increased threat of assault, have greater chances of placement in solitary confinement and risk heightened psychological distress or mental health issues while in prison.
Similarly, history adolescent education major freshman Abbey O’Halloran drew a connection between discriminatory assignment of solitary confinement and prisoners with disabilities.
“This is an additional punishment for having a disability,” O’Halloran said.
Communication major junior Emily Arpino concluded the presentation portion of the event with an analysis of how generally negative feelings toward Islam throughout the U.S. precipitate over-policing of Muslim communities.
The discussion culminated with an examination the implications of the Trump administration’s “tough on crime” approach to criminal justice. Presenters also overwhelmingly reiterated the importance of informed activism.
“It’s important to talk about these problems—like mass incarceration—that affect so many Americans, especially when they’re implicit in society, but affect such a huge group,” attendee junior Angelica Curto said. “I’ve recently become interested in this topic and the more I read it becomes more disheartening.”