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Sin Barras Asking the Right Questions
I recently had the opportunity to participate in the taping of a Community TV program on the local community activist group Sin Barras. These committed, dedicated young people are asking the difficult questions that must be asked about the new "prison-industrial complex" that is building jail and prison cells in our country at an unprecendented rate. And while mainstream society seems comfortable with the policy of separating whole segments of our population from their liberty, Sin Barras stands up and questions the very foundation of this policy.
They are asking why our country imprisons a greater percentage of its citizens than any other country in the world. They are asking why Black Americans who comprise 12% of the population compose 40% of all prison populations. They are asking why 65% of all those incarcerated are non-violent drug offenders. They are asking our President why the federal sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine are 18 times that of the punishment for powder. They are asking why our county jail is operating at 120% capacity at a time when the State of California is under a federal consent decreee to reduce the overall prison population by 30,000. The are asking why, in consideration of the fact that the consent decree is based on a finding by the court that the level of medical care provided to prison inmates violates their constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment, our county jail has decided to outsource its medical care and place it beyond local control. And they are asking why our young non-criminal Latinos are being racially profiled and placed on immigration holds by the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement with the cooperation of our county Sheriff's Department.
It has been truly said that a community cannot arrest its way out of crime; and it most certainly cannot incarcerate its way out. It has also been said that the war on drugs and the unrestrained rush to build more jail and prison cells to warehouse offenders has created a new "Jim Crow" which has effectively bound and shackled an entirely new generation of young Black Americans. I say that the reach of this new Mr. Crow is broad enough and insidious enough to shackle us all. And that is why we must all start asking the questions that are being asked by Sin Barras if we ever want to see a day "without prison bars".