Sharlene Green 10.29.18
Despite the latest NYS criminal justice reforms (pre-trial detention, alternative to incarceration), the re-incarceration of parolees for technical violations remains a controversial issue. From January 2014 to January 2018 NYC’s jail population declined by 21%. However, a reverse trend occurred among technical parole violators who were re-incarcerated at a 15% rate from January 2014 to January 2018 (Schiraldi, 2018). This statistics reveal a startling disparity, that poor black men are being arrested, imprisoned and re-arrested at an alarming rate than other demographics. 33% of parole violations are technical, meaning individuals are regularly detained for non-crime related reasons such as inability to pay a fine, inability to obtain employment and or inability to make office reports as directed.
Of the most impactful violation is the criminalization of socialization – this parole mandate bans fraternization with those with a criminal record. This rule sticks released persons with a mental health ultimatum. Either conform oneself to isolation by alienating oneself from all persons with a criminal record or risk re-arrest.
To ban socialization amongst all persons with a criminal record suggests that all persons with a criminal record are inherently bad and that introspectively, as a person with a criminal record, you too are bad. This psychological distress flies in the face of internalized racism while buttressing a false superiority among demographics less likely to have a criminal record: White, educated males.
The majority of persons incarcerated are Black men without a high school diploma from concentrated low-income communities. To ask the typical Black parolee not to fraternize with other persons with a criminal record is to ask him to instantaneously change his socioeconomic status without also immediately availing him with the educational prerequisites and or social currency needed to fraternize with those less likely to have a criminal record: White educated working men.
So what about gentrification? Doesn’t the integration of Black urban communities by the young working White expand interaction and employment networks for Black men? One would assume so, but no.
Studies reveal that as neighborhoods gentrify, more 911 calls are made to curtail the socialization of Black communities in lieu of newly envisioned White communities. Weekend relaxing via music playing with friends on a Friday night now translates to loitering and public nuisance. Paul Butler, a former federal prosecutor and author of the book, Chokehold: Policing Black Men writes that police are enforcing newcomers unwillingness to adapt to longstanding community norms because ultimately White newcomers are seeking to colonize not accompany existing Black communities.
This ugly truth begs an ugly question. How does a disenfranchised poor Black parolee compartmentalize the threat of being displaced from his physical community while already being mandated to distance himself from his community members? Illegal fraternization.
How then does one deal with one’s mental health, eschewing the depression that defaults from unemployment? Illegal self-medication
And thereafter, when the depression still does not dissipate. The pain that stabs the gut in the midnight and prohibits hope in the daydreams. The occasional heartache that would successfully tempt the average person to stay in bed all day missing pertinent appointments. Unless your pertinent appointment is with your parole officer. Illegal Abscondment.
Urban gentrified communities creates hyper isolated pockets of incarceration meaning those likely to be arrested are also those most likely to have close friends and family members with a criminal record. 85% of jobs are obtained from personal networking. Similarly, the caveats needed to acclimate to a successful life from your network such as obtaining housing and or cheap informal child care become nearly impossible when a majority of your network also has a criminal record.
Philadelphia, New Jersey City, Nashville and NYC. What do these 4 states have in common? Rising gentrification and rising re-arrest for technical parole violators (Aiken, 2017). The Economic Policy Institute reports that overall wages for American workers hasn’t increased since 1970. In contrast, inflation, property values and the cost of living has increased (Mishel, Gould, Bivens, 2015). Moreover, the U.S. Dept. of Labor observes Black men make 70% less than their white counterparts. Criminal records create barriers to the formal work economy meanwhile rising property values make housing affordability even more difficult for parolees without access to a employment network.
New York State’s Governor Cuomo addressed the the epidemic of technical parole violators at his 2018 State of the Union address. Fines and parole revocation for marijuana are obvious injustices but to truly assist the demographic most affected by parole violation, deeper analysis is needed into the cultural biases that are most likely to affect parole violators. As a nation we must stop policing one’s right to make personal judgments among personal relationships. If we trust a person is worthy of release, we must additionally trust he is worthy of full communal integration. To eliminate public congregation of persons with a common criminal trait, we are thereby creating a subclass of persons susceptible to subpar treatment. Criminal justice reform must include implicit bias discussions that to confront the unconscious creation of bias policies. If the goal is to reduce the amount of persons locked up we have to stop treating parolees like they’re inherently deserving of lockup.