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Racial Bias in our Prisons

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It was announced yesterday that Gov. Cuomo of New York has launched a formal inquiry into racial bias in New York’s state prison system. The New York state probe was the result of an investigation–news report by the New York Times.

The newspaper’s report revealed that black prisoners were punished at higher rates than white inmates. Black inmates received solitary confinement punishments more than white inmates.

The Times’ report reviewed almost 60,000 disciplinary cases from 2015. The review concluded that black inmates at one upstate prison were four times more likely than white prisoners to be subjected to solitary confinement and for longer periods of solitary confinement than white inmates.

This should not be shocking, since our prisons are a reflection of society’s prejudices and discrimination. New York’s state prisons are located in upstate New York. Many of the correctional officers are white and have lived locally all their lives. The officers will bring to their jobs, their biases which are intensified by the harsh environment of prison life.

Based on my personal experience in the Maryland state prison system, it was the same. Western Maryland is comparable to upstate New York. For the most part, the correctional officers were white and many had lived their entire life in western Maryland. In the local city of Hagerstown, in 2013, the black population was 16% and the white population was 68%.

From my personal observations, a significant number of white correctional officers were biased against black inmates. It was evident, when you heard conversations between white correctional officers describing black inmates as “Monkeys.”

In fairness, when I spent a few days in Jessup and part of my sentence in southern Maryland, there were black correctional officers, who were biased against white inmates. A substantial number of black correctional officers lived in Baltimore and surrounding counties. A number of black officers had known black inmates from the neighborhood. Their attitudes and actions involving white inmates were harsher than their responses to black inmates.

Of course, the racial bias among inmates was always exemplified by each racial group socializing separately from other groups in the yard.

At the end of the day, prisons will mirror the biases and prejudices that permeates society.

By: Bradley Schwartz
Founder of prisonpath.com

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