“When you label a human being, you dehumanize them…” Pastor Charles Neal of Brookside Community Church at the “13th” said at the Mass Incarceration and Ethics panel discussion that took place in the Schwitzer Student Center on Nov. 28. Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Religion Alida Liberman moderated a panel of individuals who shared what they knew about the mass incarceration problem in the United States compared to the rest of the world.
Liberman began with a short powerpoint to introduce the subject of mass incarceration to the audience before questions began. She discussed how the U.S. is the world leader when it comes to incarcerations. Before 1925, incarcerations were at a steady rate, but after there was a drastic increase. Even in the 1990s when crime rates had dropped, incarceration rates continued to rise. She explained how black Americans are more likely to be incarcerated than Latinos and white Americans. According to Liberman, black defendants are getting longer sentences than other races for committing the same crimes.
From the panel, Neal continued the discussion by talking about how the current prison boom is all about money, including taxpayer money.
Chair and Associate Professor of Criminal Justice Kevin Whiteacre added that it takes $30,000 a year to keep a person incarcerated. These expenses include things such as the prices of food and rooms. Prisons can also be chosen by stores for prison labor. Years ago, according to Neal, department stores would have prisoners create the garments sold in stores since it was cheap labor. It was not until word got out to consumers about stores who did this that they found laborers elsewhere, according to Neal.
“I think some of our students probably don’t know about the criminal justice system in the United States. Probably some of them have no personal experience with it,” said philosophy professor Peter Murphy. “They don’t know anyone who has been incarcerated. So it hasn’t touched their lives specifically. They may not know much about the relevant statistics…It’s an important part of society to understand who we are throwing away in jails. So if we are going to be responsible citizens, we need to know this stuff.”
The panelists explained the difference between being in jail and being incarcerated. Whiteacre explained that jail is for those that are waiting for trial. Those in prison are there because they have been convicted and are serving their sentences.
“I think it’s important that the university hosts more events like this one to inform our student body on current issues that we not realize are important and their impact on our society,” senior visual communication design major Jenna Krall said.
Making the subject easy to comprehend for the students was the goal of the event according to Murphy.
“We now have a UIndy center for ethics. We try to do one event like this every semester, mainly geared toward students. We try to design the whole thing around student interest,” said Murphy. “[We] bring in some panelists or whatever we may think is ‘hot.’ ‘13th’ has sort of been in the air so we thought it was timely and it goes with the whole Black Lives Matter thing too.”
The event was geared toward filling in gaps of information attendees had by drawing from the different panelists’ experience.
“I thought it was very informative and well thought out,” said Krall. “I appreciated having three different professionals to speak on different areas of the issue.”