February 13, 2012

    Human Rights Council
    Agenda Item 9
    Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance

    Written Statement submitted by the International Human Rights Association of American
    Minorities (IHRAAM), an international NGO in Consultative Status (Roster)

    Discriminatory Incarceration Severely Impacts the African American National Minority

    The Civil Rights Movement moved African Americans toward integrating into the United States on the basis of
    nondiscrimination and equality under the law.  It produced an environment where consultation between civil society and
    government took place, leading to the legal entrenchment of voting rights and repeal of discriminatory policies in relation to
    health care, housing, education and employment.

    Despite significant policy changes addressing their inequality before the law, however, socioeconomic inequalities linger and
    continue to affect the societal development of the African American national minority.   According to a 2011 Pew Research
    publication, African Americans from 2005 to 2009 lost an overall 53% of their total household wealth compared to 16% among
    European Americans. This particular disparity may be directly related the housing market bubble of 2006 and the recession of
    2007 in the U.S.;  several class action mortgage discrimination claims have been filed by the NAACP against lenders across
    the country, alleging that lenders disproportionately targeted minorities for high cost, high risk subprime lending, which has
    resulted in disproportionately higher rates of default and foreclosure for minority African American and Hispanic borrowers.  

    While the African American middle class is growing along with the emergence and increase in African American millionaires,
    African American joblessness is double that of European Americans. Furthermore, inadequate funding allocated to public
    schools in inner-city communities places many African American students at a disadvantage with their European American
    counterparts. The current economic crisis may put discrimination against African Americans on the ascendant once again,
    eroding the gains of the brief era of affirmative action, and indicating the vulnerability of advances based on temporary special
    measures. Furthermore, this highlighted disparity post-Civil Rights speaks to the inability of the African American community to
    build and amass inter-generational wealth, due to generations of African American enslavement and discriminatory treatment.

    IHRAAM would like to highlight the problematic nature of the current U.S. prison system as it concerns African Americans,
    addressing the contributing factors behind the over-incarceration of African Americans, their involvement in the prison labour
    market and their subsequent denial of basic housing and voting rights upon their release from prison.

    The U.S. presently leads the world in the incarceration of adults, and the previous decade saw the most dramatic increase in
    incarceration rates among its citizenry.  Despite a recent decrease in the imprisonment rates in the U.S., there remains the
    stark reality that for every 100,000 Americans 743 are incarcerated. During the 1980s, the U.S. War on Drugs resulted in
    numerous policies to address the growing use and distribution of drugs within American society. It led to the targeting of
    underprivileged communities of colour whose members, according to the Drug Policy Alliance, are far more likely to be
    stopped, searched, arrested, prosecuted, convicted and incarcerated for drug law violations than are European Americans.
    The Drug Policy Alliance research further found that while African Americans comprise 14% of regular drug users, they
    represent 37% of those arrested for drug offenses.  In addition, African Americans serve almost as much time in federal prison
    for a drug offense as European Americans do for a violent offense.  Higher arrest and incarceration rates for African
    Americans can be directly correlated to the approach taken by law enforcement. Individuals from impoverished African
    American communities don’t have the financial means to obtain the proper legal counsel to represent them when they face the
    criminal justice systems.

    Currently, Africans Americans make up 40% of the prison population but only represent around 13% of the national population.
    An African American male is seven times more likely to be imprisoned than his European American counterpart (Justice Policy
    Institute, 2012). Michelle Alexander’s widely acclaimed new book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of
    Colourblindness, drew attention to the fact that more African American men are in prison or jail, on probation or parole than
    were enslaved in 1850, before the Civil War began.  Forbes Magazine quoted the following from it: “The New Jim Crow offers a
    devastating account of a legal system doing its job perfectly well. We have simply replaced one caste system with another
    one.” (2010).
    During the 1990s under the governmental administration of William Clinton, the U.S. prison system was privatized. With the
    privatization of the prison system, elements within various industries along with investors in depressed regions throughout the
    U.S. saw the possibility of economic gain in the exploitation of this extensive prison population.  Employers saw an opportunity
    to access cheap labour along with a means to avoid paying workers unemployment, vacation, pension or compensation time.  
    Insofar as the majority of the two million incarcerated Americans are nonviolent offenders rather than truly criminal or
    dysfunctional persons, they represent a trapped labour force which can be enticed to work at rates unachievable among the
    workforce at large.

    Like the post Civil War prison farms, today’s prison-industrial complex functions to provide required labour, largely on a racially
    specific basis, to business and military production. Between this factor and the development and management of prison
    complexes themselves, prison privatization has led to an incentive to incarcerate citizens and attendant Congressional
    lobbying. A majority of prisons in the U.S. are now privately owned, and are major competitors on Wall Street. 74% percent of
    states within the U.S. have legally recognized the contracting of prison labor to major corporations. If 40% of the prison
    population is African American and they are experiencing an unequal distribution of judicial fairness by the criminal justice
    system, one can determine that there exists structural discrimination as it relates to the U.S. prison system.          

    The overwhelming majority of prisoners released from this institutional system face multiple challenges in their attempt to re-
    enter society.  The global economic crisis is impacting the availability and access to employment opportunities and also the
    level of funding of social services. Many employers discriminate against persons with an imprisonment record. Due to their
    felony record, formerly imprisoned African Americans are denied government funded public housing and even the right to vote,
    further disempowering the African American national minority’s efforts to address its needs through the electoral system by the
    depletion of its numbers of registered voters. Not unsurprisingly, 70% of impoverished African American former inmates return
    to the prison system within two years; this is directly connected, inter alia, to the lack of systematic rehabilitation programs that
    afford an opportunity to acquire the necessary skills to be a productive citizen.  

    Immediate action is required and essential to change the problematic nature of the prison system in the U.S.  The state must
    address this emergency which directly targets African Americans on such an extremely discriminatory basis, ultimately denying
    both their human and civil rights.  A thorough analysis of the current prison system must be taken by the State with the aim of
    changing laws and sentencing for nonviolent offenses, and ending the over-incarceration of African Americans.  Engagement
    by civil society and the State is crucial in rectifying decades of structural discrimination being faced by the African American

    The criminalization of African Americans is turning Martin Luther King Jr’s dream into nightmare. All steps needed must be
    taken by civil society and the U.S. government to address this crisis, since more African American males are incarcerated
    today than were enslaved during the dark ages of American history.  

An international NGO in consultative status with the United Nations
The UN Human Rights Council
IHRAAM participates in the HRC's
scrutinizing state behavior in
relation to their legal human
rights obligations as signatories
to the international human rights
Inter-American Commission
on Human Rights (IACHR)
See left.
The UN Permanent Forum
on Indigenous Issues (PFII)
Forum on Indigenous Issues scheduled
for May 7-3`, 2012