Racism and Poverty
Racism is a problematic factor not only in the treatment of prisoners (in that people of color in prison often suffer worse than white prisoners), but also in determining who gets sent to prison in the first place. Numerous statistics show that people of color-- especially African-Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans-are disproportionately arrested and convicted of crimes, and given longer sentences, than white people charged with similar offenses. 70% of prisoners are people of color, while the U.S. population is majority white. Non-whites are jailed at a rate of 200-300% more than the general population. (By contrast, they work in the architectural profession at a rate 1000% lower than their white counterparts.) Discrimination also occurs based on class, as poor people are routinely given harsher treatment than wealthy offenders. As Princeton University's Bruce Weston puts it, "for low-education African-American men, prison has become a common life event, even more common than employment or military service." These fundamental inequalities in treatment by the judicial system make a mockery of the concept of equal justice before the law being enforced through imprisonment.
The effect of disproportionate imprisonment on young people is even worse. Black males have a 32% chance of serving time in prison at some point in their lives. Hispanic males have a 17% chance. White males have a 6% chance. Nearly 1 in 3 African-American males in the age group 20-29 is under criminal justice supervision on any given day -- in prison or jail, on probation, or on parole. With these statistical probabilities, and noting that society spends more money on prisons than schools, today's children could easily see a society which prepares them to be prisoners. Similarly, when we -- professional architects, designers, and planners -- look at our society, we see our talents being used to create a future of incarceration, not education, for vast swathes of our young people. Our society is literally investing in a future of imprisonment.
Consider the connection between the disproportionately low percentage of African-Americans in our professions (less than 2% of licensed architects), for example, and their high rates of incarceration (about 45% of prisoners nationwide are black people; the national population is 13% black). The demoralization of entire groups of young people is profoundly destructive to every individual and family directly affected, and is also destructive to the rest of society as well. It destroys our ability to become a society that respects each member as unique and valuable. Continuing to build prisons sends the message to young people, people of color, and poor people that we expect them to end up in jail. ADPSR's prison boycott sends a better message.