A Glimpse of Mass Incarceration Through Mass Media

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

There is no other nation in the world that has a higher rate of incarceration.

Mass incarceration is a term that not only refers to the criminal justice system but also the laws, rules and policies among other systems that have control over people who are labeled as criminals inside and outside of prison. In the United States, we have over two million people serving time in the nation’s jails and prisons, which is a 500% increase over the last 40 years.

As a nation, we make up only about 5% of the global population, yet we have nearly 25% of the world’s incarcerated population. Not only does this affect us as American citizens, but also as citizens of Nashville, Tennessee. The Tennessean presented an article stating that the Tennessee prison population has hit its second consecutive year of record highs.

Mass media in the U.S. is increasingly focused on mass incarceration and how it ties into racial disparities.

Too often, people claim perfect equality in America when the reality is far from that. Our criminal justice system is broken, and mass incarceration in relation to racial disparities is a topic that has been taken on by many mass mediums within the last few years.

One of my all-time favorite books and a New York Times Bestseller, “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander, was published in 2010 and sheds light on our corrupt social justice system discriminating against minorities, specifically African American men, through mass incarceration. Alexander states, “Mass incarceration is the most pressing racial justice issue of our time.”

In 2017, the book “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas was on the shelves of bookstores across the country and later became a movie in 2018. This heartbreaking story follows Starr, a young African American girl who bears witness to the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend at the hands of a police officer.

Released in 2019, the limited Netflix series “When They See Us” shares the story of the Central Park Five, a group of five young men wrongfully convicted of an assault that took place in New York’s Central Park. “When They See Us” was nominated for Outstanding Limited Series at the Emmy’s among other nominations.

“Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson was published in 2014 to tell the true story of the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit law office dedicated to defending those who are poor, incarcerated and wrongly convicted. Based on the bestselling book, “Just Mercy” was made a movie and will be in theaters December 2019.

2019 will be the sixth anniversary of Wrongful Conviction Day.

For the past six years, Wrongful Conviction Day, originally an effort of the Innocence Network, has been celebrated on October 2 to raise awareness of the causes and effects of wrongful conviction and bring to light the impact wrongful conviction has on innocent people and their families.

Listed below are organizations leading efforts to address the crisis of mass incarceration in the United States as well as resources for more information.

The Sentencing Project https://www.sentencingproject.org/

The Innocence Project https://www.innocenceproject.org/

Equal Justice Initiative https://eji.org/

The New Jim Crow http://newjimcrow.com/

Wrongful Conviction Day http://www.intlwrongfulconvictionday.org/

Photos by Marco Chilese and Julius Drost