African Americans face a number of obstacles even though it has been nearly a hundred and fifty years since the end of the Civil War. According to the American Psychological Association:
•African American children are three times more likely than Caucasian children to live in poverty.
•Unemployment rates for African Americans are typically double those of Caucasian Americans. African American men working full time earn 72 percent of the average earnings of comparable Caucasian men and 85 percent of the earnings of Caucasian women (American Psychological Association, 2012, para. 4)
The ecological perspective takes into consideration the social environment in which people live. This includes their homes, their type of work and all of the systems they interact with. It includes the way the person in environment interacts with other systems including the legal system. More African American men are involved in the legal system than were enslaved before the Civil War. (Price, nd)
In addition to the economic issues that are facing almost everyone in this climate, African Americans face institutional racism even when the practice is legal. Changes to the drug laws in the 1970’s have resulted in a 500% increase of American’s in prison. Nine-hundred thousand of these 2.2 million people are African American (Mauer & King, 2007). Understanding the difference between what is legal and what is just is important to the person-in-environment perspective. We do not live in a post racial era, but we do live in an era where the media frames our vision of the past and with few, if any, exceptions leaves out the terror and violence that occurred from the post-reconstruction period to the Civil Rights era and beyond.
The United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley held a meeting with a representative of Governor Corbett outlining the proposed budget cuts to social service agencies. The United Way 2011 Non-Profit Budget Survey found that although 69% of agencies had their funding cut, 80% of agencies saw an increased demand for services. Funding from donations and foundations have either remained flat for 36% of agencies or decreased for 38%. Twenty percent of agencies saw their state funding cut by 77%. Twenty one to thirty percent saw their funding cut by 9% and thirty one or more percent saw their funding cut by 14%. The cuts resulted in 52% of agencies laying off staff; 32% cutting programs; 46% cutting program hours and 45% expanding their waiting lists for services. Those affected are the least powerful members of our society: neglected and abused children, the mentally disabled, the homeless and the physically disabled (The United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley, 2012). The panelists at the meeting who represented major social service and educational interests in the area pointed out that prevention programs save money while incarceration, hospitalization and institutionalization cost more money. The only budget not being cut, according to the representatives power point was the prison budget.
This meeting exposed the fact that financial crisis is not the main issue. The crisis is a conflict of values between people and profits. Warehousing people diverts funding from social services that employ social workers “to enhance human well being and help meet the human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed and living in poverty” (National Association of Social Workers [NASW], 2008, para. 1) to increasingly privatized institutions of incarceration.
•Between 1990 and 2009 the number of people in private prisons increased by 1600%.
•6% of state prisoners, 16% of federal prisoners, and, according to one report, nearly half of all immigrants detained by the federal government are housed in private prisons.
•The federal government is in the midst of a private prison expansion spree, driven primarily by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an agency that locks up roughly 400,000 immigrants each year and spends over $1.9 billion annually on custody operations. ICE now intends to create a new network of massive immigration detention centers, managed largely by private companies, in states including New Jersey, Texas, Florida, California and Illinois (ACLU, 2011, p. 5).
•In 2011, a Pennsylvania judge was sentenced to 28 years in prison after being convicted of taking bribes and kickbacks for sentencing juveniles to a private prison (Peralta, 2011).
Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) stated in their 2010 Annual Report that:
“The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws… any changes with respect to drugs…or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them...Similarly, reductions in crime rates or resources dedicated to prevent and enforce crime could lead to reductions in arrests, convictions and sentences requiring incarceration at correctional facilities” (ACLU, 2011, p. 12).
GEO Group made a similar statement in their Securities and Exchange Commission filings.
“Our growth depends on our ability to secure contracts to develop and manage new correctional, detention and mental health facilities, the demand for which is outside our control …. Any changes with respect to the decriminalization of drugs and controlled substances could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, sentenced and incarcerated…Similarly, reductions in crime rates could lead to reductions in arrests… requiring incarceration at correctional facilities. Immigration reform laws … could materially adversely impact us.” (ACLU, 2011, p. 13)
These two corporations are the first and second largest private prison corporations in the country. They also both support the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization that brings state legislators and industry together to draft model legislation favorable to corporations (ACLU, 2011). ALEC has promoted legislation like the “truth in sentencing” law that requires inmates to serve up to 90% of their time before being eligible for parole and the “three strikes” law which requires a sentence of 25 years to life after the commitment of a third felony by an individual. In addition to this, private prisons divert local money when they receive government subsides, tax exemptions and utilize water and sewer services. Private prison lobbyists from both CCA and GEO are working in many states including the state of Pennsylvania (ACLU, 2011, p. 38). Both corporations receive major subsidies from the federal government. One study reported that “78 percent of CCA's and 69 percent of GEO's prisons were subsidized” (Fisher, 2011, p. 1).
In a time of record unemployment, prisoners are being paid as little as twenty cents an hour to produce everything from food for school lunches to guided missile parts, a picture far removed from the image of Rosie the Riveter during WWII. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) introduced the Prison Industries Enhancement Certification Program that allows private industry to partner with prisons to manufacture everything from office furniture to rocking horses. (Sloan, 2012)
In order to understand why programs that help people and create a better social system are being cut we have to understand power. “Families may not fare well, and their needs may not be addressed, if money and power interests define the agenda…the persons and groups who are able to name and frame the issues, and control the discourse, have the power” (Briar-Lawson et al., 2001, p. 261).
It is difficult to know what most people think about the current situation. Political commentators and local business owners are frequently published in the local newspaper. Their views are mostly pro-business and pro-budget cuts. I feel that many people are fighting over crumbs. Ethnic issues also come into play with many long term Allentown residents and residents of the surrounding suburbs. If you read, as I do, the comments from readers of The Morning Call, many have very intense feelings about minorities that they have no hesitation to express anonymously with monikers like “Staberdeath” and “sick of crime.”
I also don’t think there is enough community organizing of those of us who are outside the social service family. Citizens who want safe neighborhoods, good schools and a vital neighborhood could be organized to do a number of things including making sure that all members of their communities have a valid picture ID to vote in the upcoming elections. I don’t believe that most people are aware of the money saved by prevention as opposed to incarceration. I don’t believe they are aware of the various kinds of subsidies businesses receive to come into a community. I don’t believe they are aware of the types of low paying service jobs that do not pay a living wage and that will only put more of a burden on social service agencies that do not have adequate funding.
ACLU. (2011, November 2). Banking on bondage: Private prisons and mass incarceration. ACLU. doi:http://www.aclu.org/files/assets/bankingonbondage_20111102.pdf
American Psychological Association. (2012). Ethnic and racial minorities & socioeconomic status. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/pi/ses/resources/publications/factsheet-erm.aspx
Briar-Lawson, K., Lawson, H. A., Hennon, C. B., & Jones, A. R. (2001). Family-centered policies and practices: International implications. New York, New York: Columbia University Press.
Fisher, W. (2011). The corrupt corporate incarceration complex. Retrieved from http://truth-out.org/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=1905:the-corrupt-corporate-incarceration-complex
Kirst-Ashman, K., & Hull, Jr., G. H. (2009). Generalist practice with organizations with organizations and communities (4th ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.
Kirst-Ashman, K. K., & Hull, Jr, G. H. (2009). Understanding generalist practice (5th ed.). Belmont, California: Brooks/Cole.
Mauer, M., & King, R. S. (2007, July). Uneven justice: Rates of incarceration my race and ethnicity. The Sentencing Project. doi:http://www.sentencingproject.org/doc/publications/rd_stateratesofincbyraceandethnicity.pdf
National Association of Social Workers. (2008). Code of ethics of the national association of social workers. Retrieved from http://www.socialworkers.org/pubs/code/code.asp
Peralta, E. (2011). PA judge sentenced to 28 years in massive juvenile justice bribery scandal. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2011/08/11
Price, D. (nd). More black men now in prison system than enslaved in 1850. Retrieved from http://www.laprogressive.com/black-men-prison-system/
Sloan, B. (2012). The prison industries enhancement system Why everyone should be concerned. Retrieved from https://www.prisonlegalnews.org
The United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley. (2012). 2012 Pennsylvania budget analysis. Retrieved from http://www.unitedwayglv.org/Home/Advocate/PA-Budget-Forum.aspx