Today Priscilla and I visited San Quentin State Prison. Earlier this year I read The New Jim Crow, a study of how the US justice system disproportionately criminalizes and jails Blacks and Latinos. We wanted to see first hand what prison conditions are like for people -- and we got a chance to speak with inmates and staff.
US jails hold around 2.4 million people -- about 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. Blacks and Hispanics are significantly more likely than whites to be arrested for possession and sale of marijuana and to receive a conviction and criminal record, even though the majority of marijuana users are non-Hispanic whites. Almost 40 percent of prisoners are black. More than half the people entering prison live below the poverty line. Our entire society pays the price for an unfair, broken system.
San Quentin has one of the best track records of people not returning to jail in the country. They run programs to teach valuable skills to help inmates find jobs and avoid criminal activity.
In this photo, I'm talking with inmates who are taking a coding course. I was impressed by their spirit to return to their communities and provide for their families, as well as the dedication of the staff to help them reclaim their lives.
Making our criminal justice system fairer and more effective is a huge challenge for our country. I’m going to keep learning about this topic, but some things are already clear. We can’t jail our way to a just society, and our current system isn't working.