The highly anticipated release of season 4 of Orange Is The New Black arrived and the usual question after each release is “When is it safe to discuss the show?” You don’t want to be that person losing friends and followers for posting spoilers on your social media accounts. The conversations surrounding OITNB have been more on the plot of the show rather than the real life situations they are pulling from to create it. OITNB has had huge success over the years but it has also opened the door for us to explore the world of women in prison.
The Family Against Minimums Foundation (FAMM) reported that not only has the female population increased by 800%, but the incarceration rate for black women is four times higher than the rate for white women. FAMM also reports that two-thirds of incarcerated women are there for non-violent offenses. On June 30, 2016, a small step towards combating this epidemic was introduced by President Barack Obama.
The Administration is launching the Data-Driven Justice Initiative (DDJ) whose intention is to decrease the number of those incarcerated by directing them to other resources instead of imprisonment being the only option. The data will be collected from criminal justice and health systems and will provide health and social services to those in need rather than placing them in prison.
Companies such as MasterCard and RapidSOS, a mobile platform that allows you to give your precise location and even send videos to 911 in case of an emergency, have agreed to be a part of the initiative. The significance of this particular data is that it will be used to determine at-risk communities and identify criminal activities so that more effective resources can be allocated to those communities.
The overall goal with this initiative is to use technology to gather data on the patterns of those moving through the criminal justice and health systems, and create alternatives to prison. Technology will help push our criminal justice system to focus on reform and rehabilitation rather than imprisonment for those who really need supportive resources.
The DDJ initiative is a small step in the right direction but it is simply a drop in the ocean when what’s needed is tidal waves.
Their focus is on the 64% of people in local jails and the 73% of women in prison that suffer from mental illnesses. Those statistics are alarming and DDJ repeatedly states that they will provide resources upon release to reduce recidivism, however they are attempting to do so while avoiding the one flaw in their efforts: by the time the data is collected and the patterns of their behavior are in this system, it could be too late.
FAMM reported that 56% of women are incarcerated for drugs or property crimes that carry mandatory minimum sentences. Their report stated that mandatory sentencing means the judge cannot take into account the past of the woman before sentencing: history of abuse, her family, or if she needs mental or health treatment. It is baffling to me that before sentencing, mental illness cannot be considered, but after they have already served that mandatory time, then their needs are suddenly a priority. DDJ ignores the real issue here, which is mandatory sentencing laws. This initiative fixes the issue on the back end instead of combating the root of America’s incarceration problem that begins with the laws.
Image courtesy of Atlanta Blackstar