This serves as both an open letter to Thurgood Marshall Jr, a PSA for those who didn’t know about his appointment to CCA and a reminder about mass incarceration, and the overrepresentation of black men in prison.
It came as a complete and utter shock to discover yesterday that Thurgood Marshall Jr, son of former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and lawyer best known for his victory in Brown v. Board of Education, sits on the Board of Directors for the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest private prison owning company in the United States.
“What’s the big deal?” you ask? Well, in order to understand the irony we must look at the incarceration rates of black men, private prisons and CCA.
We’ve heard the informative and compelling words of Michelle Alexander many times over the last couple of years as she has stated, “Today there are more African-Americans under correctional control — in prison or jail, on probation or parole — than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began. There are millions of African-Americans now cycling in and out of prisons and jails or under correctional control.”
African Americans only account for 13.6% of the U.S. population, but 40 percent of the vast prison population (over 2.5 million) is black. In 2010, black males were incarcerated at the rate of 4,347 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents of the same race and gender, compared to 678 inmates per 100,000 for white males. The disparities in the prison population are absolutely devastating, especially when factoring in that the majority of the individuals in U.S. prisons are guilty of minor drug offenses.
What role does CCA play in all of this?
CCA is the largest private prison owning company in the United States and has amassed a fortune (reportedly earning $1.7 billion a year) by incarcerating people of color, namely African Americans. CCA has had so much success that in 2012 they sent proposal letters to prison officials in 48 states offering to purchase and manage public prisons at a substantial cost savings to the states. In exchange for their purchase, the proposal states that the prisons must include 1,000 beds and states must agree to maintain a 90% occupancy rate in the privately run prisons for the term of the contract, 20 years.
How does one ensure a 90% occupancy rate for 20 years? How is this ethical? WHO will be among the 90%? Looking at the current laws that increase our prison populations, the laws that ensure occupancy rates (three-strikes law) and our failed war on drugs and unjust sentencing, we can ascertain that a large percent of that occupancy rate will consist of black men.
According to the Illinois Disproportionate Justice Impact Study Commission, in some states, like Illinois, African Americans are more likely to be incarcerated for a petty drug offense than white people, even though African Americans and white people consume and distribute drugs at similar rates.
At this point I’m not sure what’s more disturbing, the fact that Thurgood Marshall Jr has been on CCA’s board since 2003 or his statement in 2004 regarding his father in which he said, "I also like to think of his legacy as one of encouraging lawyers of every color to contribute their skills to society." I wasn’t aware that this meant using your skills to contribute to the mass incarceration of black men throughout the U.S. As an attorney, and one whose father helped set the tone for civil rights, I would think this meant using your skills to help fight AGAINST the prison industrial complex and the devastating toll it’s taken on the black family, not aid it.
Having all this information, carrying your fathers last name and legacy, I must ask, are you betting on or against black men?