Hot Topics tackles mass incarceration in the U.S.

Marybeth Gerdelmann, Staff Writer

In an effort to make the student body more aware of important social justice issues, St. John’s University created a series of discussions collectively called “Hot Topics in Social Justice.”

On Feb. 16, 40 students and faculty members gathered in the D’Angelo Center to listen to a panel of experts discuss the social issue of mass incarceration in the United States.  

From the Staten Island Campus, 10 students also tuned in to watch the discussion through a live video making it possible for both SJU campuses to become engaged in the panelists’ viewpoints about incarceration.

Natalie Byfield, Judith Ryder, Reverend Demetrius Carolina Sr. and Antonio Lodato were the panelists that came to make sense of this national problem.  

In 1994, The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act was enforced allowing $19 billion to go towards the incarceration of more people.  

In 2015, 2,173,000 people were reported to be in prisons across the U.S.

This means that the U.S. makes up five percent of the world’s population, but also holds 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.  

Byfield, an associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, discussed how policing methods have effected mass incarceration.  

“The rate of crime does not correlate with the rate of incarcerations,” Byfield said.  

She also made it a point that the increase of incarcerations in the U.S. is due to the fact that the police are cracking down on more misdemeanors, such as drug and property offenses.  

Ryder, who also works in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, focused on the increase in incarcerations of women and girls.  

“Due to backgrounds of physical abuse and economic disadvantage, some women are led down the wrong path,” Ryder said. “As a result of women being arrested for nonviolent offenses, the number of women in prison has increased 50 percent.”

Following the input from the panelists, those in attendance had the chance to ask questions regarding the presentation.  

One inquiry dealt with what lies ahead for mass incarceration.

Dr. Carolina, the director of the Central Family Life Center in Staten Island said, “It takes real work on various levels to change a system.”

“There must be a social will among the people in this nation to control incarceration,” he concluded.