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  • Writer's pictureSarina Deb

Mass Incarceration Is a San Mateo Problem Too

Despite being home to only 5% of the world’s population, US citizens are a fourth of the world’s prisoners. Our prison population has grown 800%% since 1980, with Reagan and Nixon era policies and the newfound “War on Drugs” leaving a lasting imprint on the criminal justice system. From the 1994 Crime Bill, which funded the growth of state prisons, to Clinton’s "Three Strikes and You're Out" policies for third-time offenders, the justice system has seen higher arrest rates, more convictions and longer sentences than ever before. And the birth of the prison industrial complex provided new stakeholders with new incentives for upholding mass incarceration, leaving corporations to profit off of free prison labor. 

These trends have disproportionately impacted people of color and marginalized communities. Today, 1 out of 3 Black men and 1 out of 6 Latinx men will be incarcerated, in comparison to only 1 in 17 white men, and indigenous women are 6 times more likely to go to prison than white women. People of color are grossly overrepresented in the criminal justice system and are penalized for mental health issues and nonviolent drug offenses. This issue goes beyond our jails and squad rooms. Today 1 in 13 Black Americans is disenfranchised due to felony status, and millions of more people of color struggle to obtain employment, housing, and welfare benefits with criminal records. 

Mass incarceration is an epidemic that infects and harms the fabric of American communities, and San Mateo County is no exception. According to a report from the Public Policy Institute of California, in San Mateo, Black residents are arrested at a rate of 5,700 per 100,000, Latinx residents at 1500 per 100,000, and white residents at a rate of 650 per 100,000. And despite making up less than 3% of San Mateo County’s population, Black people in San Mateo are 8 times more likely to be arrested than white people. 

That’s why we’ve founded Jailed for Melanin, a one-stop resource that addresses the mass incarceration epidemic through haunting stories, statistics, and a comprehensive history and that empowers you to take action, whether that means sending a message to your representative using our template or following our voter guide. We also connect afflicted individuals and communities to legal and service resources in their location and seek to support these communities through helping them understand their rights and the complex and often daunting criminal justice system. 

As we fight against police brutality and work to reform the system of policing and the role it plays in our communities, it is equally as important that we address the overrepresentation of BIPOC people in San Mateo’s criminal justice system. San Mateo is a diverse community, with people of color from a variety of backgrounds making up over 40% of our population. But diversity without true inclusion in our community and true equity in treatment amounts to exclusion and injustice. It’s time that we take an inside look at the way that our institutions understand, view, and treat people from different backgrounds and it’s time that we address the root causes of disparate arrest rates and work towards systematic, cultural, and legal reform. Only then can our community really heal.

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