Five steps to reduce mass incarceration of African Americans

It is quite telling that this photo of a prison reentry training program looks very heavily “people of color.”

Last Month, I introduced my cousin Brandon Garrick, Masters of Social Work Candidate at NC State, who will be a regular monthly guest blogger writing about key social issues connected with my field of diversity consulting.

His first blog was “Three Key Impacts of the Mass Incarceration of Black Americans” – Link, and now he follows up with some proposed solutions with “Five steps to reduce mass incarceration of African Americans.”

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Mass incarceration of African Americans cripples our society in so many ways. I explained in a earlier blog (link included), on how it negatively affects our country from an economic and sociological perspective. As a country we need to reduce mass incarceration, especially when it comes to non-violent offenders who are serving mandatory sentences. I have come up with five steps we can take as a country to reduce mass incarceration among African Americans.

1) Increase Drug courts. Drug courts are a federal expanded program that offers offenders an alternative to incarceration. Drug courts provide substance abuse treatment within a court setting, with the goal of reducing recidivism or incarceration . Drug courts were developed in response to the growing number of drug cases crowding our courts and prisons. Drug courts have been studied since its creation, and positive results are evident.

2) Increase Mental Health Courts. Mental health courts were created to assist criminal defendants who have a mental illness that significantly contributes to their criminal offense. Mental health courts provide court mandated treatment programs instead of prison. Mental health courts provide an excellent alternative to incarceration while providing mental health treatment.

Effective prison reentry programs and employer incentives can provide productive jobs for people instead of them living on the street.


3) More Effective Re-Entry Programs. Returning to the community from prison is a complex transition for most inmates, as well as for their families and communities. Upon reentering society, former offenders are likely to struggle with substance abuse, lack of sufficient education and job skills, inadequate lodging options, mental health problems, and other various issues. Therefore, as a country, we need more effective Re-entry programs to help reduce recidivism.

4) Reducing Mandatory Minimum Sentencing. Mandatory minimum sentences a major contribution to the spark of mass incarceration. Horrendous public polices and awful crime bills can be liable for destroying African American communities throughout our country . As a nation, we need to fight these mandatory sentencing as they are very problematic for over-crowded our prisons. One organization that is fighting hard against these is Families Against Mandatory Minimums(FAMM). You can find out more information at http://famm.org/

5) Increase incentives for employers to hire ex-convicts. The Work Opportunity Tax Credit Program is a excellent program that leads to former inmates finding employment. Employment can go a long way in reducing recidivism. One of the main problems former inmates have is finding employment when released. Re-entry services can only help so much when it comes to guiding released individuals to employment. As a country we should provide more incentives to companies that hire ex-convicts, the same way we offer incentives for hiring ex-military.

This blog enumerates some ideas on how to reduce mass incarceration among African Americans. If you have any other ideas and would like a more detailed paper on some of these alternatives, feel free to email me @ [email protected]

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Guest blogger Brandon Garrick is a Masters of Social Work Candidate at NC State University

Brandon Garrick is my second cousin who I enjoy spending a lot if time with. He recently completed his Bachelor of Sociology at North Carolina State University, and has now entered their Master’s Program of Social Work. He worked full time at North Carolina’s Central Prison as a corrections officer while completing his bachelor’s degree, and has a deep concern about the many social issues facing our nation and the world. He will now be a regular guest blogger discussing these various issues.

Village Hearth – an innovation in LGBTA senior living!

The Village Hearth is situated on 15 beautiful acres of land just 7.5 miles north of downtown Durham, North Carolina

A few years ago, I wrote a series of blogs about issues around diversity and housing, and included a discussion around the intersection of housing issues and LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) aging adults. Link to blog. Since that time, there has been a significant increase in senior housing options that are more affirming of LGBT people as we age.

But now I want to write about a real innovation and a “first of its kind” community for LGBT and allied people. Village Hearth in Durham, NC is the first “cohousing” community for LGBT people and their allies.

What is “cohousing?” It is a concept that started in Denmark a few decades ago, and now there are about 130 – 150 cohousing communities in the United States. Cohousing is an intentional neighborhood of private homes clustered around shared space. Households have independent incomes and private lives, but neighbors collaboratively plan and manage community activities and shared spaces. Village Hearth in Durham NC, which is about to start the construction stage, is the first cohousing development in the US specifically geared toward LGBT people and their allies.

Village Hearth future residents Gary Ross-Reynolds and Tami Ike

Recently I met with two future Village Hearth residents, Tami Ike and Gary Ross-Reynolds, out at their 15-acre location.
STAN: Do tell me more about Village Hearth. When will building start?
TAMI: We will be a community of 28 homes on this 15 acre piece of property, and we still have 2 units remaining for sale! Construction will start in the Fall of this year, and we hope to start moving in by the end of 2019.


STAN: What is the mix of future residents? Are they all gay and lesbian?
TAMI: Actually it is quite a diverse mixed community of men and women, half are LGBT, and half are straight folks who enjoy living in diverse communities. We also have a good mixture of couples and single people, and several of our members are still working, and some are retired.


STAN: So Gary, I understand you’re from Asheville. Could you tell me a little more about yourself?
GARY: Yes, I had an interesting career, starting as a psychologist and later moving into ICU nursing. My partner Steve, who is 9 years older than I, is a retired Episcopal priest.


STAN: What led you to wanting to move into the Village Hearth?
GARY: My partner Steve and I have been wanting to move to Durham for various community groups here we want to get involved in. But I didn’t simply want to move from one house to another house in a typical neighborhood – I wanted to move into a place that was both LGBT affirming and would offer a built-in set of friends and community activities.


This sign reflects the sentiment of the Village Hearth community.

STAN: How important was the LGBT aspect of the Village Hearth to you?
GARY: That was an extremely important part of our decision. In doing research, I found that many of the traditional senior living communities either are not welcoming to LGBT people, or don’t know what to do with us. I have heard of situations where same-gender older couples are even separated and not allowed to live together. They virtually have to go back in the closet again. And even if the community was open and welcoming, I really do not want to be their “token gay.”


STAN: Finally, what are you looking forward to most in moving into the Village Hearth?
GARY: I am looking forward to getting involved in all that Durham has to offer, and I look forward to having a wonderful group of friends and activities here in the Village Hearth to enjoy.


STAN: And where can people find more information, especially if they may be interested in the two remaining homes for sale?
TAMI and GARY: Certainly explore our website, http://www.villagehearthcohousing.com/. And feel free to call Gary at (828)-545-9900 or via [email protected]
STAN: Thank you for taking this time with me, and I wish you both and all your other future Village Hearth residents a wonderful joy-filled future.