The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world – often 5 times or more the rate of other countries. Because of this system of mass incarceration, a third of all Americans have a criminal record and around half have a family member who has been incarcerated.
Furthermore, conditions within the nation’s jails and prisons are often atrocious, with rampant violence, prevalent sexual abuse, overt individual and institutional racism, high levels of substance abuse and suicide, crumbling infrastructure, and a lack of healthcare and other essential services.
In an op-ed for RealClear Politics, James Williams, executive vice president for advocacy at Arnold Ventures, calls mass incarceration a “stain on our nation” and urges lawmakers to “address the indignity of incarceration in their own backyards, and consider how easily, and often carelessly, we take away a person’s freedom in this country.”
For Williams, this effort is deeply personal. In 2014, Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian and his partner, Bloomberg reporter Yeganeh Salehi, were incarcerated in Iran in 2014 on trumped up accusations of spying for the US. Facing death threats, Salehi’ sister Taraneh fled to the United States, only to be jailed by the U.S. government, who claimed it was “for her own protection.” Upon her release, Taraneh met James, and they were married a year and a half later.
“The trauma of Taraneh’s dehumanizing entanglement with our country’s ‘justice system’ has never left her,” James explains. “She fled the tyranny of the Iranian government for the safety, freedom, and opportunity of our country, only to meet the cruelty and indignity of American incarceration.”
James decided to tell his family’s story as part of Second Chance Month, which is an opportunity for criminal justice reformers and justice-involved people to relate their personal experiences with the criminal justice system and make the case for change.
Read the full op-ed here: Second Chance Month Shines a Light on Injustice