Mass Incarceration Makes Our Communities Less Safe…Looking for Smart and Safe Solutions

By Robert Rooks, Director of NAACP Criminal Justice Programs As I was thinking about what to write for this blog, my mind kept floating to personal experiences of friends I've lost to violence and how inept responses to crime have made our communities less safe. My thoughts were confirmed minutes before I gave a workshop in LA last weekend when my workshop facilitator informed me that he had just received a call that his cousin had been shot and killed in Oakland. I know what a call like that feels like and after conversing with him about his loss, I knew I had to write about violence, how I believe incarceration makes our communities less safe, and introduce Smart and Safe as a strategy to address both violence and mass incarceration. Over the years in response to violence, I've always been unsettled by the call to action that parents should be more responsible. Not because it is not true or that parental responsibility should not be at the top of the list. What's unsettling about blaming parents for violence in communities is that when we do this, we often take away a call for community responsibility and a need to analyze systemic influences that perpetuates and creates violent scenarios in our communities. Although there are many factors to violence today, one important but over looked contributing factor is the role mass incarceration plays in destabilizing urban communities and creating environments that make our communities less safe. Today, America is just 5% of the world population and has 25% of the world's prisoners. Over the last 30 years, the "war on drugs" has been our nation's vain response to selling and using illegal drugs and is the reason why incarceration rates are so high. Not only does mass incarceration do little to address problems associated with drug use or drug selling, incarceration strategies over the last 30 years have actually made our communities less safe and in some instances, perpetuate continual violence.