The United States has the highest rate of incarceration of any industrialized nation in the world. We have witnessed at a national level the mass incarceration of an entire generation of people, the vast majority of whom are black and brown.
In her riveting book, "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness," Michelle Alexander illuminates the daunting reality that there are more black men in prison today than were enslaved in 1850.
The reality in many urban communities is that the prison system functions as the primary socialization factor and black men often are more likely to go to prison than to college. The "prison-industrial complex" is propped up by a society that has bought into the narrative that being "tough on crime" means locking up a generation of people, as opposed to investing in programs that lower the rates of citizens entering prison and recidivism.
Sociologists are now observing how the prison system -- by way of extracting workers and thus extracting potential capital -- has become the primary reason why our already vulnerable communities cannot escape the poverty trap.
Over the years, Fresno County has participated and perpetuated this problem by making conscious decisions to invest in prisons over investing in people.
Time and again, our county has made choices to place taxpayer money into expanding the Fresno County Jail, as opposed to using those dollars for programs that can better the lives of Fresno residents.
However, there is an opportunity to plant the seeds for change, thanks to a legislative bill (AB109) that was passed in 2011. Known as realignment, it moved nonviolent, nonserious and nonsex offenders from the custody of the state to the counties.
With this came the establishment of Community Corrections Partnership (CCP) boards to allocate funds toward "realigned offenders."
Sadly, Fresno County has served as the prime example of what not to do with realignment dollars, as we have primarily used our funds to create more jail capacity as opposed to investing in re-entry programs.
A comparison of counties is appropriate. San Francisco County was given $5,787,176 for public safety realignment, while Fresno County was given $8,838,368, for the 2011-2012 fiscal year.
San Francisco invested 75% of allocated money into the probation department -- to thwart off the need for more people to go to prison -- while Fresno County has invested 70% of its allocated funds into adding jail capacity.
The difference between the counties is that San Francisco has historically relied on alternatives to mass incarceration, while Fresno has historically sent more people convicted of low-level, nonviolent offenses to state prison.
In a city that has the highest rate of concentrated poverty in the nation, it is about time that we realize and rectify mass incarceration's contribution to the poverty of our city and Valley.
It is time for our elected and appointed officials to discontinue their complicit preying on of the poor by participating in the immoral prison-industrial complex that contributes to the destruction of our sisters and brothers living in lower-income communities.
On Feb. 26, the CCP board agreed to open a $900,000 rehabilitation unit in the Fresno County Jail. While this is a step in the right direction for the CCP, the board is nowhere near where it should be in terms of investing into re-entry and preventive services verses jail expansion.
It is time for us as a city and county to change our approach to incarceration. The future of many neighborhoods is at stake.
Bryson White is a community organizer with Faith in Community and youth pastor at Saint Rest Baptist Church.