Does Having A Baby In High School.Ruin Dreams Of College Back on the Chain Gang

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Back on the Chain Gang

For many Black and Hispanic youth living in urban communities, going to jail has become a badge of honor. This is a very puzzling phenomenon. The stigma of going to “juvenile” used to be shameful, it is now a sign of being “hard” or being “down”. Why is it that so many “minority” youth have become so willing to bide with “doing a bid?”

Many blame hip-hop culture for this phenomenon, because of its perceived glorification of violence, criminal behavior and living the “thug” lifestyle. However it seems that this is putting the cart before the horse. Young Black and Hispanic men have been disproportionately incarcerated in America long before there were any such things as hip-hop music recordings or the associated films that tell their story. Therefore hip hop culture is only a platform for young people to give their version of the narrative, not the cause of the problem.

According to a 2002 study conducted by the Labor Studies Journal, “Over the last two decades, the U.S. prison population has quadrupled.” In response to this occurrence, the study concludes that “corporations are seeking profit-making opportunities from this prison population” and there are “two major areas through which corporations are capitalizing on prison labor: prison privatization and creating prison based industries” This is in spite of solid evidence such as that from a 2012 study conducted by the Justice Policy Institute, an organization located in the nation’s capital, that concluded, “As education is correlated with crime rates and incarceration, addressing shortcomings in the [D.C.] education system should be part of a comprehensive public safety strategy”

Yet, rather than estimating how to invest in transformative education reform, the business community has positioned itself to capitalize on the robust incarcerated population as a source for cheap labor. The public sector has settled on promoting a “tough on crime” rhetoric rather than education policy. While business people and politicians vilify rappers for profiting from glorifying fantasized acts of criminality on wax, they plot and plan to profit from the increasing prison population in reality.

As stated in a report in the July/August 2006 issue of the Associated Oregon Industries Business Viewpoint, “Although it is adults that go to prison, the likelihood that a child will ultimately end up there can be predicted before they can tie their own shoes. Some prison systems have noted a correlation: they have started to project the number of beds needed in the future based on current 3rd grade reading scores” A progressive nation just simply should not adapt to such a cynical vantage point. Working to create and implement policies that would diminish dropout rates and instituting relevant curriculums that prepare students for the economic realities of today and the future are better solutions.

Maybe if the leaders of society looked to the “Hip-Hop Generation” to search for the answers instead of to place the blame, we would all be better off. Young Black and Hispanic youth seem to be looking to jail of all places for a sense of structure, family and community that is lacking in their homes, schools and neighborhoods. The aim of government policies in America’s urban communities should be to alleviate the pressures of drugs, crime and poverty from the community. They instead aspire to demonize, incarcerate and ruin the lives of the young people who live in challenging circumstances. To paraphrase the lyrics of a song by controversial rap duo Dead Prez, policymakers and businesspeople must realize that the real problems plaguing our society are “… bigger than hip-hop.”

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