Criminal justice symposium examines socioeconomic inequalities

March 13, 2015

Speakers from across the Boston area discussed American incarceration at the 20th Annual Tillie K. Lubin Symposium on Tuesday, March 10.

Titled “Criminal Justice? Race, Gender, and Incarceration,” the lecture focuses on women’s, gender and sexuality studies, with particular interest in contemporary issues and events. The symposium was named after Tillie Kulp-Lubin, whose husband, Charles Lubin, owned a successful bakery chain in Chicago. Their daughter, Sara Lee, endowed the Lubin Symposium in honor of her mother and has enabled Brandeis to bring a plethora of distinguished speakers to campus.

The symposium commenced with a short introduction by Wendy Cadge, the chair of the WGS program, who then went on to moderate the discussion.IMG_5715

Bruce Western, professor of sociology and criminal justice policy at Harvard University, gave a presentation titled “Mass Incarceration and American Inequality,” focusing on the relationship between prisons and socioeconomic inequality. In particular, he discussed what he described as “the very large racial disparity in incarceration in which African Americans are six to eight times more likely to go to prison than whites.”

According to Western, the increase in incarceration rates since the 1970s was much greater in black and Latino men than in white men. He stated that by 2008, there was a one in nine chance that a black child will have their father imprisoned by the time they are 14. Western concluded his speech by stating that incarceration in the United States has produced a new social group that is chronically poor and struggles to attain full membership in American society.

Historian and professor in the History Department and the Department of African American Studies at Harvard University, Elizabeth Hinton spoke about poverty and racial inequality in her presentation, “The War on Crime and the Roots of Mass Incarceration.” She focused her speech on how black women are hit the hardest by the criminal justice system. “Women serving more than one year in prison increased two times as fast as men since Reagan took office,” she said. Discussing the criminalization of welfare recipients mainly in the 1960s, Hinton explained how the government would place single mothers on welfare under surveillance to ensure they were not exploiting the government’s handouts. She also touched upon President Bill Clinton’s idea of a “new beginning” to help those on welfare attain higher-paying jobs. However, Hinton ended her presentation by saying that the programs released during the War on Crime only led to more poverty and inequality.IMG_5716

Reverend Vivian Nixon is an activist, writer and executive director of the Community and College Fellowship, a non-profit that helps formerly incarcerated women acquire higher education. She revealed her own personal experience in the criminal justice system in her speech titled “Doing Time Before, During and After Prison: A Womanist’s Experience.” Nixon shared her belief that the criminal justice system is primarily a criminal punishment system, a claim that she developed from personal experience in the criminal system. According to Nixon, those who have served time in jail and seek to re-enter American society are seen as “other,” and there are not enough programs in place to help them assimilate. In her closing statement, she expressed that society “must reconstruct knowledge into power … and take all the information we have and turn it into action.”

The next portion of the symposium was devoted to questions from students and professors alike. Topics included the idea of American exceptionalism, jobs in the criminal justice system, and hope for the future. “We want our country back,” Nixon said while discussing the topic of a moral conscience. She said that the stories of the people who were affected by this system need to be told by the people to whom the stories belong, and it is only then that the country will finally see change.

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