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November 15, 2006 - Fayetteville Observer (NC)

Prison System A Threat To U.S., Speaker Warns

By Andrew C. Martel, Staff writer

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Blacks have had a harder time getting into college and an easier time getting into prison over the past 25 years.

That combination of less education and more incarceration is a greater risk to America than any threat posed by al-Qaida, said Columbia University history professor Manning Marable in his speech Tuesday evening at Fayetteville State University, as part of its Distinguished Lecture Series.

Governments respond by building more prisons, but that just creates a bigger problem once the prisoners get out, which 95 percent of them do, Marable said.

"The prison industrial complex is responsible for condemning tens of millions of our fellow citizens to disenfranchised living," Marable said to an audience of about 100, including some police officers. "It further alienates them from society and from public life."

One source of the problem is the end of many affirmative action programs at colleges and universities. Dozens shut down summer camps and fellowships for minority students after a Supreme Court ruling in 2003, Marable said. Black enrollment dropped at many colleges in the following years.

The court system also contributes to the prison population boom, which stands at about 2.2 million, up from 1 million in 1989, Marable said. Minors are being tried and convicted as adults, and black offenders are far more likely to serve time than whites who are charged with the same crime, he said.

Upon release, these prisoners are often kept from voting, obtaining student loans, or getting licenses to work in certain trades. With fewer job options available, they are more likely to end up back in prison, Marable said.

"The net result to democracy is devastating," he said, adding that 818,000 Florida residents could not vote in the 2000 election, which President Bush won by barely 500 votes.

Marable told the audience that the solution is to support educational programs in prisons and demand equal treatment of blacks and whites in the courts.

"If you serve your time and pay your debt. . . should you be penalized from access to a student loan to go to a state university for life?" Marable asked.

Staff writer Andrew C. Martel can be reached at or 323-4848, ext. 372.

Copyright 2006 - The Fayetteville Observer

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