A Cycle Of Imprisonment: How Recidivism Unequally Affects Black Men

Jail cell
Zain Murdock
March 28, 2021

Raymond Santana, 19-year-old member of the Exonerated 5, had just been released from prison for a murder he didn’t commit. But, even though he was “free,” he lacked the necessary resources – so he was eventually arrested again! In this regard, his story isn’t unique.

There’s a word for this phenomenon, which affects 87% of Black men in the system and other Black people, too: “recidivism.” 

That’s the tendency for an incarcerated person to end up re-arrested and/or re-imprisoned. But why is this so common?

Santana’s sentence was 5-10 years. But, as he told NPR, “...it was a death sentence because, not only were we not supposed to make it in prison, but we weren't supposed to make it in society.” 

Recidivism happens because the formerly incarcerated often get refused housing, jobs, education, and even access to their families.

Researchers use recidivism rates to study the “effectiveness” of prisons. America spent all these decades inventing violent new ways of policing, building new prisons, and investing our tax dollars into the system – and it’s clearly NOT effective! We need a complete transformation.

Though Santana got out, many Black men haven't. Mass incarceration, racism, and poverty ensure that Black people both enter the prison industrial complex, and get entangled in a cycle that repeatedly confines them. We must dismantle all of these systems to finally break this cycle entirely.

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