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US Prisons More Segregated than South Africa During Apartheid

by Dr. Boyce Watkins, Syracuse University

Many people throughout the world believe that South Africa during apartheid was one of the most racist regimes in the history of the world. In that society, black people were clearly considered to be inferior to whites, and were denied equal access to education, medical care and basic public services. Even having sex with a person of another race was considered to be a criminal offense. Apartheid came to an end in 1994 under mounting international opposition, as the world argued that black peoplein South Africa were being subjected to an inhumane system that should not be tolerated by decent people everywhere. The United States was one of the countries that took the lead on the initiative to disband apartheid, passing the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986, leading to sanctions against South Africa and demanding the release of political prisoner, Nelson Mandela.

It turns out that when it comes to our prison systems, the United States cannot claim the moral high ground that it once seemed to possess. According to data from the Prison Initiative, America incarcerates 5.8 times more black men per capita than South Africa did during apartheid. To add insult to injury, African Americans are roughly 6 times more likely to go to prison than whites, and black males are nearly 7 times more likely. These numbers are atrocious and an international embarrassment. It is about time that we did something about it.


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