Race & Identity
Denzel Washington Says Prison System Not To Blame For Mass Incarceration: 'It Starts With How You Raise Your Children'
The acclaimed actor's most recent project, "Roman J. Israel, Esq," tackles the justice system.
Decorated actor and director Denzel Washington believes that a strong family structure is the cure for America's mass incarceration problem.
While doing press for his latest film Roman J. Israel, Esq., Washington was asked if his role as an activist lawyer changed his thinking about the prison-industrial complex. Surprisingly, the acclaimed actor and Oscar winner had an interesting take.
“It starts at the home,” he told The New York Daily News at the film’s New York premiere. “It starts at home.” According to Washington, how a person was raised and whether or not a father figure had a prominent role in the family can influence a person's life choices.
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“It starts with how you raise your children," Washington continued. "If a young man doesn’t have a father figure, he’ll go find a father figure ... it’s unfortunate that we make such easy work for them.”
Mass incarceration is a huge problem in the United States. The ACLU estimates that 2.2 million people are behind bars in the U.S.; the Equal Justice Initiative found that when you add in to that number the number of people on probation and parole, the number of Americans being watched by the justice system climbs to 7 million.
A lot of experts have tried to figure out just why the United States suffers such an epidemic of mass incarceration. Of the many theories that have gained traction so far, none have included the home situations of those in prison.
As Vox reminds us, author Michelle Alexander, who wrote The New Jim Crow, puts the blame at the feet of the War on Drugs. John Pfaff added to her work with his book Locked In, which finds that a rise in violent crime and the harsh sentences (like the mandatory minimums Jeff Sessions favors) politicians put in place in response are at the heart of the problem.
To these two factors, ATTN adds private, for-profit prisons that make more money if they stay full and long, harsh sentences for non-violent crimes.
For-profit prisons are big business; although most prison companies are privately owned, and therefore do not have to disclose their financials, the CCA is publicly owned, and does. Mother Jones reports that in 2015, the CCA brought in $1.9 billion in revenue. The ACLU has found that the U.S. spends $80 billion on its prisons every year.
Despite all of this, Washington said of the prison-industrial complex, "So you know I can’t blame the system."