Reuben Jonathan Miller is a passionate advocate of social justice and truth. As an assistant professor of Social Work at the University of Michigan, he has performed groundbreaking research into incarceration and what it means to live in a carceral society. Miller claims that mass incarceration—such as the mass incarceration in the US that exists today—creates a fundamental change in society and has profound impacts that go far beyond the obvious difficulties faced by minorities and the poor. He describes it as a “catalog of disaster” which springs inevitably from a carceral state. Mass incarceration doesn’t simply punish a perpetrator, it fundamentally changes all of society.
In this video, we caught up with Miller at Impact Prisons 2017, where he covers some of the bold ideas he has for changing society for the better—by rethinking our entire relation to prison and punishment. On the issue of mass incarceration in the US, he has pointed out that over 12 million Americans are released from prison every year. One-third of black American men have a felony conviction, and 79 million Americans have a criminal record.
These are staggering numbers. But the gap between actual incarceration and those who are somehow wrapped up in the system—while on probation or supervision of some type—shows that the prison complex, which he calls the “carceral system”, is far larger than most of Americans can even imagine. The consequences of this system are devastating for families, communities and social cohesion.
On Mass Incarceration in the US — A Carceral Society Affect Us All
Recidivism is through the roof, and felons have an almost impossible hill to climb when it comes to returning to normal civilian life. Their political rights are almost non-existent and their economic rights are severely impaired. They continue to cycle in and out, back into the low-income neighborhoods from which they came.
We have created a system which has next to nothing to do with rehabilitation or even with just and reasonable punishment. Every study shows that poor and minority citizens are convicted and incarcerated at dramatically higher rates for the same crimes as those of the upper middle class. And once a person is touched by the system, there is almost no way out for him or her. The demise of the individual has knock-on effects for their friends, family and community. It is a cycle of almost continuous and permanent destruction that not only punishes poverty, the carceral society actually creates poverty and social disintegration.
Miller is one of the foremost researchers in the field of incarceration and re-entry, with an emphasis on the entire ecosystem of contact with the law, including the process of supervision, incarceration and re-entry. He makes the bold statement that incarceration affects not just prisoners, but also every single citizen. Indeed, there is a need for a bold change in the issue of mass incarceration in the US.