The United States, with only five percent of the world's population, holds nearly one quarter of the world’s incarcerated population. Since the 1980s, the number of incarcerated Americans has nearly quadrupled - a consequence of "tough on crime" policies and the War on Drugs that have disproportionately affected communities of color. By some estimates, we incarcerate six times more of our black population than South Africa did in the midst of apartheid, have more African Americans under correctional control than than were controlled under slavery 13 years before the Civil War, and disenfranchise almost six million citizens on account of prior convictions. The U.S. is the last country to have juveniles in prison sentenced to life without parole, and is one of the few industrialized countries that still regularly executes its own citizens (unsurprisingly, in a racially inflected way). We hold over 80,000 people daily in conditions of solitary confinement characterized by the UN as torture. Some of those people have been living in parking-lot-sized cages for over 40 years. More than 65 million Americans, or almost one third of adults, have a criminal record. Those with records can be discriminated against, legally, when it comes to getting jobs or applying to schools. Those with felony drug convictions are ineligible for public housing, food stamps, and Pell grants. The list goes on and on. The American carceral reality, if you choose to look at it, is unconscionable.
As students, the future rests in our hands. It is our duty to take action on one of the most egregious civil rights issues of our generation.
Founded at Princeton University in 2012, SPEAR is a student run advocacy and education group that seeks to advocate against mass incarceration & solitary confinement, provide educational opportunities in New Jersey prisons, and educate members of the Princeton community about the challenges in our criminal justice system. To this end, we often host panels, talks, and screenings on Princeton's campus and in the community. SPEAR also organizes and hosts an annual conference designed to bring together students, youth organizers, activists, policymakers, and academics from different communities and universities to build a movement for systemic change and to form a network of people committed to improving the current criminal justice system. There are several SPEAR meetings every week, which are open to the public. We encourage all interested students to come to a meeting, email a leader, and get involved!