A trio of D.C. law groups will hold a special panel discussion this weekend on mass incarceration, an issue of particular importance for the Black population in the District.
The Washington Bar Association, Knowledge is Power Committee and Black Law Student Association will commence the panel on Jan. 13 at 4340 Connecticut Ave. NW from noon to 2:30 p.m. to equip and assist residents affected by these issues.
According to the Prison Policy, African Americans make up over 40 percent of the incarcerated population in the U.S. In D.C., Blacks are 89 percent of those behind bars, despite only accounting for 50 percent of the city’s population.
“With this event we want to provide information to the community that they might otherwise not know concerning incarceration and returning residents,” said Erin Darden, Knowledge is Power co-chair. “It seems that mass incarceration policy makers construct laws crafted in a way that predominantly target African Americans, leaving behind rates drastically disproportionate and we want to see that change.”
The forum will be broken down into two program parts. The first segment will feature a panel discussion with a returning citizen from incarceration who will share his story and how he was able to get back on his feet along with detailed information on criminal justice reform. The second segment will feature a candid discussion on the effects incarceration has on mental health and provide participants with health specialists.
“Positive reentry into society is common as long as there is a supportive plan in place to help those people suffering,” Darden said. “A lot of people have been placed in jail for minor infractions and nonviolent crimes and it is time that we help each other.”
Throughout the District, most arrests occur among people from Wards 7 and 8, two largely Black-populated segments of the city. Of those arrests, over 70 percent are also male, city officials said.
During Council member Vincent Gray’s single term as mayor, plans were proposed to build a new jail in Blue Plains in southwest D.C., where there would have been retail on the ground floor and a community college on the campus.
However, after Muriel Bowser took office in 2014, those plans were scrapped, as the estimated cost for the building came in at $1.1 billion.
“The idea was something that would have been a lot more dignified,” said Gray, who expanded city services for ex-offenders while mayor. “It would have been a center for incarceration, but it wouldn’t have been a typical jail.”
In the past year, Council member Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large) has introduced a bill to require the city to maintain a database of ex-offenders returning to the District and provide them with information about housing, employment and applying for birth certificates and identification cards.
On March 10, the Washington Bar Association is set to also hold a special expungement fair for those with criminal records at Berry Farms Recreation Center.