skip to main content
caption: File photo
Enlarge Icon
File photo
Credit: Flickr Photo/Thomas Hawk (CC BY NC 2.0)/

America Behind Bars: Mass Incarceration And Civil Rights

The United States imprisons more people than any other country in the world. But that’s a relatively recent development. Over the last three decades rates of incarceration in the U.S. have increased five-fold.

Currently there are about 2.2 million U.S. citizens behind bars. Race and class are major factors in who goes to prison. If current trends continue, 1 in 3 young black men will spend time behind bars. The projected rate for young white men is 1 in 22.

Humanities Washington hosted one of its Think & Drink events to explore the reasons behind this rise in incarceration. The participants dig deeply into the history of our culture of imprisonment. They cover the impact of the drug war, issues of inequality, injustice, implicit bias and the question of whether imprisonment even works as a punishment and deterrent. You’ll hear about ways to address this systemic problem.

The panel includes Merf Ehman, a staff attorney with the Institutions Project at Columbia Legal Services, and professor Katherine Beckett, who teaches in the Department of Sociology and the Law, Societies, and Justice Program at the University of Washington. Northwest News Network managing editor Phyllis Fletcher moderated the conversation.

This event took place at Naked City Brewery and Taphouse on Sept. 29. Thanks to Bryan Miller and Zaki Barak Hamid for their assistance and to Ana Sofia Knauf for our recording.