It Starts in the School: Reality of Racial Disparity

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CHICAGO – Julie Anderson is 55, white and squarely in the middle class. “I’m not exactly liberal,” she said. But sometimes a person’s views shift when hard facts are laid bare before her.

Anderson confronts such facts weekly, when she makes the six-hour, 350-mile drive from her home in Chicago to visit her son at Illinois’ Menard Correctional Center in Chester.

For the past 17 years, he has been serving a sentence of life without parole for murder, most of it in lockdown. He was 15 when he was arrested and transferred to adult court for prosecution.

“It’s like we’re imprisoning an entire race of people,” Anderson said of the makeup of Menard’s population, which averages just over 3,400 inmates, 62 percent of them black. In contrast, less than 15 percent of the state’s nearly 13 million people are black.

“It’s happening. We tell everyone else, every other country, what to do. Look in your own backyard,” Anderson said.

Incarceration, and the long-term deprivation of rights that accompanies it, is now almost the norm for many African-American men. For example, one in five Cook County (Chicago) black men between the ages of 20 and 29 is in prison or under parole supervision.

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