On Tuesday, Dr. Jerry Stahler spoke to us about the intersection of race, drug use, and incarceration. Stahler began by talking about how private, for-profit prisons incentivize incarceration. He also talked about how incarceration in a system that practices punitive rather than rehabilitative justice, such as the United States prison system, creates a nearly unbreakable cycle of poverty and incarceration within entire communities and for individual people.

Stahler’s presentation was very heavily statistically focused. Many of the stats he shared with us were somewhat familiar to me, but disturbing nonetheless. However, one piece of information that I was previously unaware of — and had to double check because it blew my mind– is that the United Stated currently accounts for approximately one quarter of all prisoners worldwide. That’s… a problem, to say the least.

I also appreciated that he included comparisons between sentences for people of different demographics for similar crimes. For instance, he said that black men often face similar (if not harsher) sentences for drug-related crimes as white men do for violent crimes.

On the subject of drug-related crimes, Stahler said that some prisons will not allow prisoners access to MAT, and that recovery options in general– including aiding people experiencing withdrawal– are simply not a priority in prisons in this country. It is hard for me to imagine how anybody can remain hopeful or motivated when they are imprisoned, stripped of all liberty and autonomy, forced to pay for basic accommodations while being paid as little as $0.20/hour, and being denied SUD treatment options that have been proven to be effective, all while knowing that life after release will be limited at best. Stahler’s presentation was hard to listen to, but so important to hear.