Jerry Stahler works in the Geography and Urban Studies department of the College of Liberal Arts at Temple University, teaching courses related to addiction and incarceration. On Tuesday, April 2, Stahler shared with us information on incarceration, drugs, race in America, and how the three operate together and influence each other. He presented facts and statistics about all three topics, starting first with incarceration. Stahler informed the class about just how big an issue incarceration is in the United States, citing that the US is number one in terms of people incarcerated and the rate of incarceration. He also shared that, as of 2018, approximately 2.2 million people are incarcerated in the US, and that 6.6 million are supervised by adult correction systems. Stahler also talked with the class about the increase in private prisons, and how the financial aspect of the system is encouraging higher rates of incarceration. Switching over to the topic of drugs, Stahler said that, as of 2018, about half of federal prisoners had been sentenced for drug offenses. Moving to the topic of race, he shared that more black men are in prison, on parole, or probation now, than were enslaved in 1850. Stahler shared statistics that individuals who are black make up 12 percent of the United States population, but 19 percent of inmates, and that black men have a 32 percent chance of incarceration at some point in their lives. He also shared that black drug offenders have a 20 percent greater chance of being sentenced to a federal prison than white drug offenders, and that individuals who are black serve virtually as much time in prison for drug offense as white individuals do for a violent offense. From these statistics, we talked about what negative impacts these issues have on communities of color, such as poverty and lack of help parenting. Stahler also discussed his time teaching in city, state, and federal prisons, and the work that he does with the Inside-Outside Prison Exchange Program class that he teaches at Temple.
Hearing from Stahler on these issues was both informative and eye-opening. Not many people have access to the insides of prisons and the individuals serving there, and so Stahler has an extremely unique perspective on the issues of incarceration, race, and addiction. As he is able to see firsthand the issues in prisons, he can give not only statistical information on the subject, but anecdotal accounts of what goes on inside. I think this is extremely important, because he is able to shed light on issues that are either dismissed by the public, or just simply not known about. The issues of race, addiction, and incarceration all intersect, but many people aren’t aware of how one impacts the others, or why certain issues like getting medicated assisted treatment into prisons and ending the war on drugs are relevant and important. After hearing about the conditions in some of the prisons that Stahler visits, and the injustice within the criminal justice system, these policy reform issues only become more relevant.