Sacramento Update – Johnny Cash Tribute + Prison Reform!

August 17, 2018

If you’ve been following updates this week, you know that I’m in Sacramento for Wide Open Walls. The crew and I just completed my 15-story Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison mural, which is my largest in the state of California and my most technically ambitious mural ever. The art is based on a photo by Jim Marshall which I used originally as part of my American Civics series. I’m grateful to be able to create this image on such a large scale as a tribute for the 50th anniversary of Cash’s Live at Folsom Prison album, and I hope that this art will ignite a conversation around the need for incarceration reform. According to a recent in-depth study by the Prison Policy Initiative, America has the highest incarceration rate in the world with a shocking 2.3 million people currently imprisoned.

On top of that, our prisons are disproportionately filled with poor people of color, in fact, African Americans are 13% of the U.S. population, yet 40% of the prison population in this country. More African American men are under correctional control today than there were slaves in the 1850s according to a Huffington Post piece by writer and civil rights advocate Michelle Alexander.

A portion of proceeds from the Johnny Cash print I made, currently available through Toy Room Gallery, will benefit #Cut50. Thank you to Wide Open Walls, Branded Arts, and my crew of assistants, Dan Flores, Nic Bowers, Rob Zagula, and Luka Densmore for the 11-hour days we worked this week in the intense heat to get this mural finished! Thank you Jon Furlong for the photo!

Please take a moment to read this more in-depth piece highlighting the abhorrent prison statistics of our country. I hope that this information educates you to wake up and take action. Thanks for caring!

The U.S. prison system has become a booming multi-billion dollar industry. While the U.S. government has cut billions of dollars from public housing and psychiatric care, they have diverted that money into building prisons. According to a recent in-depth study by the Policy Initiative, America has the highest incarceration rate in the world with a shocking 2.3 million people currently imprisoned. No other country is even close to our per capita imprisonment rate; it is five times the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) average. The U.S. accounts for 4.4% of the global population, but a stunning 22% of the global prison population. To make matters worse, more than 7 million people are currently under “correctional control” (parole & probation).

Draconian drug laws, rampant institutional racism, and poverty have been significant driving factors in the skyrocketing growth of incarceration. Drug offenses account for 49% of the federal prison population and 20% of the overall prison population. African Americans are 13% of the U.S. population yet 40% of the prison population. More African American men are under correctional control today than there were slaves in the 1850s.

As horrifying as institutional racism is, class has now become “a more potent predictor of incarceration than race.” According to a new study by the Brookings Institution, 80% of people imprisoned in the U.S. had no income the year leading up to their incarceration.

When it comes to local jails, “99% of the growth in jails over the last 15 years has been a result of increases in the pre-trial population.” As the Prison Policy Initiative summed it up, “at any given moment most of the 722,000 people in local jails have not been convicted and are in jail because they are either too poor to make bail and are being held before trial.”

According to a recent study by the Brennan Center for Justice, 40% of the U.S. prison population is locked up without any “compelling public safety reason…. If these prisoners were released, it would result in cost savings of nearly $20 billion per year, and almost $200 billion over 10 years.”

Despite these scandalous statistics, the Trump Administration is dramatically increasing the use of private for-profit prisons. The Trump campaign received significant funding from the private prison industry. In return, Trump has cut money for government prisons and diverted it to private prisons, as Government Executive reported:

“The Trump administration is following through on its promise to use more private contract prisons…. The Bureau of Prisons has the stated goal of ‘increasing population levels in private contract facilities’ according to a memorandum sent by the agency’s Assistant Director for Correctional Programs Division….”

As the Project On Government Oversight summed up the crisis:

“It’s important to remember that private prisons serve corporate interests. They rely on enduring incarceration to ensure revenue and keep shareholders happy. Often, a prison’s success rate is measured by its rate of recidivism, or a return to criminal activity after release from incarceration. According to a 2016 report by In the Public Interest, a nonpartisan research and policy center, incarceration at a private prison actually raises the likelihood of recidivism by up to 17 percent. So, not only are these facilities more costly and less safe, they also discourage rehabilitation of incarcerated people, thereby resulting in more crime.”

Over zealous incarceration and for-profit prisons have become a predatory profiteering racket that costs taxpayers tens of billions of dollars annually while also dramatically increasing the likelihood of repeat offenders and putting overall society at greater risk.