Sunday, December 03, 2006

A season of preparation


Photo via Get Religiion.

The Christian season of Advent, which begins today, is about waiting in hope, watching, and being prepared. There are many kinds of preparation.

In our culture, the most common kind is getting ready for the Great American Consumption Holiday on December 25. We approach it as burden and thrill. As the nurse who dealt with my early morning call to my HMO for help with an infection said, "Help! I look at the calendar and realized that the holidays are coming and I haven't started. ..."

Another kind of preparation consists of taking stock of where we are. The consequence can be unsettling. A friend who works for restorative justice shared an article that takes the measure of those among us who involuntarily wait in lives suspended inside or on the doorstep of our prisons.

A record 7 million people -- one in every 32 U.S. adults -- were behind bars, on probation or on parole by the end of last year, a Justice Department report released yesterday shows.

Of those, 2.2 million were in prison or jail, an increase of 2.7 percent over the previous year, according to the report. ....

From 1995 to 2003, inmates incarcerated in federal prisons for drug offenses have accounted for 49 percent of total prison population growth. ...

The study found that racial disparities among prisoners persist. In the 25-29 age group, 8.1 percent of black men -- about one in 13 -- are incarcerated, compared with 2.6 percent of Hispanic men and 1.1 percent of white men. The figures are not much different among women. By the end of 2005, black women were more than twice as likely as Hispanics and more than three times as likely as white women to be in prison.

There were significant changes in some states' prison populations. In South Dakota, the number of inmates increased 11 percent over the past year, more than in any other state. Montana and Kentucky were next, with increases of 10.4 and 7.9 percent, respectively. Georgia had the biggest decrease, losing 4.6 percent of its prison population, followed by Maryland (2.4 percent decrease) and Louisiana (2.3 percent).

As we wait for more sunlight (and some of us for Light) let's remember those we have shut away in darkness.

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