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Unequal Justice

Race, Class and

the Criminal Justice System


Unequal Justice is the theme of the Walker Institute’s series of community forums on Race, Class and the Criminal Justice System. In this series, we will examine why so many people become caught up in the system, who they are, and why race and class are the defining elements of unequal participation.    We also will examine how the massive and unequal involvement in the system not only affects victims, but society as a whole, with a special focus on the consequences for the families of those who are convicted and for their communities.

The United States has the highest rate of incarceration of any country in the world, and African Americans are far more likely to be incarcerated than others. An examination of local data shows that these problems are in some ways worse in Kalamazoo than they are in most other Michigan cities.   In the Unequal Justice forum series, we will examine how many people become involved in the criminal justice system, who they are, and how factors related to the functioning of the system--as well as pervasive inequities external to it-- lead to such disparate and devastating consequences for so many.   

Michigan is one of only eight states that spends more on prisons than on higher education. Across the political spectrum, there is a growing consensus that this is dysfunctional for society and is in no one’s interest.   Through these forums, we will dispassionately examine the reasons for our society’s apparent addiction to mass incarceration. Admittedly, this is a difficult task since many feel they have been harmed, treated unfairly or disrespected while having been stopped by a police officer, arrested, incarcerated, struggled with the effects of a criminal record, or have been the victim of a crime. But by searching for a deeper understanding of mass incarceration, ways to prevent it, and best practices that could produce more just outcomes, we can begin to address the most fundamental questions we seek to answer:  What can we do today to make our community a more just, more unified and more equitable place to live. Can’t we do better?  

In each of the upcoming Unequal Justice forums we will:

  • present data along with people’s stories that document problems that lead to mass incarceration and disparate outcomes associated with race and class.
  • We will explore effective strategies to address the problems that are identified
  • We will engage with community members from all backgrounds to promote more equal justice.


Upcoming Forums

April 14        The Juvenile Justice System: Disrupting the Pipeline to Prison

Time: 7:00 PM

Location: County Juvenile Home, 1451 Gull Rd, Kalamazoo

[click here to RSVP]

April 28        Challenges Facing Ex-Offenders       Time:  7:00 PM

Location: Bethany Reformed Church, 1833 S. Burdick, Kalamazoo

[click here to RSVP]

May 12         Re-Imagining Kalamazoo with Justice for All                         

Time:  7:00 PM

Location: Mt. Zion Baptist Church, 120 Robertson St., Kalamazoo

[click here to RSVP]



For a graphic showing incarceration rates of various nations as well as the rates for each of the United States, see http://www.prisonpolicy.org/global/

For more information on racial disparities, see The Sentencing Project. http://www.sentencingproject.org/template/page.cfm?id=122

African American men in Kalamazoo are 5.8 times as likely as white men to become involved with the criminal justice system.  Bureau of Justice Statistics, Uniform Crime Reporting Program for Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety, 2012.   http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=daa In addition, the rate of involvement of Kalamazoo youth in the Juvenile Justice System is among the highest in the state – especially for African Americans. See http://michigancommitteeonjuvenilejustice.com/

Kaiser Family Foundation, “Distribution of State General Fund Expenditures, 2011 http://kff.org/other/state-indicator/distribution-of-general-fund-spending/

This May Be the Year that Crime Stops Being a Wedge Issue http://www.nationaljournal.com/next-america/newsdesk/this-may-be-the-year-crime-finally-stops-being-a-wedge-issue-20150330

Enough Is Enough: There’s a New Push to Stop Incarcerating So Many People. Think Progress, March 27, 2015. http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2015/03/27/3639186/enough-enough-theres-new-push-stop-incarcerating-many-people/

Keep checking back with us for more information about each of the upcoming forums in the Unequal Justice series at:    www.wmich.edu/walkerinstitute   or by phone at 269 287-2141









Celebration of Creativity, Diversity and Community

This spring, nearly 100 children who were recruited from various schools, churches, community organizations and mosques in the Kalamazoo area participated in an arts-based youth development program called Together Kalamazoo. Emphasizing the themes of creativity, diversity and community, Together Kalamazoo was created by the WMU Walker Institute, in collaboration with BIGthink, a Kalamazoo-based arts organization founded by WMU emeritus art professor Lou Rizzolo.

Under the expert guidance of art educators from BIGthink, program participants learned to communicate through art what they want others to know about themselves, their favorite activities, and how they feel about the people and places that are most important to them. During the workshops, the participants produced their artwork on dozens of hexagons. The colorful, content-rich hexagons were assembled into five large geodesic domes at the finale as shown in the photos below. To see more photos from the finale [click here]




The Walker Institute is proud to introduce www.mivoices.org, the premier source for information on poverty in Michigan.






Kalamazoo Matters Footer


Tim Ready presents Kalamazoo United for Shared Prosperity: Basic Principles and Proposed Strategy to Kalamazoo City Commission [click here]


Tim Ready presents new data on the trends and demography of poverty in Kalamazoo at College of Health and Human Services Poverty Reduction Seminar, February 4, 2014 [click here]




Racial and Ethnic Diversity: Experiences, Beliefs and Attitudes of 2011 Incoming Freshmen Report


Walker Institute Report on Education, Race and Poverty in Kalamazoo








Lewis Walker Institute
Western Michigan University
Kalamazoo MI 49008-5236 USA
(269) 387-2141 | (269) 387-2789 Fax