Originally posted on July 19, 2023 by the New Pittsburgh Courier


As we continue our discussion around the Social Determinants of Health, we are centering on incarceration and its impact on health. Carlos T. Carter, President and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, shares his ideas:

What are your thoughts on the ways the mass industrial prison complex disproportionality impacts Black and brown communities?

Our country spends $10.3 billion incarcerating nearly 2 million people.  However, we are not willing to fully invest in education, housing, and other resources that could prevent incarceration.  The big business of incarceration is making a few people rich, while impoverishing and devastating whole communities of color.

There is a concerted effort to dehumanize and criminalize Black people, leading to their overrepresentation in the prison system when compared to White Americans. Black people receive harsher sentences for similar crimes committed by their White counterparts. They are also more likely to sit in jail due to being unable to afford bail. Overinvestment in incarceration is setting up our children and future generations for failure.

It is difficult to unlock your greatness when you are imprisoned.  It is challenging to be a good parent, financially provide, and positively contribute to your child’s social and emotional development when you are locked up. Our incarcerated Black fathers cannot participate in Father’s Day activities at their child’s school, and that is devastating to our children! Imagine how you would feel as a kid on the basketball team or as a cheerleader when you up look in the stands and don’t see your parent because they are locked up.  This is heartbreaking!

 What are some of the ways that the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh supports people who have histories of incarceration and their families?   

We help returning citizens in many ways. We help to remove barriers by connecting them to job training and placement, housing, emergency food support, and by providing opportunities to help the whole family at our three Family Support Centers.

More specifically, we help people with first month’s rent and security deposit.  We have provided food, basic necessities, and other supplies to people when they leave the county jail.

We currently provide free adult job training programs like COMPTIAA and CISCO leading to certifications and living wage jobs in the tech sector.  We also offer paid job training for individuals aged 55 and up through our Urban Senior Job Program with special support for those facing high barriers.  We are actively recruiting people to join both programs-please see our website ulpgh.org for more information.

Further, we provide youth leadership opportunities for our teen girls and boys through our Black Male Leadership Development Institute and Black Female Leadership Development Institute. Each cohort of both programs includes young people who have been impacted by parental incarceration.

 As we work together to create a community where everyone feels cherished and supported, what can our readers do to advocate for change?  

First, we need to address the stigma around returning citizens and must recognize their humanity and value as people. We must invest in their potential.  It is in everyone’s best interest that our formerly incarcerated neighbors are reintegrated into society by being presented with opportunities to gain the financial independence needed to break cycles of poverty and recidivism.

We also must find ways to invest less in the prison industrial complex and invest more in housing, education, and greater support systems for our youth and families.

Finally, we must vote for candidates in all offices who support an approach to criminal justice reform that empowers people to learn from their mistakes and positions them to be thriving, contributing members of society.  We need leaders who will commit to disrupt this toxic system that continues to eviscerate the dignity and quality of life for Black and brown people who have sacrificed so much for our country!

Carlos T. Carter is President and CEO of Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh.