This Year’s Oscar Film Nominees Highlight the Shared History of Black American Life and Mass Incarceration

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Pew Charitable Trusts found that imprisonment reduces a person’s annual wages by 40 percent, which has resulted in nearly four times greater loss in aggregate lifetime earnings for black males than white males.

These disparities play out nationally, devastating opportunities for economic advancement. For example, Pew Charitable Trusts found that imprisonment reduces a person’s annual wages by 40 percent, which has resulted in nearly four times greater loss in aggregate lifetime earnings for black males than white males.

Studies have also shown that the growth in paternal incarceration has contributed to elevated rates of homelessness among black children by thinning family finances and placing additional strains on mothers. These strains present dangerous consequences for the physical and mental health of black communities, contributing to a cycle of poverty and incarceration–and debt–that has existed for generations.

The video below, which highlights our research on the costs and consequences of criminal justice—specifically bail, fines, and fees–in New Orleans, demonstrates this cycle. 

Past Due: Examining the Costs and Consequences of Charging for Justice in New Orleans

Overlooked: Women and Jails in an Era of Reform, a recent Vera report that is part of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur’s Safety and Justice Challenge, an initiative to change the way America thinks about and uses jails, also demonstrates a massive discrepancy in the median net worth among black and white women and Latina women. This discrepancy is both a consequence of and a factor in the history of criminal justice involvement within minority communities. 

Infographic 9 Median Net Worth By Race Ethnicity Gender 03

As this year’s line-up of Oscar film nominees demonstrates, there’s a troublesome marriage between black life and American incarceration that, over generations, has become commonplace. Recognizing this reality and understanding its causes and consequences is the first step toward brokering a necessary divorce. As Black History Month draws to a close, the work continues.