Books Not Bars

2001, 22 minutes
Director: Mark Landsman
Co-producers: Witness, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, and the Rights Now campaign of Columbia University's Human Rights Institute
Distributed by Witness

A sign for the “Books Not Bars” campaign

Books Not Bars: The Right to Education

by Blanca Vázquez

Activists in Books Not Bars predict that incarceration will be the human rights issue of the 21st century in the United States. The U.S. claims one-fourth of the world's prisoners and spends $46 billion a year keeping them behind bars. The prison population is disproportionately African American and Latino, and increasingly young. Youth organizers in Books Not Bars argue that expenditures on incarceration divert resources from education, training and jobs, thus undercutting "the opportunity to thrive."

The racially stratified nature of the criminal justice system is a human rights issue. African Americans are 48 times more likely to be imprisoned for a first drug offense than those identified as white. This stands in direct violation of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, which holds that all people are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), ratified in 1989, emphasizes that all children are entitled to the full range of human rights – civil and political rights as well as economic, social and cultural rights. The Convention urges distinct processes and procedures for handling youth and seeks to avoid, wherever possible, treating children as criminals and depriving them of liberty. Rather, it focuses on rehabilitation and reintegration. The CRC has gained almost universal acceptance. Only two nations have not ratified it, the U.S. (which has signed but not ratified it) and Somalia.


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