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We Can't Build True Peace in America if We Keep Putting So Many Minority Americans In Jail

Why is the Institute for InterGroup Understanding very intentionally building brain development for young children into the Peace strategy for America at a central level? The two topics are actually linked. We can't really achieve Peace in this country if we don't do this work. Please visit the Institute's sister site,, for more details on early brain development. 

We imprison far too many minority Americans. We imprison more people than any country in the world. Hispanic Americans are three times more likely to go to jail than White Americans. African Americans are actually six times more likely to go to jail than White Americans.

We put far too many people in jail in this country, and far too many of the people we imprison come from our minority groups.   

It's hard to build a future of inter-group Peace and inter-group trust in America if we keep putting disproportionate numbers of people from our minority groups in jail. We need to change those realities — and in order to change them, we need to clearly understand them.   

As a first level of understanding, we need to recognize there are clear patterns of discrimination in both arrests and legal consequences. There are clear patterns of discrimination where we have multiple instances and settings, where we see patterns like black Americans being 20 percent of the drivers on a stretch of highway, but being 60 percent of the people arrested on that highway for driving offenses.    

The Sentencing Project did a great report for the United Nations a couple of years ago that listed a broad set of those behaviors and realities. This is a link to that report. Read it and weep. It is not good news.  

So that is one set of realities we need to understand and address. But just looking at those issues is not enough. We also need to look at exactly who is being imprisoned if we want to change patterns of imprisonment. We need to look at the life paths of people to see what factors create a high likelihood of imprisonment.   

It is extremely clear that being a high-school dropout increases the likelihood of going to jail. For Black Americans, we see that males who dropped out of high school are seven times more likely to go to jail than Black graduates — and we see that black drop outs are 70 times more likely to go to jail than white graduates.    

Seven times more likely to go to jail is a horrible number, and 70 times is much worse. That data has a positive component because it tells us we can reduce the number of Black males in jail, hugely by getting more Black males to graduate from high school.     

How is that possible to do? How can we get more of our children to graduate from school? We need to start young. We need to start down that path at birth.   

Basic biology is the same for children from every group. Neurons connect in all brains for all children as soon as each child is born. That connection process explodes in the first weeks and months after a child is born, and it continues at high levels for the next three years. The benefits last a lifetime. Children whose brains are exercised in those first months and years build billions of additional connections — and the connections they build last for life.  

The children whose brains are not exercised in those months and years fall behind by age three — and the children who fall the most behind at age three have an extremely difficult time catching up later. The window of maximum opportunity to build those neuron connections is gone relatively soon. We can't really close learning gaps between children at 15 years. We need to close them at 15 months.    

The processes that build brain strength for each child are simple. Talking is a powerful tool. Most people don't know that. Talking directly to a very young child has the ability to build billions of connections. Children who have adults talking extensively and directly to them build neuron strength with every time of talking.   

Parents and adults can strengthen children’s brains with talking alone. Talking is something every caring adult can do for a child — and the child's brain will have billions of neuron connections as a result. Talking can be done anywhere, and it doesn't cost money. But it delivers great value to each child. Our Parent Tool Kit offers even more information about steps parents can take to enrich the lives of their children. 

Reading to a child is also good. Children get great brain growth from having adults read in caring and connected ways to them. We need to get books to all families to make reading easy to do, and we need to encourage reading times with each child.  

Playing with children also strengthens brains. Blocks, toys, and counting objects all build brain capacity. When adults interact with children in those key weeks, months, and years, there is direct lifelong benefit for the children.   

The slogan and the basic advice to families from many child development experts is to Talk, Read, Play, Count, and Sing to each child in those first months and years, and the child will then physically have billions of neuron connections in their brain that would not be there without those adult interactions.     

We have done a horrible job as a country in not teaching that basic biological science to every family before and after each birth. No one tells Moms and Dads they can build millions of important connections in their baby’s brain just by talking a lot, in loving ways to their child.   

We need to all understand that science, and we need all families with children to know how those processes work and how important they are.    

The consequences of not knowing that science can be painful. What happens when very young children don't get that support? The facts are clear. The children who haven't had those interactions, and who only know a few words at three years old, tend to do badly in kindergarten.  

The children who do badly in kindergarten tend to fall behind in reading and math by the third grade — and the children who fall behind by that grade tend not to do well in high school. The children who drop out of high school tend to be unemployed, and much more likely to go to jail.     

That isn't a theoretical concern. Sixty percent of African American Male dropouts tend to end up in jail.    

The majority of those men would not be in jail now if they had been learning ready by age four and five, when they entered the formal learning processes. 

So if we want to cut the number of people whose lives are ruined by going to prison down to a much smaller numbers, we need to talk extensively to 1-year-old and 2-year-old children. We need to read to children below the age of four.   

We need to play in caring and interactive ways with all children from the time they are born.    

Billions of neuron connections result for each child who receives those encounters and direct interactions with the adults in their world.

Let's build billions of connections for every child. It can be done.    

Because it can be done, that topic and those education materials are a key inter-group Peace priority for The Art of InterGroup Peace book.    

You can read that very focused inter-group Peace book on this website. You can also read the Three Key Years book that explains the biological science of those first years for each child on this website. They are part of the InterGroup Peace package.  

Let's save every child, and let's build Peace in each setting on a foundation of success. Peace. Piece by piece.   

Enjoy the books. Share them with friends.

Peace In Our Time is a good idea. Let's do it.  

Be well.