Race and Incarceration

Conversation Guide

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Increasing attention has been given to the disproportionate numbers of minorities in American prisons, especially African American detainees. A growing number of Americans see this as a reflection of racial bias in the criminal justice system, both in arrest policies and prosecution/conviction practices. Everyone wants a criminal justice system that is fair and makes our communities safer. Acknowledging the complexity of this situation, how can we work together to improve outcomes of our criminal justice system?

Background Information:

While you don’t need to be an expert on this topic, sometimes people want background information. Our partner, AllSides, has prepared a variety of articles reflecting multiple sides of this topic

Let's Get Started!

Living Room Conversations offers a simple, sociable and structured way to practice communicating across differences while building understanding and relationships. Typically, 4-7 people meet in person or by video call for about 90 minutes to listen to and be heard by others on one of our nearly 100 topics. Rather than debating or convincing others, we take turns talking to share and learn. No preparation is required, though background links with balanced views are available on some topic pages online. Anyone can host using these italicized instructions. Hosts also participate. Some hosts may offer a Q & A after Closing.

Introductions:
Why We're Here (~10 min)

Each participant has 1 minute to introduce themselves.

Share your name, where you live, what drew you here, and if this is your first conversation.

Conversation Agreements:
How We'll Engage (~5 min)

These will set the tone of our conversation; participants may volunteer to take turns reading them aloud. (Click here for the full conversation agreements.)

  • Be curious and listen to understand.
  • Show respect and suspend judgment. 
  • Note any common ground as well as any differences. 
  • Be authentic and welcome that from others. 
  • Be purposeful and to the point. 
  • Own and guide the conversation. 

Question Rounds:
What We’ll Talk About

Optional: a participant can keep track of time and gently let people know when their time has elapsed.

Round 1:
Getting to Know Each Other (~10 min)

Each participant can take 1-2 minutes to answer one of these questions:

Answer one or more of the following:
  • What sense of purpose / mission / duty guides you in your life?
  • What would your best friend say about who you are and what inspires you?
  • What are your hopes and concerns for your community and/or the country?

Round 2:

What are your thoughts on Race and Incarceration? (~40 min)

One participant can volunteer to read the paragraph at the top of the web page.

Take ~2 minutes each to answer a question below without interruption or crosstalk. The group may choose to have everyone answer: A) whichever question speaks to them individually or B) the same question with an option to pass. Once everyone has answered, the group may take a few minutes for any clarifying or follow up questions/responses. Continue exploring with other topic or related questions as time allows.

  • Are there community and cultural differences that contribute to a higher incarceration rate among non-white people?
  • Is the current system fair? What is the basis for your belief in the fairness or unfairness?
  • What are the factors that contribute to your sense of safety in your surroundings?
  • How often are you in neighborhoods with a diverse population?

Round 3:
Reflecting on the Conversation (~15 min)

Take 2 minutes to answer one of the following questions:

  • In one sentence, share what was most meaningful or valuable to you in the experience of this Living Room Conversation?
  • What new understanding or common ground did you find within this topic?
  • Has this conversation changed your perception of anyone in this group, including yourself?
  • Name one important thing that was accomplished here.
  • Is there a next step you would like to take based upon the conversation you just had?

Closing (~5 min)

  • Give us feedback! Find our feedback form here.
  • Donate! Make more of these possible; give here.
  • Join or host more conversations! With a) this group by exchanging your emails; b) others in person and/or by video call online. Get more involved or learn how to host here.

Thank You!

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