This year’s annual Edith Harris Endowed Memorial Lecture, delivered by Dr. Elizabeth Kita, explored the topic of mass incarceration through a psychoanalytical lens. This was the School of Social Work’s 31styear hosting this event.

Kita offered her perspective on the foundation of the American judicial system to a nearly full auditorium. Kita has been working with incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people for over 15 years in California. 

The lecture offered staggering statistics about the United States prison industrial complex.  Though the U. S. makes up 5 percent of the world’s population, its prison population accounts for 25 percent of the world’s, Kita said.  

“The odds are better for some only because they’re worse for others,” Kita said of the disproportionate number of black and brown people in American prisons. “Trauma happens to the person before the crime. They are a victim before they are ever a perpetrator.” 

Kita went on to explain the personal and societal factors that can lead to anyone’s imprisonment.

“It kind of came at things from a different angle, I suppose,” said Janelle Trueheart, who graduated with her master’s in social work from WSU last year. “I was interested in mass incarceration because of the Netflix movie “13th” by Ava DuVernay.  I was just interested to see Kita’s perspective and the social work perspective on mass incarceration.”

Charon Normand-Widmer, event attendee and a master’s student of social work, said she loves the School of Social Work’s lecture series. 

“I find that it’s very informative and it’s usually stuff that I haven’t studied yet, so it’s a nice addition to what I’m learning in class,” she said. 

Of the 2.3 million prisoners in the U.S., one out of nine is serving life and one out of seven is serving 50 years or more, Kita said.  Normand-Widmer said she was aware of the problem, but not to its full extent.

“I knew the high numbers, I just didn’t know how high the numbers were,” she said. “I knew the U.S. was off the charts, but it was the enormity of the statistics that was remarkable.”

Kita said mass incarceration is a problem that must be tackled in all facets of society.

“We believe that we are not responsible for each other’s individual actions, and that’s true, but we are responsible for society’s conditions,” said Kita. 

Kita ended the lecture with ways to address the causes and consequences of mass incarceration to fellow social workers in the audience.

“I hope we are all disturbed by mass incarceration,” said Kita in her closing statement. 

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