Denzel Washington: Don’t blame the prison system, it “starts at home”

Widely loved and admired Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington has said that black incarceration cannot be blamed on the system, but originates at home. His comments hit a raw nerve in the United States across mainstream media outlets.

Washington told New York Daily News that his latest role as a defense attorney in Roman J. Israel, Esq. reinforced his belief that black men “can’t blame the system” because we make it “easy work” when it comes to filling America’s prisons.

If you can’t blame the system, where is Washington apportioning the blame?

Says Washington: “It starts at the home. It starts at home. It starts with how you raise your children. If a young man doesn’t have a father figure, he’ll go find a father figure,” the Academy Award-winner told reporters at the Dan Gilroy-directed film’s New York premiere, the New York Daily News reports.

“So you know I can’t blame the system. It’s unfortunate that we make such easy work for them,” Washington said.

In Dan Gilroy’s “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” Mr. Washington, 62, plays an idealistic criminal defense attorney and legal savant who goes to work for a big Los Angeles law firm after his small-firm partner, a civil rights icon, dies of a heart attack.

According to The New York Daily News the Oscar winner said making the film did not make him more cynical about the justice system; his role reinforced his belief that black men ‘can’t blame the system’ because we make it ‘easy work’ when it comes to filling America’s prisons.

Washington didn’t shy away from his own early brush with the law, saying: “I grew up with guys who did decades (in prison), and it had as much to do with their fathers not being in their lives as it did to do with any system. Now I was doing just as much as they were, but they went further I just didn’t get caught, but they kept going down that road and then they were in the hands of the system. But it’s about the formative years. You’re not born a criminal.”

According to The New York Daily News Washington said:

“If the father is not in the home, the boy will find a father in the streets. I saw it in my generation and every generation before me, and every one since.”

“If the streets raise you, then the judge becomes your mother and prison becomes your home,” he added.

Washington’s comments caused quite a reaction with some people agreeing with him and others taking offense.

Fact is, it actually does all start at home. That’s where we learn our values and where we learn that we are loved; where we learn from example. As one of the Twitter commentators say: Home life is the foundation for the rest of your life. It doesn’t guarantee anything, but it can make the journey easier or difficult.

But a tweet from Bishop Talbert Swan puts a broader light on a complicated issue: “Parents bear great responsibility in raising children, but let’s not pretend racial profiling, disparate treatment of blacks, racist drug laws, the war on drugs, crime bill, & the prison industrial complex have nothing to do with black incarceration rates!”

Susan Sylvia left a comment on a Daily Wire article suggesting high profile figures like Washington should be taking the conversation a step further to single out welfare as the cause of so much of the fatherlessness among the poor.

She writes: “It punishes marriage by reducing benefits and encourages high birth rates by increasing benefits. It doesn’t take someone in a tough place very long to figure out that remaining single and having more children will help them financially, and this is the genesis of the tragedy that has gone on for decades, especially in minority communities.”

Washington’s comments have struck a nerve and it will be interesting to see what the fallout will be in the next few weeks. Could his words start a conversation that could eventually turn the unfortunate high imprisonment rates of black Americans around? Is he right? Is it as simple as “the problem starts at home”?


We're tired of media that amplifies fear and negativity, without expanding your perspective.

This is why we're creating a new kind of media model. One where people come together around new ways of thinking and living.

Your voice is important in this media revolution. Your free thought is important. Make no mistake, you are the key to promoting new ways of thinking.

We need your support now more than ever. Become an Ideapod Prime member for only $4 per month, with a free 14 day trial.

When you join, you get immediate access to all of Ideapod's eBooks and webinars (worth hundreds of dollars - you get it as part of our free trial).

Learn more about our Prime membership program clicking the button below. Thank you!

Become an Ideapod Prime member

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *