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If McKinsey Truly Wants Racial Equity, It Must Start with Itself

By Kathleen Dillon

In recent weeks, inboxes and social media feeds have been flooded with corporate responses to the death of George Floyd. Management consulting giant McKinsey & Company has been part of this outpouring of support for the Black community. On June 1, the company released a statement regarding the death of George Floyd, emphasizing its commitment to racial equality. Then on June 12, McKinsey outlined ten concrete actions it will take to address issues of racial injustice. While these actions should certainly be lauded, the firm’s ongoing work in the prison industry remains problematic and stands in blunt opposition to its stated commitment to racial equity.  

The deep and systemic racism present within our criminal justice system is well documented. Statistics released by The Sentencing Project suggest that Blacks are incarcerated at a rate of five times that of Whites. In 2017, the United States Sentencing Commission released a report that found that when convicted of a crime, black men receive a sentence that is on average 19.1% longer than white men convicted of the same crime. This racial inequity continues long after an inmate’s release from prison. In Michelle Alexander’s landmark book The New Jim Crow, the author writes that “upon release from prison, black men are relegated to a permanent second-class status, stripped of the very rights supposedly won in the civil rights movement — like the right to vote, the right to serve on juries, the right to be free of legal discrimination and employment, and the right to access education and public benefits.”

Despite the profound racial inequity in our criminal justice system, McKinsey & Company has taken on multiple projects in the prison industry. In 2014, McKinsey was hired by New York City’s Department of Corrections to come up with a plan for stemming violence at its Rikers Island jail complex. While McKinsey claimed success at the end of the study, an investigation by ProPublica on the project suggested that the final report handed back to the Department of Corrections contained manipulated data that inflated the positive impact of McKinsey’s work on the project. Last year, the company also faced backlash surrounding its work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, specifically in regards to operations at immigrant detention centers. It’s worth noting that a Brennen Center for Justice report revealed that most immigrant detention centers are run by for-profit prison companies. Eventually, when faced with mounting pressure from employees, McKinsey ended its relationship with ICE. Still, one must wonder whether the firm had any business working on such a project in the first place. 

While there is no doubt that the McKinsey workforce is filled with incredibly bright and talented employees, the company is doing the Black community a disservice by continuing to take work in our nation’s prison system. By taking on projects with for-profit and government-run prisons and detention centers, McKinsey only serves to exacerbate and reinforce the racial injustices that are already so deeply ingrained within our prison system. If McKinsey is truly interested in being part of the solution to racial injustice in this country, it must pass a company-wide policy banning any further work within the American prison industry unless that work specifically seeks to address issues of racism and injustice.

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