|Subject||Criminal justice, race discrimination, race relations|
|Publisher||The New Press|
|2010; new edition 2020|
|LC Class||HV9950 .A437|
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness is a book by Michelle Alexander, a civil rights litigator and legal scholar. The book discusses race-related issues specific to African-American males and mass incarceration in the United States, but Alexander noted that the discrimination faced by African-American males is prevalent among other minorities and socio-economically disadvantaged populations. Alexander's central premise, from which the book derives its title, is that "mass incarceration is, metaphorically, the New Jim Crow".
Though the conventional point of view holds that systemic racial discrimination mostly ended with the civil rights movement reforms of the 1960s, Alexander posits that the U.S. criminal justice system uses the War on Drugs as a primary tool for enforcing traditional, as well as new modes of discrimination and oppression.These new modes of racism have led to not only the highest rate of incarceration in the world, but also a disproportionately large rate of imprisonment for African American men. Were present trends to continue, Alexander writes, the United States will imprison one-third of its African American population. When combined with the fact that whites are more likely to commit drug crimes than people of color, the issue becomes clear for Alexander: “The primary targets of [the penal system's] control can be defined largely by race”.
This, ultimately, leads Alexander to believe that mass incarceration is “a stunningly comprehensive and well-disguised system of racialized social control that functions in a manner strikingly similar to Jim Crow”.The culmination of this social control is what Alexander calls a “racial caste system”, a type of stratification wherein people of color are kept in an inferior position. Its emergence, she believes, is a direct response to the Civil Rights Movement. It is because of this that Alexander argues for issues with mass incarceration to be addressed as issues of racial justice and civil rights. To approach these matters as anything but would be to fortify this new racial caste. Thus, Alexander aims to mobilize the civil rights community to move the incarceration issue to the forefront of its agenda and to provide factual information, data, arguments and a point of reference for those interested in pursuing the issue. Her broader goal is the revamping of the prevailing mentality regarding human rights, equality and equal opportunities in America, to prevent future cyclical recurrence of what she sees as “racial control under changing disguise”. According to the author, what has been altered since the collapse of Jim Crow is not so much the basic structure of US society, as the language used to justify its affairs. She argues that when people of color are disproportionately labeled as “criminals”, this allows the unleashing of a whole range of legal discrimination measures in employment, housing, education, public benefits, voting rights, jury duty, and so on.
Alexander explains that it took her years to become fully aware and convinced of the phenomena she describes, despite her professional civil rights background. She expects similar reluctance and disbelief on the part of many of her readers. She believes that the problems besetting African American communities are not merely a passive, collateral side effect of poverty, limited educational opportunity or other factors, but a consequence of purposeful government policies. Alexander has concluded that mass incarceration policies, which were swiftly developed and implemented, are a “comprehensive and well-disguised system of racialized control that functions in a manner strikingly similar to Jim Crow”.
Alexander contends that in 1982 the Reagan administration began an escalation of the War on Drugs, purportedly as a response to a crack cocaine crisis in black ghettos, which was (she claims) announced well before crack cocaine arrived in most inner city neighborhoods. During the mid-1980s, as the use of crack cocaine increased to epidemic levels in these neighborhoods, federal drug authorities publicized the problem, using scare tactics to generate support for their already-declared escalation. [ citation needed ]The government's successful media campaign made possible an unprecedented expansion of law enforcement activities in America's urban neighborhoods, and this aggressive approach fueled widespread belief in conspiracy theories that posited government plans to destroy the black population. (Black genocide)
In 1998, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) acknowledged that during the 1980s the Contra faction—covertly supported by the US in Nicaragua—had been involved in smuggling cocaine into the US and distributing it in US cities. Drug Enforcement Administration efforts to expose these illegal activities were blocked by Reagan officials, which contributed to an explosion of crack cocaine consumption in America's urban neighborhoods. More aggressive enforcement of federal drug laws resulted in a dramatic increase in street level arrests for possession. Disparate sentencing policies (the crack cocaine v. powdered cocaine penalty disparity was 100-1 by weight and remains 18-1 even after recent reform efforts) meant that a disproportionate number of inner city residents were charged with felonies and sentenced to long prison terms, because they tended to purchase the more affordable crack version of cocaine, rather than the powdered version commonly consumed in the suburbs.
Alexander argues that the War on Drugs has a devastating impact on inner city African American communities, on a scale entirely out of proportion to the actual dimensions of criminal activity taking place within these communities. During the past three decades, the US prison population exploded from 300,000 to more than two million, with the majority of the increase due to drug convictions. [ verification needed ] in some states black men have been sent to prison on drug charges at rates twenty to fifty times those of white men. The proportion of African American men with some sort of criminal record approaches 80% in some major US cities, and they become marginalized, part of what Alexander calls "a growing and permanent undercaste".This led to the US having the world's highest incarceration rate. The US incarceration rate is eight times that of Germany, a comparatively developed large democracy. Alexander claims that the US is unparalleled in the world in focusing enforcement of federal drug laws on racial and ethnic minorities. In the capital city of Washington, D.C. three out of four young African American males are expected to serve time in prison. While studies show that quantitatively Americans of different races consume illegal drugs at similar rates,
Alexander maintains that this undercaste is hidden from view, invisible within a maze of rationalizations, with mass incarceration its most serious manifestation. Alexander borrows from the term “racial caste”, as it is commonly used in scientific literature, to create “undercaste”, denoting a “stigmatized racial group locked into inferior position by law and custom”. By mass incarceration she refers to the web of laws, rules, policies and customs that make up the criminal justice system and which serve as a gateway to permanent marginalization in the undercaste. Once released from prison, new members of this undercaste face a “hidden underworld of legalized discrimination and permanent social exclusion”.
According to Alexander, crime and punishment are poorly correlated, and the present US criminal justice system has effectively become a system of social control unparalleled in any other Western democracy, with its targets largely defined by race. The rate of incarceration in the US has soared, while its crime rates have generally remained similar to those of other Western countries, where incarceration rates have remained stable. The current rate of incarceration in the US is six to ten times greater than in other industrialized nations, and Alexander maintains that this disparity is not correlated to the fluctuation of crime rates, but can be traced mostly to the artificially invoked War on Drugs and its associated discriminatory policies.The US embarked on an unprecedented expansion of its juvenile detention and prison systems.
Alexander notes that the civil rights community has been reluctant to get involved in this issue, concentrating primarily on protecting affirmative action gains, which mainly benefit an elite group of high-achieving African Americans. At the other end of the social spectrum are the young black men who are under active control of the criminal justice system (currently in prison, or on parole or probation)—approximately one-third of the young black men in the US. Criminal justice was not listed as a top priority of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights in 2007 and 2008, or of the Congressional Black Caucus in 2009. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have been involved in legal action, and grassroots campaigns have been organized, however Alexander feels that generally there is a lack of appreciation of the enormity of the crisis. According to her, mass incarceration is "the most damaging manifestation of the backlash against the Civil Rights Movement", and those who feel that the election of Barack Obama represents the ultimate "triumph over race", and that race no longer matters, are dangerously misguided.
Alexander writes that Americans are ashamed of their racial history, and therefore avoid talking about race, or even class, so the terms used in her book may seem unfamiliar to many. Americans want to believe that everybody is capable of upward mobility, given enough effort on his or her part; this assumption forms a part of the national collective self-image. Alexander points out that a large percentage of African Americans are hindered by the discriminatory practices of an ostensibly colorblind criminal justice system, which end up creating an undercaste where upward mobility is severely constrained.[ citation needed ]
Alexander believes that the existence of the New Jim Crow system is not disproved by the election of Barack Obama and other examples of exceptional achievement among African Americans, but on the contrary the New Jim Crow system depends on such exceptionalism. She contends that the system does not require overt racial hostility or bigotry on the part of another racial group or groups. Indifference is sufficient to support the system. Alexander argues that the system reflects an underlying racial ideology and will not be significantly disturbed by half-measures such as laws mandating shorter prison sentences. Like its predecessors, the new system of racial control has been largely immune from legal challenge. She writes that a human tragedy is unfolding, and The New Jim Crow is intended to stimulate a much-needed national discussion “about the role of the criminal justice system in creating and perpetuating racial hierarchy in the United States”.
Court cases discussed
Darryl Pinckney, writing in the New York Review of Books , called the book one that would "touch the public and educate social commentators, policymakers, and politicians about a glaring wrong that we have been living with that we also somehow don't know how to face... [Alexander] is not the first to offer this bitter analysis, but NJC is striking in the intelligence of her ideas, her powers of summary, and the force of her writing".
Jennifer Schuessler, writing in the New York Times , notes that Alexander presents voluminous evidence in the form of both statistics and legal cases to argue that the tough-on-crime policies begun under the Nixon administration and amplified under Reagan's war on drugs have devastated black America, where nearly one-third of black men are likely to spend time in prison during their lifetimes, and where many of these men will be second-class citizens afterwards. Schuessler also notes that Alexander's book goes further, by asserting that the increase in incarceration was a deliberate effort to roll back civil rights gains, rather than a true response to increased rates of violent crime. Schuessler notes that the book has galvanized both black and white readers, some of whom view the work as giving voice to deep feelings that the criminal justice system is stacked against blacks, while others might question its portrayal of anti-crime policies as primarily motivated by racial animus.
Forbes wrote that Alexander "looks in detail at what economists usually miss", and "does a fine job of truth-telling, pointing the finger where it rightly should be pointed: at all of us, liberal and conservative, white and black".
The book received a starred review in Publishers Weekly , saying that Alexander "offers an acute analysis of the effect of mass incarceration upon former inmates" who will be legally discriminated against for the rest of their lives, and described the book as "carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable".
James Forman, Jr argues that though the book has value in focusing scholars (and society as a whole) on the failures of the criminal justice system, it obscures African-American support for tougher crime laws and downplays the role of violent crime in the story of incarceration.
John Pfaff, in his book Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration and How to Achieve Real Reform, criticizes Alexander's assertion that the Drug War is responsible for mass incarceration. Among his findings are that drug offenders make up only a small part of the prison population, and non-violent drug offenders an even smaller portion; that people convicted of violent crimes make up the majority of prisoners; that county and state justice systems account for the large majority of American prisoners and not the federal system that handles most drug cases; and, subsequently, "national" statistics tell a distorted story when differences in enforcement, conviction, and sentencing are widely disparate between states and counties.The Brookings Institution reconciles the differences between Alexander and Pfaff by explaining two ways to look at the prison population as it relates to drug crimes, concluding "The picture is clear: Drug crimes have been the predominant reason for new admissions into state and federal prisons in recent decades" and "rolling back the war on drugs would not, as Pfaff and Urban Institute scholars maintain, totally solve the problem of mass incarceration, but it could help a great deal, by reducing exposure to prison."
The 10th Anniversary Edition (2020) was discussed with Ellen DeGeneres on The Ellen Show on network TV, and reviewed on the front page of the New York Times Book Review section on January 19, 2020.
a. ^ The persistently lingering result of the lack of land reform, of the fact that the former slaves were not granted any of the property on which they had long labored (unlike many European serfs, emancipated and economically empowered to various degrees by that time, their American counterparts ended up with nothing), is the present extremely inequitable distribution of wealth in the United States along racial lines. 150 years after the Civil War, the median wealth of a black family is a small fraction of the median wealth of a white family.
b. ^ According to Ruth W. Grant of Duke University, the author of the book Strings Attached: Untangling the Ethics of Incentives (Princeton University Press 2011, ISBN 978-0-691-15160-1), the expediency-based plea bargain process, in which 90 to 95% of felony prosecutions never go to trial, but are settled by the defendant pleading guilty, undermines the purpose and challenges the legitimacy of the justice system. Justice won't take place, because "either the defendant is guilty, but gets off easy by copping a plea, or the defendant is innocent but pleads guilty to avoid the risk of greater punishment". The question of guilt is decided without adjudicating the evidence-the fundamental process of determining the truth and assigning proportionate punishment does not take place.
c. ^ Michelle Alexander suggested in a March 2012 New York Times article a possible strategy (she attributed the idea to Susan Burton) for coping with the unjust criminal justice system. If large numbers of the accused could be persuaded to opt out of plea bargaining and demand a full trial by jury, to which they are constitutionally entitled, the criminal justice system in its present form would be unable to continue because of lack of resources (it would "crash"). This last resort strategy is controversial, as some would end up with extremely harsh sentences, but, it is argued, progress often cannot be made without sacrifice.
The Sentencing Project is a Washington, D.C.-based research and advocacy center working for decarceration or to reduce the use of incarceration in the United States and to address racial disparities in the criminal justice system. For three decades the organization, with a small staff and funding from foundations and individuals, has regularly produced nonpartisan reports and research used by state and federal policymakers, administrators and journalists as they consider crime and punishment.
Incarceration in the United States is a primary form of punishment and rehabilitation for the commission of felony and other offenses. The United States has the largest prison population in the world, and the highest per-capita incarceration rate. In 2018 in the US, there were 698 people incarcerated per 100,000; this includes the incarceration rate for adults or people tried as adults. In 2016, 2.2 million Americans have been incarcerated, which means for every 100,000 there are 655 who are currently inmates. Prison, parole, and probation operations generate an $81 billion annual cost to U.S. taxpayers, while police and court costs, bail bond fees, and prison phone fees generate another $100 billion in costs that are paid by individuals.
The prison abolition movement is a network of groups and activists that seek to reduce or eliminate prisons and the prison system, and replace them with systems of rehabilitation that do not place a focus on punishment and government institutionalization. The prison abolitionist movement is distinct from conventional prison reform, which is the attempt to improve conditions inside prisons.
The war on drugs is a global campaign, led by the U.S. federal government, of drug prohibition, military aid, and military intervention, with the aim being the reduction of the illegal drug trade in the United States. The initiative includes a set of drug policies that are intended to discourage the production, distribution, and consumption of psychoactive drugs that the participating governments and the UN have made illegal. The term was popularized by the media shortly after a press conference given on June 18, 1971, by President Richard Nixon—the day after publication of a special message from President Nixon to the Congress on Drug Abuse Prevention and Control—during which he declared drug abuse "public enemy number one". That message to the Congress included text about devoting more federal resources to the "prevention of new addicts, and the rehabilitation of those who are addicted", but that part did not receive the same public attention as the term "war on drugs". However, two years prior to this, Nixon had formally declared a "war on drugs" that would be directed toward eradication, interdiction, and incarceration. Today, the Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates for an end to the War on Drugs, estimates that the United States spends $51 billion annually on these initiatives.
The Rockefeller Drug Laws are the statutes dealing with the sale and possession of "narcotic" drugs in the New York State Penal Law. The laws are named after Nelson Rockefeller, who was the state's governor at the time the laws were adopted. Rockefeller had previously backed drug rehabilitation, job training and housing as strategies, having seen drugs as a social problem rather than a criminal one, but did an about-face during a period of mounting national anxiety about drug use and crime. Rockefeller, a staunch supporter of the bill containing the laws, had Presidential ambitions and so wanted to raise his national posture by being "tough on crime." If this strategy worked, he would no longer be seen as too liberal to be elected. He signed it on May 8, 1973.
Michelle Alexander is a writer, civil rights advocate, and visiting professor at Union Theological Seminary. She is best known for her 2010 book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, and is an opinion columnist for The New York Times.
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The Southern Center for Human Rights is a non-profit public interest law firm dedicated to enforcing the civil and human rights of people in the criminal justice system in the South. Based in Atlanta, Georgia, it has won cases in several states in the southeastern United States, including Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina.
Race in the United States criminal justice system refers to the unique experiences and disparities in the United States in regard to the policing and prosecuting of various races. There have been different outcomes for different racial groups in convicting and sentencing felons in the United States criminal justice system. Experts and analysts have debated the relative importance of different factors that have led to these disparities. Minority defendants are charged with crimes requiring a mandatory minimum prison sentence more often, in both relative and absolute terms, leading to large racial disparities in correctional facilities, although the FBI crime report also shows that black and Hispanic Americans commit violent felonies at higher frequencies.
In September 2013, the incarceration rate of the United States of America was the highest in the world at 716 per 100,000 of the national population. While the United States represents about 4.4 percent of the world's population, it houses around 22 percent of the world's prisoners. Corrections cost around $74 billion in 2007 according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Race is one of the correlates of crime receiving attention in academic studies, government surveys, media coverage, and public concern.
The War on Drugs is a term for the actions taken and legislation enacted by the US federal government, intended to reduce or eliminate the production, distribution, and use of illicit drugs. The War on Drugs began during the Nixon administration with the goal of reducing the supply of and demand for illegal drugs, but an ulterior racial motivation has been proposed. The War on Drugs has led to controversial legislation and policies, including mandatory minimum penalties and stop-and-frisk searches, which have been suggested to be carried out disproportionately against minorities. The effects of the War on Drugs are contentious, with some suggesting that it has created racial disparities in arrests, prosecutions, imprisonment, and rehabilitation. Others have criticized the methodology and the conclusions of such studies. In addition to disparities in enforcement, some claim that the collateral effects of the War on Drugs have established forms of structural violence, especially for minority communities.
The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 was an Act of Congress that was signed into federal law by United States President Barack Obama on August 3, 2010 that reduces the disparity between the amount of crack cocaine and powder cocaine needed to trigger certain federal criminal penalties from a 100:1 weight ratio to an 18:1 weight ratio and eliminated the five-year mandatory minimum sentence for simple possession of crack cocaine, among other provisions. Similar bills were introduced in several U.S. Congresses before its passage in 2010, and courts had also acted to reduce the sentencing disparity prior to the bill's passage.
The criminal stereotype of African Americans in the United States is an ethnic stereotype according to which African Americans, and African American males in particular, are dangerous criminals. The origin of this stereotype is that as a demographic they are proportionally over-represented in the numbers of those that are arrested for committing crimes: For example, according to official FBI statistics, in 2015 51.1% of people arrested for homicide were African American; even though African American people account only for 13.4% of the total United States population. The figure of the African-American man as a criminal has appeared frequently in American popular culture, further reinforcing this image in the collective unconscious.
Criminal justice reform in the United States is aimed at fixing perceived errors in the criminal justice system. Goals of organizations spearheading the movement for criminal justice reform include decreasing the United States' prison population or decarceration, reducing prison sentences that are perceived to be too harsh and long, altering drug sentencing policy, policing reform, reducing overcriminalization, and juvenile justice reform. Criminal justice reform also targets reforming policies for those with criminal convictions that are receiving other consequences from food assistance programs, outside of serving their time in prison.
The United States has the highest prison and jail population, and the highest incarceration rate in the world. According to the World Prison Population List there were around 10.35 million people in penal institutions worldwide in 2015. The US had 2,173,800 prisoners in adult facilities in 2015. That means the US held 21.0% of the world's prisoners in 2015, even though the US represented only around 4.4 percent of the world's population in 2015.
African-American socialism is a political current that emerged in the nineteenth century. However, it became influential before coming to the forefront nationally. This is an economic and political theory of social organization that means the production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community. Black liberation is important when seeking socialism. Liberation refers to an individual being frees from imprisonment, slavery, or oppression. African-Americans have not received total liberation as American citizens. The comparison of socialism among African-American individuals have had changes, but is in need of much more since the time of the Civil War and Great Depression eras. The role that media and education has played in the American society has caused social problems, along with constant confusion.
13th is a 2016 American documentary film by director Ava DuVernay. The film explores the "intersection of race, justice, and mass incarceration in the United States;" it is titled after the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, adopted in 1865, which abolished slavery throughout the United States and ended involuntary servitude except as a punishment for conviction of a crime.
Decarceration involves government policies and community campaigns to reduce the number of people held in custody or under custodial supervision in the United States. Decarceration, the opposite of incarceration, also entails reducing the rate of imprisonment at the federal, state and municipal level. Home to 5% of the global population but 25 percent of its prisoners, the U.S. possess the world's highest incarceration rate: 655 inmates for every 100,000 people, enough inmates to equal the populations of Philadelphia or Houston.