the new jim crow

04/14/2010 § 5 Comments

michelle alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness.

as a prison abolitionist, the crisis of racialized policing and mass incarceration is probably the issue that strikes most deeply at my emotional-political core.  since starting this blog, i haven’t been able to muster the energy to write on the topic.  probably because it feels too much like work and also because the task of succinct articulation is so overwhelming.  but ive decided to broach it by sharing alexander’s provocative thesis:  mass incarceration = modern day jim crow, and let her do the talking.

ive gathered some “prison stats 101” to supplement, and for future reference on the subject:

prison growth: between 1970 and the present, the US prison population has grown from about 250,000 state and federal prisoners to over 2.3 million prisoners.

non-violent offenders: between 1978 and 1996, 77% of the growth in intake to America’s state and federal prisons was accounted for by nonviolent offenders (Irwin et. al. 2000, 136).

drug war: in 1980, there were about 40,000 people incarcerated for drug crimes. today there are almost 500,000.

racialization of drug crimes:  about 13% of people of all races in the US use illicit drugs.  no race has a significantly higher percentage of drug users.  african americans make up about 12.2% of the US population.  but nearly 35% of all drug arrests are of black people.  of those convicted of drug crimes, approximately 50% are black.  of those sentenced to prison, over 65% are black (Donziger 1996).

30% of black men in the US will experience incarceration.  1 in every 6 black men and 1 in every 13 latino men are current or former prisoners, while the rate for white men is 1 in 38.

these stats begin to reveal the contours of the american criminal justice system.

future topics of interest: what is prison abolition?; post-industrial capitalism and mass incarceration; the militarization of police; long-term solitary confinement as inhumane punishment; why sexual violence is promoted by guards; restorative justice as an alternative; drug legalization; harm reduction in substance abuse; criminal record based discrimination; school to prison pipeline; the privatization of prisons; etc



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§ 5 Responses to the new jim crow

  • Marisol Santiago says:

    Horrific facts, alarming!

    We need to stand up and defend the voices and rights of individuals and families who are being devastated by these injustices….Stand with them in this fight! mandatory minimums, discriminatory treatments…. incarceration for non violent crimes…etc etc… do people even know how this is impacting the rate of the african american population across the nation? How the majority of men in prison are that of age-bearing men who are not able to reproduce as other ethnicities.. Single moms, children who have the right to be raised by both parents and not be forced into a life of poverty..Black and Hispanics alike ….. what???
    And these things still occur, just under another umbrella”

    Lets restore voting rights as well…how come prisoners can’t vote. No matter whatttt they should always have that right….it is not a priviledge,,it is a constitutional right!

    I am Puerto Rican, in PR prisoners votes are tallied first then the rest of voters in the island in an election. Not to mention PR also has the highest voting population in the US! And its stilll just a commonwealth.

    Prisoners should be able to vote for the elected officials who are making decisions about their livelihood and that of their families…how many people in Massachusetts who have a felony record don’t even know they can still vote! As an organizer, I personally visited halfway houses, courthouses and community correction facilities to spread the word, because unfortunately the very own directors fail to inform them.
    Justice !
    Thank you for keeping these issues out there…. we need to, and as a society we must do more.

    • @at says:

      thanks marisol for the comment and everything u do. and i totally agree that ppl in mass dont know that they can vote with a felony once they’re out..its a pernicious myth. and thats really interesting about PR and prisoners voting. its a good example of how regressive we are..i wanna learn more

  • […] passing CORI reform Posted in movement, organizing, self by @at on 05/29/2010 we passed CORI reform this past wednesday.  one of the more exhilarating moments of my organizing career.  we’re almost at the completion of a 5 year campaign and achieving one of the original goals .  im proud of the work we’ve done, and the relief we will offer to the hundreds of thousands suffering from what michelle alexander calls “the new jim crow.” […]

  • […] oscar grant trial should be driving a national dialogue on the fundamentally racialized policies of the criminal justice system (the new jim crow).  people should be freaking out that the US has the highest rate and largest […]

  • […] country’s direction for the last 40 years.  we have the case for participatory budgeting and prison abolition rolled into […]

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