You are on page 1of 3

UFPPC ( Digging Deeper CL: February 14, 2011, 7:00 p.m.

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of
Colorblindness (New York & London: The New Press, January 2010.

[Thesis. The war on drugs has given stigmatized racial group locked into an
birth to a permanent, mostly race-based inferior position by law and custom" (12).
underclass in the U.S.; we need a The criminal justice system can be
national discussion of the criminal justice thought of as "a gateway into a much
system's role in creating and larger system of racial stigmatization and
perpetuating this system.] permanent marginalization," viz. "mass
incarceration" (12). "The term mass
Acknowledgments. Written while incarceration refers not only to the
bringing up three recently born children criminal justice system but also to the
(ix). Dean, family, incarcerated larger web or laws, rules, policies, and
correspondents, the Open Society customs that control those labeled
Institute, friends, students, parents (xi- criminals both in and out of prison. Once
xi). released, former prisoners enter a hidden
underworld of legalized discrimination
Preface. This book was written for and permanent social exclusion. They
those unaware of "the magnitude of the are members of America's new
crisis faced by communities of color as a undercaste" (13). Despite the American
result of mass incarceration" (xiii). myth of potential mobility, "a huge
percentage [of African Americans] are
Introduction. "An extraordinary not free to move up at all" (13).
percentage of black men in the United Addressing the problem requires
States are legally barred from voting recognizing its nature, despite resistance
today, just as they have been throughout (14-15). Outline (16-19).
most of American history" (1). "Rather
than rely on race, we use our criminal Ch. 1: The Rebirth of Caste. The
justice system to label people of color current system is a successor to others:
'criminals' and then engage in all the slavery, then Jim Crow (20-22). The need
practices we supposedly left behind" (2). for plantation labor was the chief driver
Resistance to this notion (2-3). Idea first of slavery, which emerged by the 1770s
encountered when she saw the sign of from a system of indentured servitude
"[s]ome radical group" in California, but (22-25). The structure of the United
rejected it intellectually (3). Work for the States Constitution was a device needed
ACLU changed her mind (4). The war on to protect the institution of slavery (25-
drugs cannot explain the "racial 26). The post-Civil War crisis of Southern
dimension of mass incarceration" (6; 4- society (26-30). First convict laws, then
7). Incarceration is not a response to segregation laws were designed to
crime (7-8). "[F]or reasons largely subvert the Populist attack on
unrelated to actual crime trends, the corporations, disenfranchising blacks and
American penal system has emerged as discriminating against them in every
a system of social control unparalleled in sphere of life; this system became known
world history" (8). African American as "Jim Crow" (30-35). The downfall of
leaders have are not attending to "the Jim Crow (35-38). When the Civil Rights
crisis at hand" (11; 9-12). Though this movement turned toward economic
book does not engage the sociological justice, a "search for a new racial order"
debate on the nature of caste, it does began (38-40). The notion of "law and
use the term racial caste for "a order," which dated from the late 1950s
in the South, was its central element and U.S. 279 (1987), "petitioner must prove
was adopted by Republicans vying for that the decisionmakers in his case acted
power, reaching its full development in with discriminatory purpose"]) specific
Ronald Reagan (40-49). The war on intent a requirement of challenging
drugs was central (49-53). Racially claims of racial discrimination (106-12).
coded get-tough-on-crime policies were Discretion is granted at every stage of
adopted by Clinton and other Democrats; the legal system, particularly
law enforcement budgets and prison prosecutorial discretion (112-16), jury
populations soared (53-57). selection (116-20), policing (law
enforcement in ghetto communities has
Ch. 2: The Lockdown. Popular notions been militarized) (120-24). A 2002 study
of how the criminal justice system works of Seattle by UW researches showed
are wrong (58-59). Few legal rules "untrue stereotypes" create high arrest
restrain police in an escalating War on rates of African Americans (124-25). Yet
Drugs, which tripled drug arrests from barriers to legal challenges to the system
1980 to 2005 (60-77). New forfeiture are almost insurmountable (125-28).
laws incentivized it by allowing state and "The dirty little secret of policing is that
local authorities to keep seized property the Supreme Court has actually granted
(77-83). Many of those arrested get no the police license to discriminate" (128;
legal representation, and "[a]lmost no 128-33): Alexander v. Sandoval [532
one ever goes to trial," thanks to U.S. 275 (2001)] eliminated challenges to
pressures to plea-bargain (2%-5% of the system by ruling that Title VI of the
those currently in prison are innocent) Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not allow
(85; 83-88). Harsh mandatory victims of discrimination to sue under the
sentencing laws (88-91). Though crime law; only the federal government can
rates have not changed, the prison (134-36).
population has increased from 350,000
to 2,300,000 in 25 years, chiefly through Ch. 4: The Cruel Hand. Defendants
harsh sentencing (92). The prison label, are not told a guilty plea will cause
not prison time, is the heart of the permanent disenfranchisement and
system (92). The proportion of those in discrimination (137-41). Housing (141-
prison for parole violation has increased 45). Employment (145-50). Released
from 1% to 35% since 1980 (93). "In this prisoners are often saddled with debt
system of control, failing to cope well (150-52). Denial of public assistance
with one's exile is treated like a crime" (152-53). Loss of voting rights (153-56).
(93; 93-94). Shame and stigma (156-60).
Imprisonment is often a taboo subject in
Ch. 3: The Color of Justice. Examples communities of color and is kept secret
(95-96). Though racial groups use and (161-64). Gangsta rap is a coping
sell drugs "at remarkably similar rates," strategy, not something abnormal (164-
the incarceration rate for African 67). "The worst of gangsta rap . . . is
Americans "dwarfs the rate of whites" best understood as a modern-day
(96; 96-98). Violent crime is blamed, but minstrel show . . . a for-profit display of
"violent crime is not responsible for the the worst racial stereotypes and images
prison boom" (99). "It is the genius of associated with the era of mass
the new system of control that it can incarceration" (168; 168-72).
always be defended on nonracial
grounds" (100). The racial result is Ch. 5: The New Jim Crow. Obama's
produced by granting law enforcement 2008 Father's Day speech (173-76).
extraordinary discretion (101-06) and Where black fathers have gone is no
making (under McCleskey v. Kemp [481 mystery—they're locked up—but society
misunderstands how the system works to a human rights paradigm," as King
(176-80). It has created a form of was doing in 1968 (245; 242-48).
legalized discrimination (with three
phases: roundup, conviction, invisible Notes. 30 pp.
punishment) in which "extraordinary
numbers of black men are forced into the Index. 10 pp.
cage," with the worst effects on the
young (180; 180-85). Parallels with Jim About the Author. Michelle
Crow include political Alexander teaches at Ohio State Univ.
disenfranchisement, exclusion from In 2005 she was awarded a Soros Justice
juries, segregation, and the "symbolic Fellowship. Prior to this, she was director
production of race" (192; 185-95). Unlike of the Racial Justice Project at the ACLU
Jim Crow, mass incarceration warehouses of Northern California, director of the
rather than exploits a population; also it Civil Rights Clinics at Stanford Law
operates without overt racial hostility, School. She clerked at the Supreme
affects a certain number of whites, and is Court for Justice Harry Blackmun.
supported by a certain number of blacks
(195-208). [Additional information. Michelle
Alexander holds a B.A. from Vanderbilt
Ch. 6: The Fire This Time. A major and a J.D. from Stanford Law School.]
social movement is needed to dismantle
the new caste system, yet "the civil [Critique. The New Jim Crow makes a
rights community" is awkwardly silent on strong case that mass incarceration is a
the issue (209-14). Reflections on form of racial control despite its formal
strategy (214-17). Suggestions: criminal colorblindness. French sociologist Loïc
justice reform alone is futile (217-24); the Wacquant, a student of Pierre Bourdieu,
racial nature of the system must be is a major conceptual influence. Michelle
directly addressed (224-27); Alexander's book has been well reviewed
colorblindness itself should be on the left, but, sad to say, little noticed
abandoned as a goal, because elsewhere (no mention yet in the New
"colorblindness has proved catastrophic York Times, even by Bob Herbert). —
for African Americans" (228; 227-31). Michelle Alexander is deliberately
"[R]acial differences will always exist provocative ("Today mass incarceration
among us" (230). We should ask to what defines the meaning of blackness in
extent affirmative action has constituted America" [192]); her final chapter
a "racial bribe" that has helped make challenges a number of sacred cows of
mass incarceration "largely invisible" as civil rights advocacy. — In an apparent
it has helped foster counterproductive paradox, Alexander asserts both that
myths and tactics (231-38). Obama's society will never overcome the race
presidency is making it easier, not problem and that a paradigm shift from
harder, to ignore the problem (238-41). civil rights to human rights is needed.]
It may be time to "shift from a civil rights