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The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the…
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The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

by Michelle Alexander

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This isn't an easy book to read, but it's important for Americans to read it. In it, Michelle Alexander sets out a convincing claim that our War on Drugs has resulted in shocking injustice. While the percentage of people who have used illicit drugs to some extent or another is the same across all groups of Americans, law enforcement has concentrated on African Americans to the point where they account for up to 90% of those charged. In low-income neighborhoods, being stopped and searched by police is a routine occurrence for young men and there are regular drug sweeps that pull the innocent as well as the guilty into the justice system.

The justice system itself is skewed against low-income African American defendants. Until recently, possession of crack cocaine was sentenced at 100 time the length of sentences for powder cocaine, which is seen as the drug of choice for white people. It's now sentenced at an 18-to-1 ratio. Harsh drug laws require judges to give first time offenders who were caught with a small amount of drugs, including marijuana, to custodial sentences of five years, longer than that received by those convicted of violent assault or drunk driving. Police department funding depends on drug arrests for both financing and equipment, and has led to a 2000% increase in the number of people imprisoned as compared to the 1970s.

And the problem isn't solved when people leave prison. Felons are ineligible for public housing. They can't vote or serve on juries. It's almost impossible for them to find a job. We've created an underclass barred from participating in society, from supporting their families, from being a useful member of society. And that underclass is overwhelmingly composed of African American men.

This is a largely invisible problem, hidden from all but the family members of the incarcerated. The focus is on the War on Drugs, which isn't racist in and of itself, it's just that it's more efficient to scoop up people from high density urban ghettos. And if middle-class white Americans were subject to the same tactics, there would be an outcry. Alexander makes a solid case, but also presents the beginnings of a solution. While The New Jim Crow is a difficult book to read, it does start a conversation that we need to have. ( )
7 vote RidgewayGirl | Nov 16, 2014 |
59. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (Audio) by Michelle Alexander, read by Karen Chilton (2010, 13 hrs 16 mins, 336 pages in Paperback, Listened October 6-16)

I thought this would be a disturbing look a racism, but nothing new. But there were some very positive reviews in CR, so I was happy to give it a try when it showed up in my library's audio collection.

It's a much more important book than I suspected. It's a major work, and has led me to shift the context of how I view the drug war and modern hidden racism. I had no idea the stuff, clearly presented here, was going on. And I'm kind of stunned that this is such a poorly covered topic. The book is wow. It's a book which you simply can't understand how important it is until you have actually read it and Michelle Alexander has a chance to fully lay this all out.

Among the topics here are how the drug war focuses almost entirely on poor black neighborhoods, where up to 80% of young black males in some major cities have, at least, a police record, if not an arrest and conviction. Of how the drug war essentially ignores drug issues in white middle class suburbs, where young kids can stumble through their own experiences, while the same types of things in poor black neighborhoods lead to convictions and long jail sentences. Of the cost of a conviction, which leads to a life of limited employment opportunities, legal discrimination (because who likes a felon?) and therefore to more crime and more drug enforcement. And finally how that legal discrimination against criminals, who are disproportionately black or Latino, has become the current and painfully effective form of racism.

I had no idea that when a politician said he or she wanted to be tough on crime, this was understood by many to be a coded racism. Started under Reagan, the the two president most responsible for ramping up the drug war were Clinton and Obama...

Some of the worst parts are of the failures in police policy. How arrests are actually causing crime. And how law enforcement decisions set from higher up at the federal level set in motions policies such that police on the ground don't need to be consciously racist to, in effect, be racist. There is no racist terminology anywhere.

And then there is the US Supreme court which has undermined every legal option to fight against this kind of racism. One case was lost where prosecution records were requested to investigate possible racist policy. If I understood this correctly, the records (why are they not public anyway) were withheld because the requester had no data to support their suspicions of racism. Go figure the logic. Any change in policy will have to come outside the legal system...

It's strange how obvious this all seems after reading it. I have to wonder why I didn't fully appreciate this before.

I listened on audio, read very nicely by Karen Chilton. ( )
2 vote dchaikin | Oct 24, 2014 |
The is a huge, towering accomplishment. well reason, supported by meticulous evidence, this is A VERY IMPORTANT BOOK. ( )
  nnschiller | Sep 18, 2014 |
In a way it is too bad the author aligned the book so closely to Jim Crow and brought the argument forward only in terms of racism. The argument really should have less to do with racism than with poverty and a lack of hope.

Yes, more blacks are in jail than other races, especially considering the racial makeup in America. Yes, the prison and policing systems are money making engines. Yes, the war on drugs is a lost cause. And, yes, probably, it was all sculpted to be the way it is.

But that doesn't change the fact that it is the abject poverty and lack of hope or opportunities that is the source of the problem. Born poor and inner city, raised on the streets, attending sub-standard schools, not having any realistic hope of ever pulling yourself or your family out of it... that is the problem. If people had hope and opportunity, they would not turn to drugs or crime, and they would not get a criminal record which further condemns them to a life of poverty.

Changing post-prison reception or perception is not the solution. Crushing the process that impoverishes entire segments of the popluation is the solution. End the abject poverty, show some light at the end of the tunnel, and millions of boys turning to men will not be committing crimes simply to survive. ( )
  crazybatcow | Aug 20, 2014 |
UUA Common Read
  rruucbookstore | Jul 2, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Michelle Alexanderprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Chilton, KarenNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
West, CornelForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Argues that the War on Drugs and policies that deny convicted felons equal access to employment, housing, education, and public benefits create a permanent under caste based largely on race.

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