It’s been a while since I’ve posted a book review, not because I haven’t been reading, but because what I have been reading hasn’t been conducive to a blog. Fortunately, the book I finished last night, Michelle Alexander‘s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness is certainly worth discussion.
I had seen the book on the New York Times‘ bestseller list for quite some time, but wasn’t interested in listening to someone bemoan the plight of the criminal. After all, don’t criminals get themselves into predicaments by the very nature of their criminal activity? Certainly not blameless victims, right? Alexander contended with these critiques directly, noting that while criminal activity should be met with consequences and ownership, African Americans are the one to suffer for criminal activity far more than white counterparts. She makes her argument extensive data and logic. I was, frankly, blown away by the information revealed in Alexander’s book.
The statistic that shocked me the most? “The mass incarceration of people of color is a big part of the reason that a black child born today is less likely to be raised by both parents than a black child born during slavery.” Think about that for a while!
Alexander traces mass incarceration to the War on Drugs launched by the Reagan Administration in the 1980s. The Clinton Administration worsened the situation by taking numerous actions to improve that he was tough on crime. She writes that “[i]n less than thirty years, the U.S. penal population exploded from around 300,000 to more than 2 million, with drug convictions accounting for the majority of the increase.” If those trends continue, [o]ne in three young African American men will serve time in prison….” Is this because African Americans use drugs – or sell them – at a greater rate than other groups? Remarkably, no!
The remainder of the book traces reasons African Americans have been disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs, including the federal government incentivizing state and local police for making drug arrests, extreme prosecutorial discretion, and the inability of those being released from prisons and jails to reintegrate into the community. Helpfully, in addition to discussing major systemic issues, such as those previously mentioned, Alexander also drills down into the statistics of particular locales. For example, although indigent criminal defendants have a right to be represented by counsel, 11,000 people go to court without it every year in Wisconsin because indigency is defined as earning less than $3,000 per year.
If you’re interested in reading a remarkable book over Christmas break, I highly recommend checking this one out!