Tag Archives: mass incarceration

Is Mass Incarceration the New Jim Crow?

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander was first published in 2010 and called attention to the impact the War of Drugs had on communities of color. In her preface to the 10th anniversary edition, Alexander discusses what a new version of the book would cover: the hopefulness of prison reform, the complicated legacy of Barack Obama related to incarceration, and the horrific consequences of Donald Trump’s presidency in general.

She resisted the urge to write an updated book and I agree with the decision. Things have changed since 2010 but as long as police have almost unlimited power to stop and search and prosecutors can keep people of color off juries for silly and superstitious reasons, our system is seemingly irretrievably broken. However, Alexander expresses some hope for change in her preface to this new edition.

The book is a meticulously researched historical timeline that shows how we moved from slavery to Jim Crow to mass incarceration as institutional answers to segregation and racism. The latter is seemingly so entrenched legally, politically, culturally and economically that Alexander doesn’t offer much hope for reversing it in her first edition. She is particularly hard on Civil Rights lawyers and activists, including herself, who seem to ignore the issue because it often deals with people who did break the law and that makes it harder to defend them.

That focus, however, is changing and the Prison Policy Initiative is a good starting point for learning more about mass incarceration and the efforts to change the system. For my fellow Virginians, check out the profile page for our state. Here is one graphic to get you started: where the prison inmates come from in the state:

“Using 2020 census data, we looked at where people in Virginia prisons and jails come from. We found many of the state’s biggest and smallest communities are disproportionately harmed by mass incarceration.”
From Prison Policy Initiative