What to do about mass incarceration of blacks

Michelle Alexander in her recently-published book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, called attention to the fact that mass incarceration of young black men in poor big-city neighborhoods is really a civil rights issue.

alexander.m.newjimcrowIt is a civil rights issue because poor young black men in big cities are sentenced to long terms in prison for drug offenses for which young white men or well-to-do young men of all races are rarely penalized.  Surveys show that white and black people use marijuana and other drugs in roughly the same proportion, yet the overwhelming majority of people in prison for such offenses are black.

It is a civil rights issue because it provides an excuse for police to search and hassle young black men for no real reason.  In some areas of New York City, the number of stops and searches of young black men in certain neighborhoods exceeds the population of young black men in that neighborhood.  Targeting young black men is not justified by facts.  Contraband is found in a higher proportion of searches of white men than of black men.

It is a civil rights issue because convicted felons are second-class citizens.  They are legitimate targets of discrimination.  In some states, they can’t vote.

The U.S. government should end its counter-productive war on drugs.  Short of that, the Green Party of Georgia had some good ideas back in the day.

  • opposing in principle the trials of or incarceration of juveniles as or with adults;
  • repealing all mandatory sentencing legislation;
  • an end to all privatized prisons and jails, and the swift phasing out of piecemeal privatization of inmate health, food services and other functions;
  • an end to all privatized probation services;
  • ceasing the incarceration of juveniles for most or all nonviolent offenses and reexamining the “zero-tolerance” policies forced upon many school districts;
  • immediate cancellation of all the private contracts enabling well-connected corporations and corrupt politicians to collect exorbitant tolls on the money sent to and phone calls made to inmates and persons in custody;
  • the extension of meaningful educational opportunities beyond G.E.D. to people in the state’s jails and prisons and its extensive community corrections networks;

via Black Agenda Report.

A big part of ending mass incarceration is putting an end to all the outsourcing and private contracts.  These create a vested interest and powerful lobbying group for mass incarceration.  But even without privatization, this would be a problem.  The prison guards’ union campaigned against liberalizing California’s marijuana laws.  As with so many other things, these problems would be both less serious and easier to deal with in a high-wage, full-employment economy.

This is a follow-up to How I would change things if I could.

Click on How race discrimination became legal again and Vested interests in mass incarceration for earlier posts of mine on this subject.

Click on Mayor Bloomberg: NYPD ‘Stops Whites Too Often and Minorities Too Little’ for an example of the problem of racial discrimination in law enforcement.  Please read the full article rather than stopping with Mayor Bloomberg’s comments.

Click on The Tragic Success of Mass Incarceration for Michael Gerson’s thoughts on how liberals, libertarians and evangelicals might unite to reduce the U.S. prison population.

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3 Responses to “What to do about mass incarceration of blacks”

  1. mark adams Says:

    The obvious inequity in which African Amercians suffer more under our present legal system is obvious to everyone. Many I know are racist and do not know it. They say puting these black men who smoke pot in jail is fair. Why? A common theme with racism is black people get away with all sorts of crimes. For example, that is why Trevon Martin was stalked and killed…”he must have been up to something”…so Martin was shot when confronted. This of course is to justify racism and has no basis in fact. Black people are ALWAYS thought to be up to something. If that isn’t racism what is it?

    As to pot laws. Notice the change in public opinion. Now at 50% acceptance. it is just a matter of time before pot is decriminalaized.


  2. EthnicKonflict Says:

    It looks like we’ve found some common ground, Mark. I will be celebrating alongside you if and when the theocrats can be overwhelmed and pot can be made legal.


  3. mark adams Says:

    The threat of a theocracy in he U.S.A. is very real. Fear sells and the Rebulican party pushes this constantly as a self interest which even has me looking over my shoulder. They couldn’t sell Romney. The Conservatives constantly insert religion in politics as a moral issue. It is up to everyone to examine this slippery slope and vote against the devastating results of forced religion to answer all our complex questions with ..”because God wills it.” One person working is more beneficial than billions of people praying.


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