Systemic Racism Video: Incarceration

In the next video in the systemic racism video series, Jay Smooth explains incarceration in this short (1:01) clip:

The text of the video reads:

Did you know that back in the 80s there were less than half a million people in the US prison system, but now, thanks to the war on drugs, there are more than 2 million? That out of every 100,000 Americans about 700 are incarcerated, but out of every 100,000 Black men over 4,000 are incarcerated? And one of the many effects of that trend is that combined with felony disenfranchisement laws, it means 13% of Black American men are denied their right to vote?

Race Forward, the producers of the video series, lists several sources including one from The Atlantic, which features this graph:

Incarceration rate, bar graph

Incarceration Rate, per 100,000 Data source: International Center for Prison Studies (2010). Image source: The Atlantic (2014).

This topic, like the others covered in the series, is a well-researched aspect of systemic racism in the U.S. The conversation-changer recently has been Alexander’s book, but the analysis of the prison-industrial complex predates her work, there is some critique of her work (e.g., Forman). If you’d like to read some of the scholarship about this topic, you should see these:

  • Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. New York: The New Press (2011). Legal scholar Michelle Alexander argues that “we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.” By targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control—relegating millions to a permanent second-class status—even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness. In the words of Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, this book is a “call to action.” (locked)
The New Jim Crow, book cover

The New Jim Crow

  • Davis, Angela. The Prison-Industrial Complex. New York: The New Press (2000). Abstract: Over the last generation, the U.S. prison systems have grown at a rate unparalleled in history, creating what many call a Prison Industrial Complex. Angela Davis explains what happens to our legal system when we lock up more people for longer sentences, which industries are a part of the Prison Industrial Complex, and how to stop or slow prison growth.  (locked)
  • Davis, Angela. Are Prisons Obsolete? New York: Seven Stories Press.  (2003). Abstract: In this book, Davis puts forward the case for the latest abolition movement in American life: the abolition of the prison. As she quite correctly notes, American life is replete with abolition movements, and when they were engaged in these struggles, their chances of success seemed almost unthinkable. For generations of Americans, the abolition of slavery was sheerest illusion. Similarly,the entrenched system of racial segregation seemed to last forever, and generations lived in the midst of the practice, with few predicting its passage from custom. The brutal, exploitative (dare one say lucrative?) convict-lease system that succeeded formal slavery reaped millions to southern jurisdictions (and untold miseries for tens of thousands of men, and women). Few predicted its passing from the American penal landscape. Davis expertly argues how social movements transformed these social, political and cultural institutions, and made such practices untenable. In Are Prisons Obsolete?, Professor Davis seeks to illustrate that the time for the prison is approaching an end. She argues forthrightly for “decarceration”, and argues for the transformation of the society as a whole. (OA)
  • Forman Jr, James. “Racial critiques of mass incarceration: Beyond the new Jim Crow.” NYUL Rev. 87 (2012): 21. (OA)
  • Glasser, Ira. “American Drug Laws: The New Jim Crow.” Alb. L. Rev. 63 (1999): 703. No abstract available. (locked)
  • López, Ian F. Haney. “Post-racial racism: Racial stratification and mass incarceration in the age of Obama.” California Law Review (2010): 1023-1074. No abstract available.  (OA)

Next up, drug arrests.


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