When an ex-offender is released from prison, they know very little about the world in which they are about to encounter. In Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow, she examines the world in which former-offenders confront upon being released from the United States criminal justice system, as well as its continued role in hindering their advancement in acclimating to mainstream society. Alexander is an educated black woman, with a background as a Civil Rights Lawyer and Director of the Racial Justice Project of ACLU in Northern CA. She has observed the effects of a racial caste system first-hand, not only in her work environment but also in her community and argues that the New Jim Crow is part of the long history of systems encompassing racial control and hierarchy seen throughout the U.S. She discusses the unfortunate reality faced by the black youth, that the U.S. criminal justice system will likely touch their lives in some way.
Shows like Law and Order only sustain and secure the myth that the primary focus of the U.S. criminal justice system is to keep our streets safe and our homes secure by locking up dangerous criminals and keeping them out by punishing them. They do little if anything to dismiss the classic image of what American society portrays a “criminal” to be. Leaving many Americans with the mistaken belief that all offenders are in prison because they did something legitimately wrong, that those who are convicted must be guilty and if someone commits a crime they should go to prison. Many are blind to the stigma and shame that becomes attached to having a criminal record, once labeled a criminal American society always see’s you that way.
Alexander relates mass incarceration as a type of social control which she groups into the same classification as slavery and Jim Crow, but also emphasizes that mass incarceration in its current state should be viewed separate, through the context of the War on Drugs aka, “The New Jim Crow”. The War on Drugs was created during the Reagan administration and was announced in 1982, when drug use was on the decline and before crack became an epidemic in poor black communities. This system of social control led to mass incarceration in which African Americans’ were specifically targeted and increasingly racially profiled. Since the 1980’s the U.S. penal population has sky-rocketed from 300,000 to roughly over 2 million, with drug convictions accounting for most cases. It is a system that was set up to put poor communities of color into a permanent second-class position-the continuing legacy of Jim Crow. These communities were often heavily policed, and sentences given to people of color was far more extensive than that given to whites. People of all races use and sell illegal drugs at remarkably similar rates. In fact, a survey showed data suggesting white youth are more likely to engage in illegal drug activity. Although, upon entering a U.S. prison I think one would beg to differ. In Alexander’s book, she emphasizes that people of color today, aren’t only excessively incarcerated because of drug-related offenses but are also discriminated against in numerous aspects of mainstream society after their release.
A criminal record today is set up as an elaborate system of control, complete with political disenfranchisement and legal discriminations in every major realm of economy and comes equipped with permanent social exclusions. It authorizes discriminations in employment, housing, access to quality education, voting rights, denial of public assistance and exclusion from certain civilian services and rights. Alexander argues, “Today a criminal freed from prison has scarcely more rights, and arguably less respect, than a freed slave or black person living ‘free’ in Mississippi at the height of Jim Crow” (138 or 141? Verify in library). The way former-offenders are treated after release is just as bad if not worse, which Alexander compares to the laws and discriminations people of color experienced in the South at the height of Jim Crow.
In Alexander’s book she writes, “The shame and stigma is not limited to the individual; it extends to family members and friends—even whole communities are stigmatized by the presence of those labeled criminals” (192). I believe what she is suggesting is that this system of control will trickle down into the next generations, creating a culture of crime passed down throughout families eventually spreading out into the community. Breeding criminals by labeling parents/families, lack of opportunity, political power and access to quality education. All these are forms of exclusion that ensure a former-offender will likely never acclimate to mainstream society and make it difficult to provide for their families.
All these reasons contribute and represent why Alexander chose Jim Crow as the structure for her book The New Jim Crow. On one hand many would agree with her the claims presented in her book, on the other hand some might oppose In my opinion we have made great leaps and strides for advancement in areas of racial discrimination by ridding slavery, there are many success stories of people of color but unfortunately for a huge majority this is still not their reality.