The New Jim Crow | Michelle Alexander

Summary of: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
By: Michelle Alexander


In the book ‘The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,’ author Michelle Alexander delves into the shocking reality of racial prejudice in the U.S. criminal justice system, particularly concerning the War on Drugs. Despite the belief that we live in a post-racial society, the data shows that African Americans and Latinos are disproportionately imprisoned for drug offenses, even as drug use remains consistent across race demographics. This comprehensive summary will explore the consequences of racially biased mass incarcerations, their historical roots, and the challenges former inmates face upon re-entry into society, highlighting the complex interplay of race, policy, and law enforcement.

The Hidden Agenda

The American government imposed a war on drugs campaign that disproportionately incarcerated people of colour. This initiative was spearheaded by the Reagan Administration upon the discovery of crack cocaine in black neighbourhoods. Initially, it was perceived skeptical even by members of Reagan’s party. However, propaganda efforts were employed to spread awareness about the “new” crack problem, branding Black people as “crack whores” and “crack babies” in the media. The war on drugs enforcement increased and became generously financed, which led to more people of colour incarcerated in U.S prisons.

The Racial Bias of the American Justice System

The US incarcerates its minorities at a higher rate than any other country in the world, including highly repressive regimes. The majority of people serving time in US prisons are Black or Latino, and primarily on drug-related offenses. However, research has shown that people of all races use and sell drugs at a similar rate. In fact, young white people are more involved in drug crimes than any other race. Despite this, the Black and Latino populations continue to be targeted and incarcerated. The US crime rate has not increased, questioning the reasoning behind the disproportionate incarceration rates, and suggesting racial bias in the American justice system.

The US Justice System: A Dysfunctional Model

Punitive drug-related sentencing standards, excessive police power, and lack of oversight have perpetuated the dysfunctions of the US justice system. In this system, plea bargaining has become a powerful incentive for individuals who cannot afford legal representation to plead guilty, even if they are innocent.

The US justice system has failed to address injustices that emerge from its punitive drug-related sentencing standards, excessive police power, and lack of oversight. Drug-related crimes in the United States attract severe punishment, such as a mandatory minimum sentence of five to ten years in prison for first-time drug offenders. Such length of sentences for drug violations are non-existent in any other developed country. In 1982, an adult found guilty of possessing and intending to sell marijuana was sentenced to 40 years imprisonment, which was later upheld by the US Supreme Court. Furthermore, law enforcement is empowered with vast authority and little oversight. Police officers have the right to stop and search any person without any fundamental reason. Most often, the cases are resolved through plea bargaining – where an individual pleads guilty for a lessened sentence instead of going to trial. The US justice system is now plagued with innocent people pleading guilty, out of panic, or just in the hope of receiving a lenient sentence. The system does not provide equal opportunities for those without financial resources, enforcing the tendency of disadvantaged individuals to plead guilty.

Unconscious Racial Bias in Law Enforcement

Despite the belief that US law enforcement is impartial, research proves that there is a high likelihood of unconscious racial bias among individuals, including those in law enforcement. This bias produces racially biased outcomes, especially in drug law enforcement. As drug crimes don’t have a victim, police officers need to be proactive, stopping and searching people. Given the historical context of sensationalist media coverage and the early boom in crack use in poor neighborhoods, Black people are commonly targeted and profiled by law enforcement.

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