520 of 555 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Important, Eye Opening Work
Thirty years ago, fewer than 350,000 people were held in prisons and jails in the United States. Today, the number of inmates in the United States exceeds 2,000,000. In this book, Alexander argues that this system of mass incarceration "operates as a tightly networked system of laws, policies, customs, and institutions that operate collectively to ensure the subordinate...
Published on February 14, 2010 by Middle-aged Professor
65 of 76 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A BALANCED PERSPECTIVE
Ms. Alexander provides an excellent historical background in the history of America's war on drugs and it's impact upon the police agencies, the African-American community, and particularly the African-American male. However, what is missing from her review of the Criminal Justice system is clarification that her focus is on drug related crimes. As a African-American who...
Published on June 4, 2012 by Cheryl M. Toles
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520 of 555 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Important, Eye Opening Work,
Thirty years ago, fewer than 350,000 people were held in prisons and jails in the United States. Today, the number of inmates in the United States exceeds 2,000,000. In this book, Alexander argues that this system of mass incarceration "operates as a tightly networked system of laws, policies, customs, and institutions that operate collectively to ensure the subordinate status of a group defined largely by race." The War on Drugs, the book contends, has created "a lower caste of individuals who are permanently barred by law and custom from mainstream society." Mass incarceration, and the disabilities that come with the label "felon," serve, metaphorically, as the new Jim Crow.
The book develops this argument with systematic care. The first chapter provides context with a brief history of the rise, fall and interrelation of the first two racial caste systems in the United States, slavery and Jim Crow. Subsequent chapters provide close scrutiny of the system of mass incarceration that has arisen over the past thirty years, examining each stage of the process (e.g., criminalization, investigation, prosecution, sentencing) and the many collateral consequences of a felony conviction (entirely apart from any prison time) and how and why each of these has operated to the detriment of African-Americans. The book also explores how the caste system Alexander identifies is different and not-so-different from Jim Crow, the many political and economic forces now invested in sustaining it, and how it has been rendered virtually immune to challenge through litigation. The book concludes with an argument that while many particular reforms will be needed to change this system, nothing short of a social movement that changes public acceptance of the current system can solve this problem and offers critiques and proposals for the civil rights movement based on this analysis. Everyone who reads this book will come away seeing the War on Drugs and mass incarceration in a new light.
482 of 536 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Can we start talking about race?,
I'm a white man and I carry with me the cultural legacy of racism. I know I'm not alone but I don't find many other white people who are willing to venture into this uncomfortable territory and own up to our own racism. And while I've had a few conversations about race with black men, I must say I feel like I'm venturing into dangerous territory - how do I transcend the privilege I've had as an socio-econonmically advantaged white man to connect to those who rightly see me and my kind as an oppressor?
This was a hard book to read. I said that about "Slavery by Another Name" as well which is the companion book to this one as they both address a white power structure that uses prisons to humiliate, degrade, diminish and control black people. "Slavery by Another Name" addresses this phenomenon during Jim Crow and "The New Jim Crow" addresses how we've been doing this for the past thirty years.
To the extent white people and non-black minorities I know talk about race, its about why blacks continue to languish at the bottom of the American barrel. If other ethnic groups that have experienced discrimination manage to overcome it and prosper as Americans, what is wrong with blacks? I've always said it was slavery and its legacy, the Jim Crow era and its deprivations but now I realize that the story is even more complex, black men have been disproportionately single out for prison time, causing entire families to suffer the economic loss, the social stigma and family shame that accompanies such imprisonment.
I remember the O.J. trial and how whites were "shocked" that blacks had such a different take on the police and criminal justice. At the time, there was discussion about how black men were singled out for police harassment and arrest but I don't remember a discussion about why so many black men were imprisoned. In 1995, the impact of the drug wars wasn't fully appreciated but 15 years later with an even larger prison population, it is. The other thing about the O.J. trial that made it complicated was his role as a rich celebrity. In that regard, he took on the power and privilege of a white man and there was a sense that in his marriage to a white woman and in his lifestyle he had been escaping from his black upringing, betraying blacks. But when he stood trial, blacks hurried to support him against the white power structure.
This goes to the other argument the book makes which is the way black exceptionalism, the O.Js, the Oprahs, the Michael Jackson, Tiger Woods and Obamas allow whites to believe that racism is dead, that blacks are making it, a sign that our color-blind society has triumphed. This exceptionalism hides or excuses the results of a drug war aimed directly at the black underclass and which has snatched so many black men from their families and putting them at even greater disadvantage. After prison they are marked men, making employment very difficult, voting often impossible and public housing unlikely.
Class is not the subject of this book but I do think it is also at play both in terms of preserving the tense wariness poor whites feel towards any sign of "special favors" for blacks and as the lesser evil to that of racism but which has defined American life for so long and made everyone - rich and poor - look to the wealthy as successful and the poor as shameful losers.
259 of 291 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars MUST READ: A powerful book!,
Law Professor Michelle Alexander's long-anticipated debut puts a bright light directly on what is perhaps our greatest national shame: the extraordinary rates of incarceration for people of color in the United States.
Her writing is lucid and gripping; her arguments are clear and concise; her conclusions often are inescapable. She powerfully makes the case that the incarceration industry has become to the 21st Century what Jim Crow segregation was to the 20th: a system that undermines American ideals of justice, while reinforcing social inequality.
In what many hope will be a "post-racial" era, Ms. Alexander's voice is a courageous one. Even as she rightfully celebrates progress at many levels, she refuses to let our society ignore the fact that a million or more people of color are imprisoned today (out of all proportion to their numbers in the population AND even out of all proportion to their rate of criminal offenses, as documented by the government).
More importantly, she dares to ask (and attempts to answer) the simple question: how can this be happening in our country today?
Impeccably well-argued, "The New Jim Crow" is an inspired work - representing the debut of a bright, new and important voice in American life and letters.
85 of 97 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful, Informative, and Mind-Opening,
I have just put down Michelle Alexander's book after reading the very last word and I don't know what to say. I am literally so in awe, so grateful for her work, so amazed at her talent and gifts that I am truly without words to describe how I feel or what I think.
I am normally a very quick read but her book forced me to slow down. Not a word or sentence was unnecessary but rather so incredibly meaningful, meaty, and educational that I found myself only being able to read when I was well-rested and undisturbed. I am amazed at how effectively and clearly she informed the reader, me, about the current state of our justice system, the experience of police encounters (which was infuriating and would fill me with rage), and how the laws serve to disempower people and make them disappear. How she moved from data-driven, legal, educational, & rational arguments to a passionate appeal for change and a sharing of a real vision is astonishing.
I love how she writes, so clear and with a crescendo of support for her thesis, and what she wrote about. I'm truly grateful for this piece of work. The book is truly inspiring as it is mystifying that we are where we are. I haven't been able to stop telling people about her book but sadly am not nearly as eloquent and struggle to explain concisely the arguments.
I wish everyone would read this body of work. Well done!
76 of 88 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars COMPELLING AND CONVINCING,
Michelle Alexander has the ability to see far beyond conventinonal wisdom and understanding. Her intellect is exceptional and her logic captivating. Her compelling and convincing book leaves no doubt about the wrongness of the War on Drugs. Highly educational and informative as well as thought provoking.
36 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inconvenient Truths,
This is an explosive book. We've all read the statistics about racial disparity in criminal justice, but Michelle Alexander brings it all together in this sweeping analysis of our dysfunctional legal system and the persistence of de jure discrimination in the Age of Obama. Clearly written and vigorously argued, The New Jim Crow makes plain that we haven't come as far as we think and that there is still much to be done. The ghosts of slavery are alive and well.
65 of 76 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A BALANCED PERSPECTIVE,
Ms. Alexander provides an excellent historical background in the history of America's war on drugs and it's impact upon the police agencies, the African-American community, and particularly the African-American male. However, what is missing from her review of the Criminal Justice system is clarification that her focus is on drug related crimes. As a African-American who has worked in the Criminal Justice system over 30 years I can attest that drug arrests are only a percentage of offenses for which African-American males are incarcerted. Other offenses well represented in incarcerated males are property and violent crimes. In addition some facts were mistated including the representation of clients in court. For example Ms Alexander states clients are sent to jail without legal representation or rehabilitation programs. In the State of Illinois and I'm sure other states it is illegal to bring a defendant before the court without legal representation and a Public Defender is appointed. Within the stucture of the Criminal Justice system there is focus and treatment referral for drug addiction, domestic violence, sex abuse, and others.
I reviewed the references and did not see who or what agencies were contacted or observed to obtain the skewed statistics. There was an absence of review of actual case records which would demonstrate that subjects usually return to court many times before actually receiving even a short jail term. Also, missing from this assessment is the acknowledgement that many African-Americans work in the Criminal Justice system, come from the same community as subjects, and work hard to rehabilitate them prior to returning them to court. As a social researcher I have found in my study that African-American males need intervention at the primary school level; long before they enter the Criminal Justice system. I hope in Ms. Alexander's next book she will take a more wholistic look at the problem of African-American male incarceration.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The New Jim Crow: is just the old Jim Crow in New Prison garbs.,
This review is from: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (Paperback)
Did we really need to wait to have a Civil Rights Lawyer and Legal Scholar tell us what is everywhere self-evident and what we already knew in any case: that the third rail of American racism (putting as many black and Latino men in jail as possible) has re-emerged in our so-called post-racial colorblind society?
With great alarm, much passion and the skill of a lawyer who has been "there and done that," Ms. Alexander, fighting desperately in the trenches of America's profoundly racist criminal justice system, here pulls back the scab to reveal the running pus in yet another racial sore: America's sustained retreat and rapid retrenchment back to the future of rampant Jim Crowism. It is an insidious process that she has exposed here that since the Reagan years has been implemented and consolidated without interruption via the so-called "war on drugs."
Using a five-pronged attack - the draconian crack cocaine laws, coupled with the "three strike law," the new voracious prison-industrial complex, rampant single mother inner city households, and the systematic decimation of inner city schools -- Dr. King's dream has been seamlessly turned into yet another American racial nightmare.
This author tells us that in less than three decades the American prison population has grown eight-fold -- from little more than 300, 000 to more than 2.3 million (more than Russia and China two of the most repressive countries in the world) combined. American jails are now so overcrowded with non-violent misdemeanor drug offenders (turned with one stroke of the pen into felony criminals) that California has had to release prisoners by the thousands, and Texas, among others, may also soon be required to do the same.
But it is the insidious nature and implications of the social consequences of this self-made factory of socially and racially inspired arrests that has become the focus of the author's attention. According to her, what we have here is a closed system of "social control" of our minority populations, effectively a new form of 21st Century slavery. The new slave system works as follows: There are no jobs for black and Latino young men. The affordable schools are so inferior that they have been reduced to little more than a babysitting function. Upward of 80% of these jobless men come from single mother run households. Crack is plentiful and cheap. And with the aggressive, barely legal Nazi-like police tactics used to terrorize inner city neighborhoods (in an effort to arrest low level drug users rather than their suppliers), it was just a matter of time before the "so-called" war on drugs would be turned into a self-fulfilling war on black and Latino inner city youths.
The real purpose of the "war on drugs" thus is to feed the new bureaucratic tool of racial social control called the prison-industrial-complex. This is done by supplying its ovens with a continuous stream of fresh new meat, misdemeanors (turned overnight into felons for life). And it is these "readymade faux felons" that fill up the prisons, and turn the crank on the expanding privatized prison industrial complex. To say that it is a cottage industry would be a monument to understatement. Just look at the rapid rise of their stocks on the New York Stock Exchange, and all of the jobs these new industries using slave labor are taking away from the legitimate economy? Ever eat Whole Food Tilapia? Guess where they are raised and processed: In the fish hatcheries of the prison-industrial complex.
When these men are released from prison, as newly minted felons they immediately become societal pariahs, marked for life. They are stripped not only of their dignity as men but also of their citizenship, as they are unable to vote or get jobs, cannot receive any form of public assistance, cannot even rent apartments. At an early age they thus have been converted into homeless societal outcasts with nowhere to go but to a road leading back to a life of crime; and thus back into the jaws of the beast. QED.
The author, like me, is disappointed in our new one-term black President, who, having been a young cocaine user himself, and having "pocketed" both the black (95%) and Latino (62%) vote, made only a feeble attempt to deal with the problem. In typical Obama compromise "split the moral baby in halve" fashion, he had Eric Holder change the draconian powder versus crack cocaine rule from ten-to-one down to eight-to-one. Well, thanks a lot Mr. Obama for that half way moral compromise; that at least was better than nothing. So to honor your compromise with the devil, instead of telling ten of my friends not to vote against you, I am now only going to tell eight! Five Stars
39 of 46 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Your view of our Criminal Justice System will change forever,
This review is from: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (Kindle Edition)
Earlier I reviewed Texas Tough and suggested questions it should raise in your mind. Now I have read The New Jim Crow and am flabbergasted at my ignorance. I had thought I knew much about our Criminal Justice System (having studied and taught about it for years) but now realize how narrow and restricted my understanding had been. A MUST read.
Texas Tough tells us WHAT; The New Jim Crow tells us WHY! Michelle Alexander has done an outstanding job of filling in many blanks in our knowledge and correcting our typical perceptions of the criminals and prisons and ex-offenders.
Readers who are serious about understanding the plight of Black Men and the War on Drugs, and are willing to learn from an intelligent and experienced Black female ACLU attorney, will learn about a whole new world not seen by White's.
I used the Kindle edition which works well since the text contains no graphs or pictures. A straight, honest read. Captivating!
My four stars instead of five is due to the repetitive nature of some information and some digression into a preaching rather than a strict information style. She may embellish the significance of some of the facts, but it doesn't diminish the message.
30 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The most important book written this year, and maybe century!,
MIchelle Alexander's book is a judgment on what America has become -- a racist prison state. "The New Jim Crow" is tightly researched and stand as an indictment of our nation. Read it and weep! Say, with Alan Paton, Cry, the Beloved Country.
I was one of the early white civil rights demonstrators, then battled HUAC in the streets of Chicago, then led the Peace movement in Boston, brought a winning contingent into the runoff for Senate in Massachusetts, electing Ed Brooke the first Black Senator in the US ever, then was the Exec Dir of Alabama's :freedom democrats," electing the first blacks to office in Alabama since Reconstruction, then working in Congress for Earl Hilliard, Alabama's first black member of Congress and Vice Chair of the Progressive Caucus there, and organized the movement which brought unions into the halls of Congress to organize Congressional workers. And I ain't quit yet!
But through it all, I see with old, experienced eyes what the young eyes of Michelle Alexander see -- a police state America -- a racist prison state. Read the book! Look at the evidence! Then start working to save what little is left, if anything, of the real America so many of us dreamed.
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The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander (Paperback - January 16, 2012)