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on February 14, 2010
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.
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on May 3, 2010
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.
122122 comments731 of 814 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on January 5, 2010
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.
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on April 26, 2010
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!
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on June 4, 2012
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.
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on February 5, 2010
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.
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on July 6, 2010
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.
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on March 26, 2010
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.
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on June 5, 2010
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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VINE VOICEon April 5, 2010
Painful to read, but necessary. Author did a great job. Well researched and thoughtful. The type of information you DO NOT receive from Mainstream Media. What a disgrace our system is, in this area, how cleverly disguised this form of social control is. If you have any interest in human rights and fairness, run out and get this book. (or order online here) Kudos to the author.
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