"More African American men are in prison or jail, on probation or parole than were enslaved in 1850, before the Civil War began," Michelle Alexander told a standing room only house at the Pasadena Main Library this past Wednesday, the first of many jarring points she made in a riveting presentation.She's written a best-selling book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness, and she discusses the problem:
Growing crime rates over the past 30 years don’t explain the skyrocketing numbers of black — and increasingly brown — men caught in America’s prison system, according to Alexander, who clerked for Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun after attending Stanford Law. "In fact, crime rates have fluctuated over the years and are now at historical lows."So why are so many people locked up?
"Most of that increase is due to the War on Drugs, a war waged almost exclusively in poor communities of color," she said, even though studies have shown that whites use and sell illegal drugs at rates equal to or above blacks. In some black inner-city communities, four of five black youth can expect to be caught up in the criminal justice system during their lifetimes.And what's the result?
As a consequence, a great many black men are disenfranchised, said Alexander — prevented because of their felony convictions from voting and from living in public housing, discriminated in hiring, excluded from juries, and denied educational opportunities.The new Jim Crow.
Here is Michelle Alexander talking about all this on The Washington Report:
Yet one local leader tells me private prisons are "good clean industry."
The solution to the expense of prisons isn't to privatize them: it's to stop locking up so many people. Even newly-elected Republican Governor Nathan Deal thinks we can't afford to lock so many people up. Serpico thinks we should legalize drugs and stop locking people up for minor possession.
Or would we rather pay more to lock up people than it would cost to educate them?