“The racial dimension of mass incarceration is its most striking feature. No other country imprisons so many of its racial or ethnic minorities. The United States imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid. In Washington, D.C., it is estimated that three out of four young black men (and nearly all those in the poorest neighborhoods) can expect to serve time in prison.[9] Similar rates of incarceration can be found in black communities across America.

These stark racial disparities cannot be explained by rates of drug crime. Studies show that people of all colors use and sell illegal drugs at remarkably similar rates.[10] If there are significant differences in the surveys to be found, they frequently suggest that whites, particularly white youth, are more likely to engage in drug crime than people of color.[11] That is not what one would guess, however, when entering our nation’s prisons and jails, which are overflowing with black and brown drug offenders. In some states, black men have been admitted to prison on drug charges at rates twenty to fifty times greater than those of white men.[12] And in major cities wracked by the drug war, as many as 80 percent of young African American men now have criminal records and are thus subject to legalized discrimination for the rest of their lives.[13] These young men are part of a growing undercaste, permanently locked up and locked out of mainstream society.”

10394867_730077913697415_1630151581551112215_n[Pages 6-7 in Alexander, Michelle. 2012. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. New York: The New Press. Notes by Alexander below; links added:]

  1. Donald Braman, Doing Time on the Outside: Incarceration and Family Life in Urban America (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004), 3, citing D.C. Department of Corrections data for 2000.
  2. See, e.g., U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Summary of Findings from the 2000 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, NHSDA series H-13, DHHS pub. no. SMA 01-3549 (Rockville, MD: 2001), reporting that 6.4 percent of whites, 6.4 percent of blacks, and 5.3 percent of Hispanics were current users of illegal drugs in 2000; Results from the 2002 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings, NHSDA series H-22, DHHS pub. no. SMA 03-3836 (2003), revealing nearly identical rates of illegal drug use among whites and blacks, only a single percentage point between them; and Results from 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings, NSDUH series H-34, DHHS pub. no. SMA 08-4343 (2007), showing essentially the same finding. See also Marc Mauer and Ryan S. King, A 25-Year Quagmire: The “War on Drugs” and Its Impact on American Society (Washington, DC: Sentencing Project, 2007), 19, citing a study suggesting that African Americans have slightly higher rates of illegal drug use than whites.
  3. See, e.g., Howard N. Snyder and Melissa Sickman, Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 2006 National Report, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, 2006), reporting that white youth are more likely than black youth to engage in illegal drug sales. See also Lloyd D. Johnson, Patrick M. O’Malley, Jerald G. Bachman, and John E. Schulenberg, Monitoring the Future, National Survey Results on Drug Use, 1976-2006, vol. 1, Secondary School Students, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute on Drug Abuse, NIH pub. no. 07-6205 (Bethesda, MD: 2007), 32, “African American 12th graders have consistently shown lower usage rates than White 12th graders for most drugs, both licit and illicit”; and Lloyd D. Johnston, Patrick M. O’Malley, and Jerald G. Bachman, Monitoring the Future: National Results on Adolescent Drug Use: Overview of Key Findings 2002, NIH pub. no. 03-5374 (Bethesda, MD: 2003), presenting data showing that African American adolescents have slightly lower rates of illicit drug use than their white counterparts.
  4. Human Rights Watch, Punishment and Prejudice: Racial Disparities in the War on Drugs, HRW Reports, vol. 12, no. 2 (New York, 2000).
  5. See, e.g., Paul Street, The Vicious Circle: Race, Prison, Jobs, and Community in Chicago, Illinois, and the Nation (Chicago: Chicago Urban League, Department of Research and Planning, 2002). 
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