More Black Men in Prison Than Were Enslaved in 1850





It’s a heartbreaking, but often understated, reality that America’s criminal justice system imprisons black folks at astonishingly high rates. The U.S. Bureau of Justice estimated that as of 2008, there were over 846,000 black men in prison, making up 40.2 percent of all inmates in the system. But in a recent talk, noted author Michelle Alexander put those numbers in grave historical perspective.

“More African American men are in prison or jail, on probation or parole than were enslaved in 1850, before the Civil War began,” Alexander, an Ohio State law professor, recently told listeners at the Pasadena Branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Alexander’s seminal book, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” argues that prisons have become the latest form of economic and social disenfranchisement for young folks of color, particularly black men. In it, she grapples with a central question: If crime rates have fluctuated over the years and are now at historical lows, then why have rates of incarcerated men of color skyrocketed over the past 30 years?

The answer to that question doesn’t require a lot of digging.

“Most of that increase is due to the War on Drugs, a war waged almost exclusively in poor communities of color,” she said. LA Progressive reported that even though studies have proven that whites use and sell illegal drugs at rates equal to or higher than black, four of five black youth in some inner-city communities can expect to be incarcerated in their lifetimes....


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