Mass Incarceration and the school to prison pipeline

We are disturbed and inspired to action by Michelle Alexander’s research and analysis, summed up in her book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. The information below does not directly touch on education, but it speaks deeply to the context of urban schools and racial disparities. It helps to shed light on the issue of racial disparities in school discipline and suspension as well.

This is her presentation at the press conference of the Black Community Campaign for Children in January 2011:

Here is Alexander’s column in the Huffington Post last year. Everyone should know this work.

During this year’s Black History Month, like last, we will be treated to celebrations of Obama’s presidency — the ultimate symbol, we are told, of America’s triumph over its ugly history of discrimination, exclusion, and racial caste. This is a time to rejoice, it is said, though we still have a long way to go.

That is the dominant racial narrative today among those who claim to care about racial justice: Look how far we have come, but yes we still have a long way to go.

Here are a few facts that run counter to that racial narrative:

* There are more African Americans under correctional control today — in prison or jail, on probation or parole — than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began.

* As of 2004, more African American men were disenfranchised (due to felon disenfranchisement laws) than in 1870, the year the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified prohibiting laws that explicitly deny the right to vote on the basis of race.

* If you take into account prisoners, a large majority of African American men in some urban areas, like Chicago, have been labeled felons for life. These men are part of a growing undercaste — not class, caste — a group of people who are permanently relegated, by law, to an inferior second-class status. They can be denied the right to vote, automatically excluded from juries, and legally discriminated against in employment, housing, access to education, and public benefits — much as their grandparents and great-grandparents once were during the Jim Crow era.

There is a colorblind explanation for all this: crime rates. But crime rates do not explain the sudden and dramatic mass incarceration of African Americans during the past 30 years. Crime rates have fluctuated over the past few decades — and currently are at historical lows — but imprisonment rates have soared. Quintupled.

And the vast majority of that increase is due to the War on Drugs, a war waged almost exclusively in poor communities of color, even though studies consistently show that people of all colors use and sell illegal drugs at remarkably similar rates. In fact, some studies indicate that white youth are significantly more likely to engage in illegal drug dealing than black youth.

That is not what you would guess, though, when entering our nation’s prisons and jails, which are overflowing with black and brown drug offenders.

The clock has been turned back on racial progress in America, though scarcely anyone seems to notice. …

This is not Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream. As described in The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness the cyclical rebirth of caste in America is a recurring racial nightmare.

Here is the full article:


This entry was posted in Bias, Changing the Discourse, education reform, racial equity, Structural Racism and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Mass Incarceration and the school to prison pipeline

  1. I just came home from hearing you speak at River Falls. I had read your book a few weeks ago and I think we need a movement with the goal not only of ending the “war on drugs” but also with local goals. I am sure you are familiar with the practice of presidents expunging the conviction of criminals. Yes it usually has been reserved for people who were close to the president but that does not keep people from amassing a petition for hundreds of thousands. Even better is the state practice of governors expunging records. I have some other closely related ideas, but I am running out of space, I will keep you posted.

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