Title: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
Author: Michelle Alexander
Narrator: Karen Chilton
Length: 16 hrs 57 mins
“The United States now has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, dwarfing the rates of nearly every developed country, even surpassing those in highly repressive regimes like Russia, China, and Iran.”
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness is an informative and well researched book about the prison system and how it is the new version of Jim Crow. This book removes the blinders that have hidden the truth about the criminal justice system in America and its “War on Drugs.”
As someone who grew up during the 90s, I remember the constant media coverage about the War on Drugs, but at the time I was too young to really understand what it meant. This book shows how this legislation has caused a population explosion in prisons and jails, and that the majority of the people who end up with felonies are Black Americans. Yes, white people are arrested for drug crimes but they are not penalized as heavily as Blacks are, especially if they are first time criminals.
“The genius of the current caste system, and what most distinguishes it from its predecessors, is that it appears voluntary. People choose to commit crimes, and that’s why they are locked up or locked out, we are told. This feature makes the politics of responsibility particularly tempting, as it appears the system can be avoided with good behavior. But herein lies the trap. All people make mistakes. All of us are sinners. All of us are criminals. All of us violate the law at some point in our lives. In fact, if the worst thing you have ever done is speed ten miles over the speed limit on the freeway, you have put yourself and others at more risk of harm than someone smoking marijuana in the privacy of his or her living room. Yet there are people in the United States serving life sentences for first-time drug offenses, something virtually unheard of anywhere else in the world.”
Michelle Alexander not only discusses how racist the system is, she also shows how once you are branded a felon you become a second class citizen in this country. A felony means no job, no tuition loans, no food stamps to help your children, no voting, and no jury service. While I knew some of what a felony conviction could do, I didn’t realize that it prevented you from things like food stamps, tuition or housing. The effects of a conviction can ruin a life and that is wrong, especially since they do their time for it.
“As a society, our decision to heap shame and contempt upon those who struggle and fail in a system designed to keep them locked up and locked out says far more about ourselves than it does about them.”
This book will change your perspective on the criminal justice system and shows you that racism and Jim Crow laws didn’t go away, they just changed. This was not an easy read (or listen for me) because this is a heavy topic that can change your whole perspective but it is necessary to learn how terrible the criminal justice system is. I highly recommend this book. Yes it’s dense and hard hitting, but it is important to know the truth of our flawed judicial system.