In the 240 years that the United States has been in existence, the feats and accomplishments of this nation have been nothing short of history changing and in some case earth shattering. As one of the world’s superpowers, the United States continues to be a prime destination for immigrants all over the world looking for a new opportunity in the land of the free and home of the brave. And while the public face of the country touts freedom, liberty and justice for all, there’s a much darker side to the country rarely seen by many of the people wishing to immigrate to America an those who currently live in the nation. Incarceration rates have been on the rise in the United States since the start of the 1980s. And shockingly, the United States continues to incarcerate people at a higher rate than any other country on earth. The rates show no sign of slowing down or even declining and as a result, more prisons are being constructed and more Americans of all backgrounds are entering prison cells than ever before.
I vividly remember as a kid in the 1980s, the government’s commencement of the war on drugs. Television commercials, posters, documentaries and news broadcasts regularly reminded us of the dangers of narcotic use. Nancy Regan famously reminded us to just say no. In 2016, the war on drug continues, but its success and consequences remain the topic of fierce debate. While the primary focus of the war may have been the elimination of illegal drugs, there was a heavy price to be paid by those on the wrong end of the campaign. The laws passed as a result of the anti-drug campaign have resulted in some the harshest prison sentences in the world for drug use. Young African-American and Latino make up the majority of all drug convictions pursuant to those same laws and the system of mass incarceration has appropriately been called by Michelle Alexander in this phenomenal book, the ‘New Jim Crow’. While the Jim Crow laws that cast a dark cloud on the United States were struck down many decades ago, the systematic incarceration and ostracism that convicted men and women find themselves in, is some ways equally as dangerous as the former system of legal segregation. Those who do enter the system, often find that they carry a stigma for life as a felon and sometimes never fully re-integrate into society thus becoming the unwanted and living with the shame and neglect as many minorities did during the violent and regretful Jim Crow era.
Alexander has done a masterful job of bringing to light what could be considered an epidemic in American culture. The fallout from the war on drugs and high incarceration rates among Black and Latino youths, has resulted in the continuation of the destructive cycles in the ghettos across America that were responsible for their lifestyle from the beginning. Thoroughly researched and thought-provoking, her investigative report challenges us to re-examine our own opinions about convicted felons and drug use. She also forces us to considered the economic benefits from the incarceration of millions of Americans and the financial black hole that has resulted from the war on drugs. Her reporting is shocking and infuriating for it reveals many dark secrets about the American penal system and the American attitude to crime and punishment. And as someone who was raised in an environment that produced many young men and women who have fallen victim to the new Jim Crow, this book is a brutal reminder of the life long consequences of a life in the street and the cost of the mistake for many Americans that are otherwise productive members of society.
This book should be required reading in homes and classrooms across America in the effort to prevent young men and women from entering a life long system of discrimination and oppression. Michelle Alexander has done a great service to the citizens of this nation who are unaware or unwilling to face our fear of topics of race, prison, poverty and politics. Only then, can we begin to dismantle the new system of Jim Crow and successfully rehabilitate those in the penal system and help end the decades long poverty that has plagued neighborhoods all across America.