Mass Incarceration

Week 10 Discussion

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For this week’s discussion board, I want to reflect on the previous pages in this module.

In this discussion board, I want to you to show an understanding of the material covered in the previous pages.  Please use the terminology or ideas presented in the previous pages.  Failure to do so, will result in a low discussion board grade.


This discussion board will focus on some of the possible aspects of the “new” Jim Crow idea.  Please respond to all of the following prompts:

1.) One of the pages of this module examined the issue of voting in today’s society.  In that page was a video about possible examples of voter suppression (meaning, tactics that might serve to keep certain groups of people from voting).  Typically, when people are incarcerated for a felony, they lose their right to vote (remember, individuals convicted of a felony CAN vote once their sentence is complete and are no longer on parole).  Do you believe it is fair/just to take away people’s voting rights while they are incarcerated for a felony?  AND do you think that the topics I discussed in my video are examples of voter suppression or voter integrity?

2.) Although segregation by law ended in the 1960s, some would argue that segregation basically still exists.  Do you believe that we still live in a segregated society AND do you believe you have ever gone (or are going) to a “segregated” school?  Even if you were not born in the US or have not gone to school previously in the US, would you label the schools you went to in your country of origin as “segregated?”  Explain your response and even if the answer is “no,” please explain why.

Your FIRST post should be a minimum of 200 words.  Your SECOND and THIRD posts, where you respond to your peers’ posts, each should be a minimum of 100 words.

New Jim Crow

It is commonly considered that the historical Jim Crow era ended with the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act in the 1960s.  And these laws DID change a lot and put an end to many discriminatory practices.


Do we still have violations of civil rights today?

Do we still see some discriminatory practices that resemble the “old” Jim Crow laws? 

Do we still see laws that aim at voter suppression/disenfranchisement, segregation, and criminalization/incarceration?  

Many people would answer “YES” to all those questions.


mage result for the new jim crow

Michelle Alexander, a civil rights scholar, has argued that we are living in a “new” Jim Crow period, where the discriminatory laws of the past have been redesigned and are still around today.  We no longer have segregation by law, poll taxes, or literacy tests, but we might have laws that have the same objective and intent of those laws.

For your Class Assignment this week, you will need to read the following excerpt from her book entitled The New Jim Crow.  This excerpt does a good job of summarizing some of her major arguments.

In addition, please watch the following video featuring Michelle Alexander.  While the entire video is interesting, you only need to watch the first 10 minutes of the video.

Alexander is also making the argument that in the US, our government (and others) have always found ways to oppress and persecute people of color.  Slavery was one way, but when that ended, it was replaced by Jim Crow and segregation.  When those things “ended,” we have replaced that with our prison system which disproportionately incarcerates people of color.  Essentially, I believe, Alexander is saying that our prison system is a modern-day form of slavery (which you may or may not agree with).  We will take a closer look at this later in the module.

When you read the chapter above and watch the video, keep in mind that this is just one perspective.  Alexander is presenting some good information, but you do not have to agree with her.  I am not making you read/watch these things because you need to agree with it.  Instead, I am assigning this because it is interesting, thought-provoking, relates to our class, and she does present relevant research.  As you are reading/watching, ask yourself whether you agree with what she is saying and whether you think she is making a strong argument or not.  


Voter Suppression or Voter Integrity?

Voting rights was a major issue during the Jim Crow era.  Despite the passage of the 15th amendment and later the 19th amendment, laws were passed that made it very difficult for people of color to vote.

Even though we no longer have literacy tests and poll taxes, some argue we still have laws in place that make it difficult for people of color to vote.

Please watch the video for more information on how laws and policies today might serve to suppress people’s voting rights.

The following article details how voter ID laws disproportionately target people of color (Links to an external site.) and seem to have the impact of decreasing voting in communities of color.  The article is not required reading, but it does provide some interesting research.

Mass Incarceration

Another goal of the “old” Jim Crow era was criminalization, meaning, finding ways of making criminals out of people or making things crimes that were not really crimes. For example, someone of color not giving up their seat on a bus for a white man, was a crime.

Some of that has changed since the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, but scholars have argued that there are still laws in place that aim at criminalizing a group of people.  For example, some might argue that marijuana laws don’t serve an actual purpose but rather exist only to criminalize people (obviously, not everyone agrees with this point of view).

One major issue that is addressed in Alexander’s article and video, is the topic of mass incarceration.

Statistics from the Prison Policy Initiative (Links to an external site.), the US Census Bureau (Links to an external site.), and the Bureau of Justice Statistics (Links to an external site.) estimate that there are 2.3 million people incarcerated in prisons and jails in the US.  In our criminal justice system, we have 1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 1,852 juvenile correction facilities, and 3,163 local jails.

Many statistics have the US as having the highest rate of incarceration in the world, with 655 people incarcerated for every 100,000 people in the country.  More research shows that the US has 21% of the world’s incarcerated population, despite having only 4% of the entire world’s population.


Here are some additional interesting statistics about mass incarceration:

The first graph shows that the prison population has exploded, especially since the early 1980s.  While our country’s population has also grown, the growth of the prison population seems to be disproportionate.

This graph shows that even though white and black individuals are both equally as likely to use illegal drugs, black individuals have a significantly higher rate of arrest for drug-related crimes.   

This graph shows that the number of people in federal prisons has exploded in the last few decades, but this explosion is almost entirely made up of people incarcerated for drug-related crimes.  

This graph shows that black and Latino men are dramatically more likely to spend time in jail than other groups of people.  

The graphs above represent actual research and real statistics (meaning, not “fake news”).  Feel free to consult these resources (Links to an external site.) for a deeper dive (Links to an external site.) into the mass incarceration problem (these articles are not required reading).


So a big question is what do we make of these statistics and findings?  What, if anything, can be learned from this? 

Some, like Michelle Alexander, argue that our current-day prison system is a continuation of the old Jim Crow and potentially a continuation of slavery.  She, and others, would also argue that our judicial system specifically targets people of color and seeks to criminalize them, and incarcerate them (which was a goal of the old Jim Crow era).  Furthermore, many have argued that our drug laws, and the “war on drugs,” is an effort at criminalization and that most of our drug laws are ineffective at actually reducing the number of people who do drugs.  Statistics show that the number of people incarcerated for drug-related crimes has increased dramatically since the war on drugs started (typically we refer to the “war on drugs” as starting in the 1970s).  It has been said that the drug war is not really about drugs, it’s about throwing people in jail.

However, some might argue that this problem is exaggerated, or at least the focus on the drug war might be over-estimated.  For this week’s class assignment, you MUST read the following article which provides a counter-argument to Michelle Alexander’s and presents a different perspective (Links to an external site.).  This article provides an overview of a different author’s perspective on the problem of mass incarceration.


What do YOU think?  Do you believe mass incarceration is a major problem in our society?  Why or why not?  If it is, why are there so many people incarcerated and why does there seem to be a disproportionate number of people of color that are incarcerated?

School Segregation

An additional goal of the old Jim Crow era was segregation; keeping racial groups separate and making it the LAW that racial groups had to be divided.

The Brown v. Board of Education case, along with the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, made segregation by law illegal and unconstitutional.


Does segregation still exist?  Do we still see segregation in our cities, even if this segregation is not by law?  

I think many would answer “Yes” to the questions above.  Just think about the demographics of Oakland or San Francisco.  Do we see areas of these cities that are divided by race/ethnicity?  Even though people can technically live wherever they want, we do see areas of Oakland and San Francisco that are predominantly one race/ethnicity.

A debate some have had is whether it is a problem that we see these kinds of divisions.  Some might argue that there is nothing wrong with there being “Latino,” or “black,” or “Asian” parts of cities.  Some might actually see this as a good thing because if you belong to that race/ethnicity, then you are very likely to feel welcome in those areas.

However, others would see these division as a problem and might argue that it resembles the segregation of the old Jim Crow.  One area that people cite as being a problem with these kinds of divisions is when it comes to possible school segregation.

The Brown v. Board of Education case centered around segregation in schools and how that was disadvantaging students of color.  The argument was made that because schools were segregated, some schools were ultimately “better” than others.  Schools with a white population tended to have more funding, resources, better buildings, more academic programs, and smaller class sizes.  This led to an unequal education system, which led the Supreme Court to rule that segregation violated the Equal Protection clause of the 14th amendment.

Despite the fact that this case was decided in the 1950s, people argue that our society today still suffers from some of the same problems.  

Please read this article which talks about school segregation in Oakland (Links to an external site.).  It presents an interesting argument that schools in Oakland are segregated and need to be integrated.  As you read, think about whether there are any similarities to your own schooling experience, whether you went to school in Oakland or not.

Also, the video below is an interesting analysis of school segregation.  As a disclaimer, the video is made by a comedian, and you may or may not find his type of humor to be funny.  Also, he does use some “crude” language, but it is important to remember that he is a comedian and this is from a show that airs on HBO.  Even if you don’t find him funny, he presents some interesting ideas about school segregation.  He mainly focuses on New York, but I would recommend thinking about what he is saying about school segregation and whether you agree or disagree with him and whether your schooling experiences are similar to anything he expresses.  Feel free to disagree with his conclusions and you will have the opportunity to express your opinions about this in the discussion board.


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