Author Topic: More Black Men in Prison Than Were Enslaved in 1850  (Read 2688 times)

Offline Reginald Hudlin

  • Landlord
  • Honorary Wakandan
  • *****
  • Posts: 9884
    • View Profile
More Black Men in Prison Than Were Enslaved in 1850
« on: March 31, 2011, 07:24:36 am »
COLOR LINES:

Michelle Alexander: More Black Men in Prison Than Were Enslaved in 1850
 
by Thoai Lu ShareThis | Print | Comment (4)
Wednesday, March 30 2011, 10:00 AM EST

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.

In an interview with Washington Journal, Alexander said:

Once labeled a felon, you can be subjected to all forms of discrimination that once applied to African-Americans during the Jim Crow era. You may be denied the right to vote, you’re automatically excluded from juries, and you’re legally discriminated against in employment, housing, access to education, and public benefits, relegated to a second-class status much like… your parents or grandparents may have been…

Alexander’s research shows that seventy percent of past black men who are released from return within years. It’s a trend we’ve seen play out recently during the fallout from former HBO series star Felicia “Snoop” Pearson’s drug arrest last week, which unravels the high black recidivism rates and the discrimination they face in seeking employment after being released. Take a look at those startling numbers here.

What results from this form of mass incarceration? As we saw during last fall’s elections, millions of America’s black voters have been disenfranchised. An estimated 5.3 million Americans have currently or permanently lost their right to vote because of felony convictions. But for black men, the rate is seven times the national average. These numbers are sure to take on even more significance as the 2012 campaign season kicks into high gear.

michaelintp

  • Guest
Re: More Black Men in Prison Than Were Enslaved in 1850
« Reply #1 on: April 05, 2011, 07:34:59 am »
Is it really a good idea to eliminate some of the negative consequences and reduce the negative social stigma associated with serious criminal conduct? Who will most suffer as a result?


Offline Curtis Metcalf

  • Moderator
  • Honorary Wakandan
  • *****
  • Posts: 4499
  • One never knows, do one?
    • View Profile
Re: More Black Men in Prison Than Were Enslaved in 1850
« Reply #2 on: April 05, 2011, 07:59:27 am »
Is it really a good idea to eliminate some of the negative consequences and reduce the negative social stigma associated with serious criminal conduct? Who will most suffer as a result?

“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.
Is it a good idea to continue to pursue policies that result in such extreme racial disparities? Are those policies therefore racist?

Once labeled a felon, you can be subjected to all forms of discrimination that once applied to African-Americans during the Jim Crow era. You may be denied the right to vote, you’re automatically excluded from juries, and you’re legally discriminated against in employment, housing, access to education, and public benefits, relegated to a second-class status much like… your parents or grandparents may have been…
Is it a good idea to remove basic rights of citizenship from people who have served their time? To continue to stigmatize them making their reintegration into society more difficult after they have served a sentence? Who indeed will suffer?

Do you believe that those restrictions actually serve as a deterrent? Beyond incarceration?
Otherwise, they simply serve to make rehabilitation more difficult. I think we all have a pragmatic interest in ex-criminals becoming law-abiding citizens.
"Seek first to understand, then to be understood."
"Be hard on systems, but soft on people."

Offline Reginald Hudlin

  • Landlord
  • Honorary Wakandan
  • *****
  • Posts: 9884
    • View Profile
Re: More Black Men in Prison Than Were Enslaved in 1850
« Reply #3 on: April 05, 2011, 11:25:18 pm »
I think you have to look at the War on Drugs and declare it a total failure.  Are drugs less available over the last 20 years?  Is there a drop in usage?  Have the drugs cartels faced a single setback?  

Once we admit the current approach isn't working, then you consider radical approaches.  

I am pretty conservative when it comes to drugs.  I have never used them, never had an experimental phase, never plan to.

But even though my heart wants prohibition, my head is coming around to the argument that drugs should be decriminalized.  All we're done is created a huge opportunity for organized crime.  And the bigger question is...if drugs are legal, would drug use skyrocket?  Did everyone become a drunk once alcohol was legal?  Or is pretty much everyone who wants to get high already getting high, since there are almost no real barriers to access?  

As for permanently denying felons the right to vote, I think it's just plain evil.  If we want to get rid of the costs and threat to public safety the revolving door of prison represents, then we need to figure out how to turn felons into responsible citizens. Part of being an engaged adult is participating in democracy.
Too many people don't vote already, which undermines our country.  Again, if it were up to me, I'd make not voting a crime.  Or at least a misdemeanor.  Or give a tax break to voters. 
« Last Edit: April 05, 2011, 11:27:04 pm by Reginald Hudlin »

michaelintp

  • Guest
Re: More Black Men in Prison Than Were Enslaved in 1850
« Reply #4 on: April 05, 2011, 11:25:48 pm »
Is it really a good idea to eliminate some of the negative consequences and reduce the negative social stigma associated with serious criminal conduct? Who will most suffer as a result?

“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.
Is it a good idea to continue to pursue policies that result in such extreme racial disparities? Are those policies therefore racist?

Once labeled a felon, you can be subjected to all forms of discrimination that once applied to African-Americans during the Jim Crow era. You may be denied the right to vote, you’re automatically excluded from juries, and you’re legally discriminated against in employment, housing, access to education, and public benefits, relegated to a second-class status much like… your parents or grandparents may have been…
Is it a good idea to remove basic rights of citizenship from people who have served their time? To continue to stigmatize them making their reintegration into society more difficult after they have served a sentence? Who indeed will suffer?

Do you believe that those restrictions actually serve as a deterrent? Beyond incarceration?
Otherwise, they simply serve to make rehabilitation more difficult. I think we all have a pragmatic interest in ex-criminals becoming law-abiding citizens.

Curtis, you may be right on the rehabilitation question. Seriously, you may be.

On the other hand, reducing deterrence and social stigma may have some negative unintended consequences. This is not an issue that I have strong feelings about, and I'm not sure what over the long run would result in more lawful behavior and less crime. Though in general I do like maintaining maximum negative social stigmas connected to criminal behavior, because human beings are social animals, and stigmas can make a difference. Of course, if too great a percentage of the population join the ranks of the criminal, the negative stigma may vanish anyway, with drug abusers and the gang bangers becoming the role models.

But again, I'm not dismissing your points. You may, as a factual matter, be correct. There are a lot of factors bouncing back and forth here. Of course, your observations and arguments as to rehabilitation would apply even if 99.9999% of all convicted felons were white. Your rehabilitation point does not appear to be connected to race. Which does lead to the question of why our society for generations has imposed sanctions beyond prison time for felony convictions (independent of any consideration of race or racism).

In any case, what SHOULD be irrelevant to any principled evaluation of the issue, but what the writer makes a big deal about, is the partisan political effect. I hate that people can't focus on doing what is really right, what is for the best, but rather have to balance everything on the scale of partisan political advantage. Though I would add that it is a sad commentary if Obama's only hope of winning the next election is the Felon Vote. But them, I suppose there are a lot of convicted felons who have dedicated their lives to compulsory wealth redistribution.  ;D

As to the drug arrest data, there are probably a lot of factors at play.  For example, is the arrest of "inner-city" drug dealers and possessors used as a surrogate in the war against inner-city gangs (since it may be that gathering the evidence to support a drug conviction is easier than proving someone pulled the trigger, etc.). Is drug usage more strongly correlated with violent crime in the inner-city than in the suburbs? Overall, are the problems surrounding crime more serious in the inner-city? If so, does heightened law enforcement hurt or help the people who live in the inner-city?

Is the war on drugs racist? Well, would the lives of ordinary people in the inner-city be better if there were lax or no drug law enforcement? You tell me. I believe that if inner-city law enforcement funding were slashed, including the funding of drug enforcement and anti-gang efforts, people would be screaming bloody murder: "Racism!"  

You have to wonder about the charge of "racism" when it is viewed as "racist" to increase police efforts to clean up neighborhoods and arrest drug pushers and users but it is also viewed as "racist" to cut funding of police efforts to clean up neighborhoods and arrest drug pushers and users.

Damned as a racist if you do, damned as a racist if you don't. What's a poor politician to do? ....  :P
« Last Edit: April 06, 2011, 07:36:15 am by michaelintp »

michaelintp

  • Guest
Re: More Black Men in Prison Than Were Enslaved in 1850
« Reply #5 on: April 06, 2011, 07:09:37 am »
I think you have to look at the War on Drugs and declare it a total failure.  Are drugs less available over the last 20 years?  Is there a drop in usage?  Have the drugs cartels faced a single setback?  

Once we admit the current approach isn't working, then you consider radical approaches.  

I am pretty conservative when it comes to drugs.  I have never used them, never had an experimental phase, never plan to.

But even though my heart wants prohibition, my head is coming around to the argument that drugs should be decriminalized.  All we're done is created a huge opportunity for organized crime.  And the bigger question is...if drugs are legal, would drug use skyrocket?  Did everyone become a drunk once alcohol was legal?  Or is pretty much everyone who wants to get high already getting high, since there are almost no real barriers to access?  

As for permanently denying felons the right to vote, I think it's just plain evil.  If we want to get rid of the costs and threat to public safety the revolving door of prison represents, then we need to figure out how to turn felons into responsible citizens. Part of being an engaged adult is participating in democracy.
Too many people don't vote already, which undermines our country.  Again, if it were up to me, I'd make not voting a crime.  Or at least a misdemeanor.  Or give a tax break to voters.  


Reginald, you've come around to the Libertarian position on drug laws! Like you, I've mixed feelings on that issue. A part of me totally agrees, viewing it as the business of the individual whether he or she chooses to ingest drugs. On the other hand, legalization would probably induce greater drug use, perhaps far greater drug use, which can have terrible personal and social consequences, and cause significant economic costs to society. I guess in that regard, it comes down to whether one function of our laws is to protect people from themselves and to try to minimize economic and personal costs to society. (Look, for example, to the law requiring you to buckle your seatbelt when in a moving vehicle or to wear a helmet when driving a motorcycle).

However, if there was to be total legalization of drugs, it would have to be legalization, not decriminalization. By that I mean not merely decriminalizing possession, but rather legalizing the sale and distribution under strict government regulation and supervision. Because it is key that the drug business be taken out of the hands of organized crime. Which includes the gangs. Allow legitimate corporations to get into the business. Require background checks of those wishing to get into the business. And so forth.

As we have seen from the marijuana dispensaries, this is very lucrative business. I believe the "driving prices down, driving organized crime out" hypothesis is bunk. Which is why restrictions would be necessary, to keep out the gangs and organized crime.

Oh, but wait!  How do you keep gangs out of the legal production and distribution of drugs? Background checks for those who wish to go into the business? Vetting the background of those who own the corporations? Might that result in discrimination against convicted felons? And might there be a disparate racial impact in a color-blind application of this standard? Will some folks start crying "racism" if gang bangers are denied the "right" to manufacture and sell the newly legalized drugs?

As to allowing felons to vote ... Reginald, as I said to Curtis above, you make a good point (though, again, the predicted political effect should be irrelevant to anyone's mental calculus).  I wonder ... what prompted the ban on felons voting in the first place? Obviously NOT race, since that ban has been in existence forever (as far as I know). Or has it?  Does it go back to the British Common Law? Was it an invention in the 19th Century? What was its rationale? This is an interesting question. I would like to know what the argument is on the other side.

But Reginald, making voting compulsory? I know some countries force that, but I believe that to be a terrible policy. Because the result of that is to force the completely indifferent and ignorant to vote. Not that the voting electorate is any great shakes to begin with, but ... that will guarantee a decline. If people don't care, then they shouldn't vote. People should care, but that "caring" should not be induced by government domination and compulsion or even a tax break (the government taking less of your property). The caring should come out of concern regarding the important issues of the day. In my view.
« Last Edit: April 06, 2011, 07:57:51 am by michaelintp »

Offline Curtis Metcalf

  • Moderator
  • Honorary Wakandan
  • *****
  • Posts: 4499
  • One never knows, do one?
    • View Profile
Re: More Black Men in Prison Than Were Enslaved in 1850
« Reply #6 on: April 07, 2011, 09:06:43 am »
I wonder ... what prompted the ban on felons voting in the first place? Obviously NOT race, since that ban has been in existence forever (as far as I know). Or has it?  Does it go back to the British Common Law? Was it an invention in the 19th Century? What was its rationale? This is an interesting question. I would like to know what the argument is on the other side.


I agree, that is an interesting question. Here are a few links:
Wikipedia - Felony disenfranchisement
Historical Timeline: US History of Felon Voting / Disenfranchisement
Top 10 Pros and Cons: Should felons be allowed to vote?

My quick take on it:
While it's true that disenfranchisement in some form dates back a millennium or more, it appears that prior to the Reconstruction Era it was primarily imposed on those who had abused the election process or public trust in some manner (fraud, forgery, bribery, treason, etc.). It is also appears that felony disenfranchisement was one of the tools -- alongside poll taxes, literacy tests, etc. -- employed during the Reconstruction Era by many southern states expressly to preserve white supremacy. It is perhaps the only one of those tactics to have survived constitutional scrutiny.

So yes, criminal disenfranchisement is quite old. However, it's application in the United States is, like most everything else, impacted by race.

My view is that we should not pursue felony disenfranchisement for the sake of enlightened self-interest. The benefit of the restoration of voting rights to ex-offenders appears to far outweigh any potential deterrent effect which I believe in practice to be quite weak. I would support making restoration conditional on successfully completing a probation period. As I said, I believe we all have an interest in ex-offenders becoming productive, law-abiding citizens. Equal emphasis on all three parts.
"Seek first to understand, then to be understood."
"Be hard on systems, but soft on people."

Offline Curtis Metcalf

  • Moderator
  • Honorary Wakandan
  • *****
  • Posts: 4499
  • One never knows, do one?
    • View Profile
Re: More Black Men in Prison Than Were Enslaved in 1850
« Reply #7 on: April 07, 2011, 09:19:09 am »
Oh, but wait!  How do you keep gangs out of the legal production and distribution of drugs? Background checks for those who wish to go into the business? Vetting the background of those who own the corporations? Might that result in discrimination against convicted felons? And might there be a disparate racial impact in a color-blind application of this standard? Will some folks start crying "racism" if gang bangers are denied the "right" to manufacture and sell the newly legalized drugs?

It seems to me the point above is central to the idea. If drugs were legal, why would you need to keep gangs out of it? Wouldn't they now be businessmen instead of gang members? Obviously they would need to adapt some of their business practices. And they would still be responsible for any crimes committed by their organizations. Just like businessmen, right?

That said, I, too, am ambivalent on legalizing drugs for the same reasons Michael and Reggie have cited above. Add to that the difficulties of regulating this new industry.
"Seek first to understand, then to be understood."
"Be hard on systems, but soft on people."

michaelintp

  • Guest
Re: More Black Men in Prison Than Were Enslaved in 1850
« Reply #8 on: April 07, 2011, 11:24:20 pm »
Thanks for the links, Curtis. The Pro-Con site was particularly interesting. Looking at the articles, it appears disenfranchisement of felons was fairly widespread and not associated with race, but was later used as a tool by Southern States, as you say, to reinforce White Supremacy.

Like you and Reginald, I fail to see a strong logical connection between the commission of a felony and permanent disenfranchisement. The argument that a felon lacks judgment, taken to its logical conclusion, would suggest that all persons who lack judgment should be denied the right (or privilege) to vote. That would  disqualify at least 50% of the electorate, haha (depending on whom you agree with).

By that standard, why not impose educational prerequisites?  Hmmm ... now there we go ... Oh ... wait! With the leftist bias at most universities, ferget it!  ;)

Offline Curtis Metcalf

  • Moderator
  • Honorary Wakandan
  • *****
  • Posts: 4499
  • One never knows, do one?
    • View Profile
Re: More Black Men in Prison Than Were Enslaved in 1850
« Reply #9 on: April 09, 2011, 07:33:19 am »
How about that -- we agree on something. It's not really the first time, but still...  ;)

It was an intriguing question on the origins of disenfranchisement. The Pro-Con site is generally pretty good and the timeline was really interesting. Glad you liked it.
"Seek first to understand, then to be understood."
"Be hard on systems, but soft on people."

michaelintp

  • Guest
Re: More Black Men in Prison Than Were Enslaved in 1850
« Reply #10 on: April 22, 2011, 06:38:06 am »
Oh, but wait!  How do you keep gangs out of the legal production and distribution of drugs? Background checks for those who wish to go into the business? Vetting the background of those who own the corporations? Might that result in discrimination against convicted felons? And might there be a disparate racial impact in a color-blind application of this standard? Will some folks start crying "racism" if gang bangers are denied the "right" to manufacture and sell the newly legalized drugs?

It seems to me the point above is central to the idea. If drugs were legal, why would you need to keep gangs out of it? Wouldn't they now be businessmen instead of gang members? Obviously they would need to adapt some of their business practices. And they would still be responsible for any crimes committed by their organizations. Just like businessmen, right?

That said, I, too, am ambivalent on legalizing drugs for the same reasons Michael and Reggie have cited above. Add to that the difficulties of regulating this new industry.


Yes, I believe the legalized drugging of the inner-city would result in the empowerment of the gangs, which by my calculus would not be good for anyone ... except the gangs. It would provide them with legalized immunity (through legalization of the drugs, or if just decriminalized, by eliminating one of Law Enforcement's weapons against the gangs). It would also increase the drug-addicted population, increase the demand for their product, and increase dependency on the gangs. This would be a boon to the inner-city gangs, in terms of power, prestige and money.

Some might view the call for decriminalization/legalization to itself be motivated by racism. I would not be one of those people, but ... I can very easily see someone making the charge.