Attorney Michelle Alexander has been shaking things up across the nation over the past few years. Her book, “The New Jim Crow, Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” takes on race and the War on Drugs in ways few people would dare to approach. Alexander argues that mass incarceration is the new Jim Crow system that traps many African-Americans in a permanent underclass. That system is driven by the “War on Drugs” that causes many young people to be stigmatized by felony records — for a victimless crime — that keep them from employment, education and housing.
Black Men Are Disproportionally Convicted For Drug Related Crimes
More than 2.3 million men in America are in prison — about half for drug crimes. Seventy percent of all men imprisoned are Black or Hispanic. Thirty years ago, before the War on Drugs was implemented, there were only 300,000 people in the American prison system.
According to Alexander: “The drug war has never been focused on rooting out drug kingpins or violent offenders.” Federal funding flows to those agencies that increase dramatically the volume of drug arrests, not the agencies most successful in bringing down the bosses.
In 2005, for example four out of five drug arrests were for possession, only one out of five for sales. Most people in state prison have no history of violence or even of significant selling activity. During the 1990s—the period of the most dramatic expansion of the drug war—nearly 80 percent of the increase in drug arrests was for marijuana possession, a drug generally considered less harmful than alcohol or tobacco and at least as prevalent in middle-class white communities as in the inner city.