Quaker Universalist Voice

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Racial Incarceration and Control

A Book Review of Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (2012)

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness  (2012) is an angry and illuminating description of the current system of racial incarceration and control of young black males in the U.S.

The author argues that the U.S. has redesigned and enhanced the model of post-U.S. Civil War Jim Crow control and management of former slaves through the criminal law today.  This redesigned model has resulted in the creation of a racial underclass implemented through criminal law, particularly the War on Drugs, which is characterized by lockdown solitary confinement conditions and the reach of government control of lives following disabling prison experience in a systematic program of creating disposable people without agency or power. The book includes a veiled warning of social disruption when this incarceration system is destroyed.

The reference to the “age of colorblindness” in the book’s title is intended as mockery of U.S. public policy and national leaders’ talk of enlightened policy, which veils the reality of the new Jim Crow system of control, and separates the author from membership in the U.S. The reference to “mass incarceration” in the title is imprecise.  The author focuses exclusively on African American incarceration in intention and result to justify use of “mass”.  The reference to “Jim Crow” in the title is awkward, except in its effort to convey the harmful effects on persons and communities.  Jim Crow following the Civil War was a regional design and process.  The new Jim Crow described in this book is a national concerted effort, racial in motive, but not directly related to slavery.

The book includes an index, an endorsement forward by Professor Cornel West and interesting endnotes. 

The book does not include an outline for the cure of the described reality of pervasive incarceration of African Americans, but it leaves the reader with some clarification of the problem and the challenge to fix the problem.  The author does not position the U.S. problem of mass incarceration in the context of a common global process of which the U.S. is a part.  This failure is due to the author’s apparent determination to focus criticism on the bad intention of U.S. citizens in the design and implementation of criminal law enforcement and the resulting incarceration of African Americans in the U.S. 

Quakers:  There is no reference to Quakers in this book.  


  • How is it useful to link the post-Civil War Jim Crow reality to current incarceration of African Americans?
  •  Is bad U.S. criminal law policy and practice veiled by rhetoric of colorblind criminal justice system?
  • What are the elements for cure of the new reality of incarceration of African Americans in federal and state prisons and the imposition of post-prison disabilities on former prisoners?
  • Is the reality of incarceration policy and practice in the U.S. today a reflection of a global reality or unique to the U.S.?


M. Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (2012)

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