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Racial Critiques of Mass Incarceration: Beyond the New Jim Crow

NCJ Number
New York University Law Review Volume: 87 Dated: 2012 Pages: 101-146
James Forman Jr.
Date Published
February 2012
46 pages
This article critiques the claim of some scholars that the American criminal justice system is a new form of "Jim Crow," because of the disproportionate percentage of young, poor Black men caught up in the criminal justice system.
The author acknowledges that the Jim Crow analogy draws attention to the plight of the large number of Black men whose opportunities in life have been permanently diminished by the loss of citizenship rights and the stigma they suffer as convicted offenders; however, the author's main argument is that the Jim Crow analogy obscures much that matters in the analysis of origins of America's mass incarceration. The Jim Crow analogy has too little to say about Black people's attitudes toward crime and punishment, which masks the nature and extent of the Black community's support for punitive crime policy. The author explains how the Jim Crow analogy's myopic focus on the "War on Drugs" diverts society's focus from violent crimes, which destroys so many lives in low-income Black communities. In addition, it is significant that violent offenders compose a plurality of the prison population. Further, the author argues that the Jim Crow analogy obscures the fact that mass incarceration's impact has been almost exclusively concentrated among the most disadvantaged African-Americans, and it takes attention away from the harms that mass incarceration inflicts on other racial groups, including Whites and Hispanics. Finally, the Jim Crow analogy diminishes American society's collective memory of the particular harms of the Jim-Crow era of American legal and social history. 194 notes