Friday, February 03, 2012

Mass incarceration and the limits of "the new Jim Crow" analogy

I just finished reading an excellent essay by Yale law prof James Forman Jr., the son of a legendary civil rights pioneer, critiquing the view of mass incarceration as "the new Jim Crow," a phrase recently popularized by Michelle Alexander's book by that name. Here's the abstract from Forman's essay:
In the five decades since black Americans won their civil rights, hundreds of thousands have lost their liberty. Blacks now make up a larger portion of the prison population than they did at the time of Brown v. Board of Education, and their lifetime risk of incarceration has doubled. Mass incarceration’s racial dimensions have led an emerging group of scholars to call the American criminal justice system a new form of Jim Crow. This Article examines the New Jim Crow analogy. I begin by pointing out that the analogy is extraordinarily compelling in some respects — for example, the analogy effectively draws attention to the injustices created by a facially race-neutral system that severely ostracizes offenders and stigmatizes young, poor black men as criminals.

But despite its contributions, the Jim Crow analogy ultimately leads to a distorted view of mass incarceration. First, the Jim Crow analogy oversimplifies the origins of mass incarceration by highlighting the role of politicians seeking to exploit racial fears while minimizing other historical factors. Second, the analogy has too little to say about black attitudes towards crime and punishment, masking the nature and extent of black support for punitive crime policy. Third, the analogy’s exclusive focus on the War on Drugs diverts our attention from violent crime — a troubling oversight given the toll that violence takes on low-income black communities and the fact that violent offenders make up a plurality of the prison population. Fourth, the Jim Crow analogy obscures the fact that mass incarceration’s impact has been almost exclusively concentrated among the most disadvantaged African-Americans. Fifth, the analogy draws our attention away from the harms that mass incarceration inflicts on other racial groups, including whites and Hispanics. Finally, the analogy diminishes our understanding of the particular harms associated with the old Jim Crow.
Forman expresses a number of nagging notions that have dogged your correspondent since Alexander's book was published, and articulates how a racialized focus contributes to misunderstanding the problem. His analysis, with few exceptions, to me seems spot on. First-rate stuff: Lengthy but well worth the read for reformers seeking to understand mass incarceration and how to reduce its scale.

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

The data on criminal activity showed differences between the behavior of gang members and at-risk youths.

For example, individual gang members in both studies reported that they had stolen cars (Colorado-Florida, 58.3 percent; Cleveland, 44.7 percent); aggregate rates for auto theft—reflecting statements that members of their gang had stolen cars—were much higher (ColoradoFlorida, 93.6 percent; Cleveland, 82.6). Auto theft rates among at-risk youths were markedly lower (ColoradoFlorida, 12.5 percent; Cleveland, 4.1 percent). The researchers found similar contrasts when looking at violent crimes. About 40 percent of gang members in the Cleveland sample said they had participated in a driveby shooting, compared with 2 percent of at-risk youths.

In the Colorado-Florida study, 64.2 percent of gang members said that members of their gang had committed homicide, whereas 6.5 percent of at-risk youths said that their friends had done so.

Although both gang members and at-risk youths admitted significant involvement with guns, gang members were far likelier to own guns, and the guns they owned were larger caliber. More than 90 percent of gang members in both studies reported that their peers had carried concealed weapons; more than 80 percent reported that members of their gang had carried guns to school. In contrast, about one-half of at-risk youths in both studies had friends who had carried a concealed In both studies, gang members were more involved with selling drugs (Colorado-Florida, 76.9 percent; Cleveland, 72.3 percent) than were at-risk youths (ColoradoFlorida, 6.4 percent; Cleveland, 9.1 percent).

When we consider the activity of gang leaders this picture emerges: gang leaders engage in even more serious criminal behavior.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Hmmmm ... off topic, much? What does that have to do with the price of tea in Cbina ... or the subject of this blog post?

Inmatewife said...

Ok they discuss the symptoms and the 'illness' but where is the 'cure'? It is NOT all about "the black man/woman's plight; there are white and hispanic and other races incarcerated too. This 'tough on crime' thing is NOT working! They will lock up anyone! A few members of the law enforcement and legal personnel in this state have proven to be both dishonest and inaccurate in their assessments (labs and such) There is a large part of the prison population who are in there due to their third or more DWI. There is a large amount of the prison population in there for drug offenses; why are they just 'warehousing' these people, instead of reforming them? There are a large part of offenders who are in there for low risk, non-violent crimes or parole revocations-- why are they not being released on supervised custody? It would save the Texas taxpayers money to have them released. One good thing that Gov Perry and Co have done, is to approve for 'faith-based dorms' but the TDCJ guards HATE THEM and treat the dorm-dwellers rudely and with disrespect and meanly, because they are in a program that is working and a lower recidivism interferes with their job security. Studies have shown that these men and women who are in these programs result in a lower rate of recidivism. I will note that in my observation, most of the 'gang activity and recruiters' seem to come from below the border.

Anonymous said...

Rehabilitation is desparetly needed and proper training of officers in charge of all these guys. The guards with one foot over the line must be eliminated as they only make incarceration worse than it has to be.

Anonymous said...

If a prisoner is treated with hostility, he
learns to fight.
If a prisoner is treated with ridicule, he
responds with anger.
If a prisoner is disciplined by race, she learns
prejudice.
If a prisoner is treated with disrespect, she
responds with rudeness.

If a prisoner is stripped of his dignity, he
learns to humiliate
others.
If a prisoner is not given medical care, he
becomes hateful.
If a prisoner is merely warehoused, she is not
rehabilitated.
If a prisoner is denied programs, she remains at
risk.
This prisoner will return to prison over and over
again.

If a prisoner is treated with fairness, he learns
justice.
If a prisoner lives with approval, he begins to
like himself.
If a prisoner is given encouragement, she becomes
confident.
If a prisoner is given security, she learns to
have faith.

If a prisoner is educated, he gains valuable
skills.
If a prisoner is rehabilitated, he can be
productive.
If a prisoner receives medical care, she will be
healthy.
If a prisoner is taught skills, she can work.
This prisoner can be a productive citizen when
she is released.

The Homeless Cowboy said...

9:29 that is the first anonymous I have agreed with in recent memory. Thanks for that.

LLR said...

Amen 09:29:00! Amen! Rehabilitation and Education are the keys!

Kambri Crews said...

Thanks for the link to this essay. Long, but definitely worth the read. Quick question on a quote / statistic. On the very last page of that essay, the writer states, "Most prisoners, after all, are serving time for violent offenses."

What is the exact percentage of violent inmates currently in prison vs. non-violent offenders?

Kambri Crews said...

Never mind, I found it. 52% of state prisoners are in for violent crimes:

http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/p06.pdf

Inmatewife said...

I like the post by 2/04/2012 09:29:00 AM; so true, so true! One of the complaints my husband has is of 'being warehoused and not being a productive member of society'. He has no pride because he is not providing for me. He has no dignity, because he is locked up like an animal. But I KNOW, without one single doubt, that once he is released to come home, he will NEVER be in prison again!

sunray's wench said...

I wonder, if anyone could be bothered or brave enough, to ask the general population of Texas the following questions, what the responses would be:

Should inmates be productive while incarcerated?

Should inmates have access to rehabilitation programmes?

Should inmates have supervised and monitored access to their families for longer than 2 hours at a time?

Should inmates be housed in small units, near to external facilities such as education, health services and employment opportunities?

Should all inmates be able to earn time reductions on their sentences?

Should inmates receive meaningful training in skills that can be used post-incarceration (eg, engineering, culinary, horticultural)?

If enough Texans answered yes to those questions, do you think anyone would listen and act on it?

BarkGrowlBite said...

Jim Crow, my ass! Those blacks in prison are not political prisoners and they're not locked up for singing off-key in a church choir. They are criminals and they, together with their fellow white, Latino, and Asian prisoners, are incapable of inflicting harm on the public as long as they're locked up.

Life is hard and it may be unfair. Just suck it up. As for those far-left academics, I say, stop playing the race card.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

BGB, if you actually read the essay instead of just shooting from the hip/lip, I suspect you might agree with Forman on more than you disagree with him.

rodsmith said...

kambi unfortunatley you have to watch those numbers. Today we have 1,000's of charges that are considered TECHNICALLY a violent crime even when NO VIIOLENCE and in some cases NO VICTIM even exists!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Just checked TX numbers: Violent offenders made up 51.2% of offenders on hand at the end of FY2010.

Anonymous said...

Grits said:
BGB, if you actually read the essay instead of just shooting from the hip/lip, I suspect you might agree with Forman on more than you disagree with him

I suspect BGB didn't read the essay because he can't read anything about a 3rd grade level.

Anonymous said...

Rehabilitation and education are the keys. But, that doesn't mean that the incarcerated will take the high road when released. We only hope they will.

Crain Watcher said...

TDCJ hates visitation and would cut it too if they could. The worst people I have ever encountered are prison employees during visitation. Why minimun custody prisoners can not have a contact visit with their friends and families. Try visited through a plex glass window and mess screen with the sun glaring on that window. Just awful and the guards will stand there and laugh. Humilate and degrade prisoners with stripe searches with the door wide or half way open with a male guard standing by while a lesbian female guard does the search and belittle's them. What would it hurt for a four hour visit once a week? It is all about the power to gedrade and deprive.

BarkGrowlBite said...

Sorry, but I did read the essay with my third grade reading level and as I see it, it pretty much debunks the Jim Crow analogy.

When all else fails, far-left academics will join the likes of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton in playing the race card to account for the high proportion of blacks in prison.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"it pretty much debunks the Jim Crow analogy"

Exactly BGB. Since I agreed with the author in this post, I can't tell who you're arguing with here.

Phillip Baker said...

There is so very much that could be done to both cut costs of incarceration and get a better result. Stop using incarceration as the default punishment for starters. Stop mandatory sentencing guides. Rehabilitation? It's never been tried that I know of. A few weak attempts, but nothing serious. How about taking every 1st and most 2nd non-violent offenders and hit them with the whole arsenal: education for GED at least and higher ed for those able, job training, drug rehab when needed, and lots of counseling- esp group therapy. Faith-based effort can be worthwhile, but it does not have to be all done by right wing Christians. You can based your efforts on spirituality as well. Make participation the gateway to a rising level of privileges, and take away those if participation drops. And make inmates SAFE in there- from predatory gangs and sick and dirty guards.

We pay those oft reviled guards low wages, fail to screen out the unfit, give them pathetic training, and shove them out to learn on the fly. TDCJ tolerates far too much staff misconduct. Stop it! This must be a top down thing, so the current leadership has to go.

We waste billions on a failed approach that largely just dumps angry, bitter men and women back into our neighborhoods, where that record keeps them unemployed, unable to rent housing, deadly poor yet with no more skills to "make it" than when they went in. This is "tough on crime". Time we tried something else, if not for them then for us.

Phillip Baker said...

Oh yeah....The BGB's will always be with us - bitter, mean-spirited, vindictive and always ready to kick a man when he's down. We just have to work around that type. because they have nothing to ad to the discussion.

Anonymous said...

Jails and prisons are designed to break human beings, to convert the population into specimens in a zoo - obedient to our keepers, but dangerous to each other.

Angela Davis

BarkGrowlBite said...

Grits, my argument is with those who blame the incarceration of blacks on racism.

"The BGB's will always be with us - bitter, mean-spirited, vindictive and always ready to kick a man when he's down." Baker, are you referring to rapists, murderers, robbers, etc. as poor souls who are down? Come on, get real.

And Anon 12;56, you've really impressed me by quoting that Black Panther bitch turned Marxist professor. Although acquitted through jury nullification, there is no doubt that Angela Davis supplied the guns for a defendant's courthouse escape during which the judge was killed.

Anonymous said...

Anytime you have a system such as the Crain Unit that does not even follow TDCJ rules what do you expect? When guards give gonorrhea to female inmates and then punish the inmates and refuse to charge the guards with the felonies that they committed. It is against both federal and Texas laws to have sex with a person confined and everyone knows the women could have said no but then they would have been crossed out by the guards to other inmates. This unit has several female guards who are involved with the inmates in what is called sexual misconduct (homosexual sex) even though there is high ranking people on several of the female units in the Gatesville Gulag that are in these same relationships too. They often times punish the women as retaliation for not having sex with them but still again no charges. There is no one to tell because the OIG investigations are only to cover up their crimes and family members and friends are lying for their little inmates. Visitation on the Crain Unit is so awful I do not see how anybody can even bare to go to it anymore. I watch a backlog of inmates needing to get strip search the other day (3 of them) and it took thirty minutes to do it while a male officer stood beside the door and it could all be heard. The women were pushed out the door still putting on clothes and pulling up their paints, red faced smiling trying to cover up the degrading and humiliation of what they went through and having to face their visitors. The visitation was ruined before the visitation even started on the Terrace unit. This is non-contact visit with no possible way to give anything to anyone but it would not be visitation if the guards could not ruin the visit before it even begins because the guards are the first to tell you how much they do not want you there. This is the Crain unit’s rehabilitation right there and that is to deprive, degrade and humiliate the inmates in front of their friends. See friends cannot have contact visits because the people in charge will lose their grip on power and after this entire unit is a concentration camp. There is no record that I can find that those guards were even arrested much less fired but the women inmates are being punished brutally as we speak. The Crain Unit has their priorities all out of place, there goal is to stop visitation and not stop sexually assaults and rapes by their guards. These women should sue the state of Texas for those guards passing STD’s to them. There are several state codes in Texas that covers knowingly passing along dangerous infectious disease to someone. Most of these women who charges are 3g aggravated is the results of DA’s offices political agendas, where the finding of weapon was charged but there was no weapon involved. This will follow these women the rest of their lives in the job sector but hey it looks good come re-election time with the TUFF ON CRIME CROWD.

YesWeCanChange3X@aol.com said...

Anonymous, did you write the poem on prisoners, or do you know who wrote it? I publish a newsletter for prisoners in CA, and would like to publish it in our newsletter.