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OSU professor says U.S. prison system is ‘New Jim Crow’

By Eric T. Campbell
The Michigan Citizen

Michelle Alexander, associate professor of law at Ohio State University and former Director of the Racial Justice Project for the ACLU in Northern California, spoke at Wayne County Community College on May 17. Her new book, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” is a critical look at the U.S. penal system. Alexander’s analysis clearly illustrates how the war on drugs has led to an explosion in the incarceration of Blacks and created a racially divided caste system.

Alexander told an audience of over 200 that felony convictions, many for first-time drug offenders has resulted in more African American adults under correctional control today — in prison or on parole — than were enslaved in 1850.

“Once you’ve been branded a felon or a criminal, you are ushered into a parallel social universe in which all of the basic civil and human rights supposedly won during the civil rights movement no longer apply to you,” Alexander said.

Alexander cited current federal law, which bars convicted felons from voting in public elections, public housing, employment opportunities and, in many states, food stamps.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has closed the doors to claims of racial bias in the criminal justice system in every stage of the process, from stops and searches to plea bargaining and sentencing,” said Alexander, who led a national campaign against racial profiling in California.

Alexander added that limited state prison reforms have occurred only because the penal system has become financially unsustainable.

“If the only limiting principle is how much it costs to throw people away, we won’t end mass incarceration, and we will not end this history and cycle of caste in America if we don’t reckon with our racial divisions and our racial anxieties.”

Alexander’s appearance was a part of the WCCC Global Exchange 2011-12 speakers series.

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