Incarcerating equal opportunity

I recently heard an interview with highly acclaimed civil rights lawyer, advocate and legal scholar, Michelle Alexander, whose book “The New Jim Crow” highlights the mass incarceration rates of the U.S. and the disproportionate rates of minorities in prison.

After 1972, the incarceration rate has sky rocketed from 350,000 people to over 2 million people. Out of the total U.S. population, 0.4 percent of whites, 0.7 percent of Hispanics and 2.3 percent of blacks are incarcerated according to

Alexander explains in her book that these individuals are labeled as felons and are subjected to employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits and exclusion from jury service. Basically, the old Jim Crow laws that once were pressed on African-Americans are just repackaged in this new form of mass incarceration.

According to Alexander, the U.S. incarnates people at a level 6-10 times greater than any other industrialized nation. The U.S. Census bureau stated that white people are 72.4 percent of the population, black people are 12.6 percent, and Hispanics and Latinos make up 16.3 percent.

Prisons do not rehabilitate people. There have never been large epiphanies of people saying, “Wow, I am sure glad that I was forced to live like an animal in a cage. I am now rehabilitated and ready to re-enter society as a productive citizen.”

Even more alarming, there is no evidence that minorities sell or use drugs any more than their white counterparts. Can you imagine if nice, white middle class neighborhoods and college campuses (mostly white) were subjected to the same rigorous policing as minorities in poor neighborhoods? There would be an enormous and alarming influx of white felons in the prison system. Of course, that will never happen.

What makes these statistics so depressing is that they show America still has a long way to go in terms of racial equality. While many people like to think that racism is behind us, numbers like these show that there is still room for growth in this country. I hope that our criminal justice system will see that we are spending over 50 billion dollars a year to an idea that simply does not work. Until then, enjoy doing your drugs from the comfort of your safe and nice suburban home.