By Nicole Flatow
The last few months have issued several potent reminders that racism still pervades our criminal justice system, as even some prominent and powerful American black leaders publicly professed that they had to warn their young sons about police profiling. Supporting these anecdotes is a U.S. record of racially skewed criminal justice policies that moved academic Michelle Alexander to declare in her seminal 2010 book that mass incarceration is the new Jim Crow. On the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, here are some of the many reasons criminal justice is in fact one of the great civil rights crises of our time:
1. The United States imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid. More than 60 percent of people in prison now are racial or ethnic minorities, according to the Sentencing Project. These minorities are part of a total prison population that eclipses that of any other nation in the world. At the federal level, more than half of these individuals are locked up for nonviolent drug or immigration offenses.
2. Black men born in the United States in 2001 have a one in three chance of being incarcerated at some point in their lifetime, according to Department of Justice statistics. An even greater number will have a criminal record, and face the host of collateral consequences that emanate from a criminal record. As Alexander wrote, “An extraordinary percentage of black men in the United States are legally barred from voting today, just as they have been throughout most of American history. They are also subject to legalized discrimination in employment, housing, education, public benefits, and jury service, just as their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents once were.” One study suggested felon voting restrictions disenfranchise more minorities than voter ID laws.