Michelle Alexander posits that mass incarceration perpetuates a racial caste system in the United States. After the Civil Rights Movement, a “wave of punitive” legislation swept across the nation, targeting Black and Brown communities.
Of her arguments, the most compelling point underlines how mass incarceration disenfranchises criminals – even after they have served their sentences. For instance, convicted felons are subjected to housing and employment discrimination. They can lose their voting rights and access to public assistance like food stamps. In addition, if they are able to find jobs, felons can have up to 100% of their income garnished to cover court fees.
This narrative sounds eerily familiar. The conditions that felons face following their release is hauntingly similar to the conditions that African Americans faced during the Jim Crow Era. Thus said, these institutionalized barriers contribute to high recidivism rates and entrenches many Black Americans in a cycle of poverty.
Alexander illustrates how anti-black ideologies and the current criminal justice system have destroyed any hopes of fostering a society that values rehabilitation over punishment. To effectively respond to this issue, we must peel back the layers. Mass incarceration lies on a matrix of domination with a plethora of power structures that oppress Black Americans: namely, the school to prison pipeline, law enforcement, the non-profit industrial complex, etc.
There is merit in discussing the intersections of these different axises; however, these oppressive forces thrive because Americans have not sufficiently and successfully dealt with how anti-black notions create and nurture these systems.