James Forman, Jr. in the Boston Review:
America’s incarcerated population has grown immensely larger and darker over the past 40 years—500 percent since the early 1970s. This extraordinary growth is partly the result of surging rates of incarceration among African Americans. The odds that a black man of my generation (born in the late 1960s) will land in prison at some point in his life are twice as great as for a black man born in the 1940s.
Among activists and scholars of race and crime, there is a consensus that our growing penal system, with its black tinge, constitutes a profound racial injustice. Some go further and claim that mass incarceration is nothing less than a new form of Jim Crow. Two important new books—by historian Robert Perkinson and civil rights lawyer Michelle Alexander, respectively—make the best case to date for the Jim Crow analogy.
But while these authors show that the analogy has much to recommend it, is it entirely accurate? And if it’s wrong or incomplete, what does that mean for how we think about—and think about challenging—mass incarceration?