Are There More Men in Prison Now Than Were Enslaved?

Ohio State Law Professor Michelle Alexander says yes, and it’s a result of a war on poor communities and on drugs.

Are there more Black men now in prison than there were in slavery? That’s what Ohio State Law Professor Michelle Alexander has been saying.


In her book, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” Alexander argues that prisons have become the latest form of economic and social disenfranchisement, but in a talk to the American Civil Liberties Union, she expressed how prison can be compared to a part of history very familiar to the ancestry of African-Americans: slavery.


“More African-American men are in prison or jail, on probation or parole than were enslaved in 1850, before the Civil War began,” she said at the talk.


According to her research, in 2008 there were over 846,000 Black men in prison, making up 40.2 percent of all inmates incarcerated. Although the FBI has reported that overall crime is down nationwide, the rate of incarcerated Blacks has skyrocketed over the years.


Alexander says that the high incarceration rate of Blacks is due to the War on Drugs and officials specifically targeting and locking up those in poor communities of color. She says that even though studies have shown that whites use and sell illegal drugs at rates equal to or above Blacks, in many Black inner-city communities, four out of five Black youth can expect to get "caught up" in the criminal justice system during their lifetime, compared to a far smaller number of whites.


For more on The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, click here.


To contact or share story ideas with Danielle Wright, follow and tweet her at @DaniWrightTV.

(Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

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