1. M. Alexander claims that the main explanation of why so many people are sent to jail in the U.S. today is deeply wrong. Explain her argument by referring to the various examples she mentions to back up her point. (see p. 1-2)

Alexander traces discriminatory policies through the last century, beginning with Jim Crow laws in post-Reconstruction America. When the Civil Rights movement of the 50s and 60s turned to direct action to draw attention to the segregationist laws, conservatives created propaganda around the idea that integration and the protests against segregation were “a threat to law and order” (Alexander 41). Even after some forms of segregation were federally outlawed with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, “the public debate shifted focus from segregation to crime” (Alexander 42).

This is the precursor to the racist policies of the 80s and today. People are criminalized for being poor, and for drug possession, but these groups were created as scapegoats for the displaced racism of white people feeling threatened by integration. Politicians across the aisle have used the false narrative of scarcity as we imagine it to exist in our capitalist society to drive groups apart, because, as Alexander notes, the “resentment of white working-class voters” about disproportionality being threatened by integration is a powerful force (45).

  1. Why is it that racial disparities in the rates of incarceration “cannot be explained by rates of drug crimes”?

Racial disparities in the rates of incarceration exist because drug use and possession was criminalized as a “race-neutral” way of maintaining the racial hierarchy (Alexander 40). This means that to maintain a slightly more subtle form of racism, specific drugs were criminalized based on racial affiliations.

As we incarcerate higher rates of POC, especially black men, we do not see a higher rate of drug use between white and black populations; the difference is at the intersection of race and wealth, not wrongdoing. Instead of providing resources to assist people who need it, we have decided to continue to criminalize behaviors that disproportionately target poor and black communities.

  1. How do you understand the phrase: “the American penal system has emerged as a system of social control unparalleled in world history.”?

The American penal system is unentanglable from race, and is a legalized form of racism. It keeps groups segregated, maintains poverty and prevents social mobility, and is overtly an attempt to control redistribution of wealth to vulnerable populations.

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