A ‘New Jim Crow’ Book Documents Racist Impact of U.S. Crime Policy

A provocative book about the racial impact of American crime policy, by law professor Michelle Alexander, has become a surprise best-seller. “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” has sold some 175,000 copies after an initial hardcover printing of a mere 3,000, reports the New York Times. For many African-Americans, the book — which has spent six weeks on the New York Times paperback nonfiction best-seller list — gives eloquent and urgent expression to deep feelings that the criminal justice system is stacked against them.

The book marshals pages of statistics and legal citations to argue that the get-tough approach to crime that began in the Nixon administration and intensified with Ronald Reagan's declaration of the war on drugs has devastated black America. Today, Professor Alexander writes, nearly one-third of black men are likely to spend time in prison at some point, only to find themselves falling into permanent second-class citizenship after they get out. That is a familiar argument made by many critics of the criminal justice system, but Professor Alexander's book goes further, asserting that the crackdown was less a response to the actual explosion of violent crime than a deliberate effort to push back the gains of the civil rights movement.

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