More Black Men in Prison Today Than Enslaved in 1850, Author and Professor Says

Thus far, in the New World, African Americans have been able to survive the voyage during the Middle Passage, slavery, lynchings, Jim Crow and second-class citizenship in America. Although, on the surface, the appearance of change in the form of open acceptance and material gain is projected, this may not actually be the case for African American men.

Historically, the criminal justice system has targeted African American males in a manner that defeats mathematical logic. Now, data suggest the unthinkable — that there may be more African American males incarcerated currently than there were in the bondages of slavery. A U.S. Bureau of Justice Department report estimates that, as of 2008, there were more than 846,000 black men in prison.  This figure accounted for more than 40 percent of all inmates in correctional facilities.

In a recent interview, Michelle Alexander gave additional detail to these figures to suggest that “more African American men are in prison or jail, on probation or parole than were enslaved in 1850 before the Civil War began.” Alexander is the author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness and a professor of law at Ohio State University. Her comments were made recently while addressing a group sponsored by the Pasadena branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.

In an interview that aired on Feb. 20 on CSPAN’s program, “Washington Journal,” Alexander indicated how incarceration is a form of legal discrimination similar to that our parents may have experienced during the time of Jim Crow. “Employment, housing, access to education” and “the right to vote” are all impacted when one is incarcerated. In summary, she postulates that incarceration is the newest form of economic and social disenfranchisement for young African American men. –torrance stephens, ph.d.

Torrance Stephens authors the blog Find him on

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