Locked Up and Locked Out – America’s Growing Prison System

Presented by Fiona Mills
Since the 1970s, the number of persons in the American prison system has skyrocketed to 2.2 million with an unprecedented rise of over 500 percent in the last forty years alone as the U.S. now stands as the country that incarcerates more persons than any other nation in the world.  Harsh drug sentencing laws stemming from the “War on Drugs” in the 1980s coupled with increases in the length of time served as well as cutbacks on release have all contributed to this phenomenon.  Not all communities have been equally impacted by incarceration as people of color (men, in particular) comprise 67 percent of our country’s prison population despite only accounting for 37 percent of the total U.S. population.  Drawing upon the work of legal scholar Michelle Alexander in her best-selling book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, the work of Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative and the author of Just Mercy, as well as Ava DuVernay’s 2016 documentary entitled 13th, we will examine the racial and class inequities that undergird the American prison system as well as explore the historical relationship between slavery, segregation, and mass incarceration. Along the way, we will consider the long-range impacts of the prison industrial complex on various communities including felony disenfranchisement, the purging of voter rolls, and the creation of new laws put in place to greatly restrict voters in marginalized communities following the 2013 Supreme Court Shelby v. Holder decision that dismantled key parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that impacted the the recent 2018 midterm elections in Georgia and Florida.  As Michelle Alexander compellingly urges her readers, “No task is more urgent for racial justice advocates today than ensuring that America’s racial caste system is its last.”

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