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by Loïc Wacquant

Is America's emerging prison state a revival or an extension of slavery?  Is it "a New Jim Crow"?  Or is it something arising out of those experiences, but significantly different, a brand new phase in the history of African America?  Historian Loic Wacquant here argues that America's reliance upon prison as the principal way of dealing with the black poor marks a qualitatively new stage in the Black experience. First, he says, there was slavery, then Southern rural segregation, followed by the enclosure of the northern ghetto, which has now been succeeded by the world's first carceral state.  Like slavery, Jim Crow and the ghetto, prison has come to define for many of us what it is to be Black in America.

Press Conference, Concerned Committee to Respect Prisoner Rights

by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

  • Because the U.S., with 4.5 % of the world's population, has 25% of the planet's prisoners.  We are the world's first prison state.

  • Because African Americans, who are one eighth the nation's population, are almost half it's 2.3 million prisoners, and because Latinos, also an eighth of the U.S., are more than a quarter of the locked down.

  • Because prisons do not make us safer.  Incarceration rates DO NOT match rates of crime or drug use.  Whites, blacks and Latinos have nearly identical rates of drug use, but the "war on drugs" is almost exclusively prosecuted in nonwhite and poor neighborhoods.  Local police funding is often tied to drug arrests, and nonwhites are universally charged with more serious crimes, convicted more frequently, and sentenced more harshly than whites.

  • Because former prisoners are viciously and almost universally discriminated against in housing, employment, health care and the right to vote for the rest of their lives.

  • Because if Dr. King were alive today, he too would oppose the prison state the U.S. has become.

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