The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

138 views 7 pages ~ 1879 words Print

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

The new Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the age of colorblindness is a story that was written by an American civil rights litigator Michelle Alexander. It is a 312 pages non-fiction narrative that was first published in 2010 by the New Press Publisher. The book elucidates issues related to race and focuses on the mass incarceration and the social injustices that the African-Americans and other marginalized populations face in the United States. The book tries to show how the legal system has been transformed to the point that it is now legalizing discrimination in the USA by through practices such as mass incarceration.

Theme: Mass Incarceration and Racism

The central theme of the book is Mass incarceration and Racism. The current system of mass incarceration was established to deal with the rising cases of drug abuse. The author states that the establishment of mass incarceration policy has led to increased instances of discriminating people of color in the same way Jim Crow laws did to the African-Americans between the 19th century and early 20th century. The book of The New Jim Crow carries out an in-depth historical analysis to trace the establishment of the current phenomenon of Mass Incarceration. Alexander argues that the development of systematic mass incarceration is not a sudden occurrence, but it emerged due to the war on drugs that is more focused on people of color and have no intentions of rehabilitating or educating the offenders but instead aims to incarcerate them. The author points out that due to the development of the phenomenon of mass incarceration the number of inmates has increased from 300,000 to two million between 1980 to 2000 and the rate of African-American arrested increased by twenty-six times. Most of the African-Americans are being arrested and convicted of drug crimes that are petty, and that would be ignored if committed by the whites. The arrested African-Americans are taken to prison where they are subjected to harsh conditions. Alexander cites an example of the case of Harmelin v. Michigan, where the accused was sentenced to serve life imprisonment for trying to sell cocaine of 672 grams (Alexander, 2010).

Theme: Racial Prejudice and the New Jim Crow

In addition to mass incarceration, the other central theme of the book is racial prejudice which has led to the reemergence of the era of Jim Crow where the criminal justice system is biased. The author claims that the current generation of Americans is living in an era of New Jim Crow where the people of color are discriminated based on their ethnicity. The racial profiling carried out by the law enforcers using the war on drugs as an excuse fosters this racism. Considering that the most of the African-American youth are labeled as criminals even when they have not committed any crime it is a clear indication that the police and the government have institutionalized a system that legalizes discrimination against people of color. The mass imprisonment and Jim Crow is an authorized form of discrimination, and the police operation is in such a manner that harasses the society instead of serving the role they are charged with of protection. The author explains that injustice and corruption influences the courts and therefore prisoners cannot access justice and enough legal representation forcing them to take the accusation as a result of compulsory sentencing laws. Michelle uncovers the idea that there is nothing like justice in the operation of the Jim Crow laws and that criminal justice system is a mistaken phrase in this organ. She points out that the understanding of the term justice in America is biased and leans on the white elite’s side while subjecting the minority and non-American citizens to suffering. According to the writer, the addition of the mass incarceration in the law is not because of the increase in crime but due to the changes in the laws significantly to discriminate other groups in the United States (Alexander, 2010). The fact is that all races are involved in drugs and drug abuse, but observably the majority of those who are incarcerated are the Latino and blacks while exempting the white citizens. The fight against drugs is not to stop and end drug addiction instead the target is on imprisoning the disadvantaged in society. As much as the civil rights movement had the intention of achieving racial justice, the idea is corrupted, and slowly discrimination is creeping in and being legalized. In this era where criminal offenses are stigmatized, convincing the community that some laws, especially mass incarceration, are unjust is difficult. Therefore, the idea of social justice, according to the book, is not going to be achieved any time soon and that racial discrimination is still a killer disease in the United States.

Theme: Progress Illusion and the New Jim Crow

The Jim Crow further discusses the theme of progress illusion. While focusing on the presidency of Obama, the writer opposes the belief that racial equality is gaining momentum in the United States of America. In the book, Alexander claims that the understanding that racism is losing power in hindering the African-Americans from succeeding and taking leadership positions in the United States is a mistaken view. She argues that Obama’s election as president did not mark the beginning of the post-racial period in the states, but Alexander holds that the African president is a representation of another racial caste that is different from the incarcerated blacks. Michelle insists that the exceptional status of Obama is significant in maintaining the white police hostility and mass imprisonment. Displaying the post-racial illusion in the face of the world is only the hope of the elimination of the system of racial caste but not practically removing it. Alexander observes that Obama has followed the footsteps of white conservatives in putting blames on Africans for the challenges the American natives are encountering (Alexander, 2010). American people forget that these problems have their roots in economic deprivation, slavery, and Jim Crow laws. The book criticizes the leaders in the civil rights sections and organizations for neglecting the mass incarceration issue and their compliance in workplaces. Similarly, these leaders ignore the shortcomings that are witnessed in the criminal justice system.

Theme: Violence, Social Control, and Surveillance

Another theme that is displayed in the book is the violence, social control, and surveillance which the Caucasian citizens practice towards the blacks. In the book, the author shows that the state uses the police and prison to inflict pain and violence to African-American and other marginalized American citizens as a means of controlling their lives. In her argument, Alexander emphasizes that most African-Americans living below the poverty line live a life full of violence that they are subjected to by the system of law enforcement. As much as the government blames these victims for being in possession of weapons or engaging in violent acts, the forgotten truth is that the whites possess those weapons in the name of protecting their lives. This scenario shows the hypocrisy that exists in the American law enforcement and legal system and a clear indication of the kind of discrimination and violence that the African-Americans are subjected to by the system. According to the book of The New Jim Crow, mandatory and lengthy sentencing was not meant to control drug abuse but was to target people of color and to control their population through mass incarceration. In addition to the racial discrimination that the African-Americans and other people of color face as a result of mass incarceration, after completing their sentence term, the released people are put under strict control and observation through parole and probation systems. The law does not allow the freed individuals to secure housing, get jobs, and receive food stamps and vote among other privileges available to other American citizens. The Author states that “if the criminal justice system’s main role were to make society a better place, then it wouldn’t be so difficult for former prisoners to transition into ordinary, productive citizens” (Alexander, 2010). The American system of criminal justice operates as a modern racial control system even though it complies with the formal principles of colorblindness.

Theme: The Constitution and the American Legal System

The book focuses on the constitution and how the legal system deals with the bill of rights. The author indicates that the American criminal justice system encourages racial bias, and this is because the legal system was made in a way that makes the African-Americans second-class citizens; this makes this system similar to the Jim Crow laws of the 19th century. The war on drugs that led to the establishment of anti-drug laws mostly targets the blacks and when they are arrested, the legal system does not put them on fair trials which eventually lead them to jail. Mass Incarceration of people of color is facilitated by the official colorblindness of the rulings of the Supreme Court and the law itself. Although the jury is supposed to be color blind, it is also affected by racism, a situation that makes the offender get severe punishment. Alexander, in her observation, argues that in the modern American society, the New Jim Crow system has legalized discrimination, racial segregation of the neighborhoods, and exclusion from juries. The current constitution and American legal system favor the white elites and at the same time encouraging the development of racial caste systems where the African-American are locked at the bottom of the hierarchy by the oppressing laws (Alexander, 2010). Alexander feels that the civil rights community is not doing enough to abolish mass incarceration and racism because the affirmative approach they use does not bring about real change.

Conclusion and Recommendation

The new Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the age of colorblindness shows how the American legal system accepts social injustices and discrimination against the people of color. The African-American citizens have been labeled criminals, and the war on drugs act as a means of targeting this marginalized group. The majority of arrests made are not as a result of criminal reasons but for mass incarceration whose aim is to control the population of the people of color. Alexander advocates for equal treatment, social justice, and an end to racism and mass incarceration. The author recommends that for mass incarceration, as well as social injustices, to end, the entire system needs to be dismantled. Similarly, there is a need for racial profiling to end, legalization of drugs such as marijuana, abolishing laws such as the law of drug forfeiture, and for the police force to be demilitarized. The author finalizes her book by saying that for the USA to be a country that is fair and one that treats its citizens equally, the oppression against the poor and people of color needs to end. The book has had a significant impact on me because it has been an eye-opener on issues that are happening in our community, and the author has given an adequate analysis of why these things are happening. I completely agree with the recommendations provided by the author in establishing a just and racially free society where all citizens are equal regardless of their race.


Alexander M. 2010. The new Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the age of colorblindness. New Press Publisher: New York London.

November 24, 2023

Literature Sociology


Race and Ethnicity

Subject area:

Book Review

Number of pages


Number of words




Writer #



Expertise Book Review
Verified writer

Tony is a caring and amazing writer who will help you with anything related to English literature. As a foreign exchange student, I received the best kind of help. Thank you so much for being there for me!

Hire Writer

Use this essay example as a template for assignments, a source of information, and to borrow arguments and ideas for your paper. Remember, it is publicly available to other students and search engines, so direct copying may result in plagiarism.

Eliminate the stress of research and writing!

Hire one of our experts to create a completely original paper even in 3 hours!

Hire a Pro