The New Jim Crow, ?The Lockdown? by Michelle Alexander
This is a Reading Log assignment No. 2 The War on Drugs
Rules of law and procedure, such as ?guilt beyond a reasonable double? or ?probably cause? or ?reasonable suspicion,? can easily be found in court cases and law-school textbooks but are much harder to find in real life.
Convictions for drug offenses are the single most important cause of the explosion in incarceration rates in the United States. Drug offenses account for two-thirds of the rise in the federal inmate population and more than half of the rise in state prisoners between 1985 and 2000. Approximately a half-million people are in prison or jail for a drug offense today compared to an estimated 41,100 in 1980?an increase of 1,100 percent. Drug arrests have tripled for drug offenses since the drug war began. There are more people in prisons and jails today just for drug offenses than were incarcerated for all reasons in 1980. According to the 1850 Census, there were 3.2 million black slaves (out of a population of 3.6m). In the 2010 Census there were 39 million blacks (not counting mixed race people). That’s more than 10 times the black slave population. Nothing has contributed more to the systematic mass incarceration of people of color in the United States than the War on Drugs.
The vast majority of those arrested are not charged with serious offenses. In 2005, for example, four out of five drug arrests were for possession, and only one out of five was for sales. Moreover, most people in state prisons for drug offenses have no history of violence or significant selling activity. The Drug War is not concerned with dangerous drugs. Arrests for marijuana possession accounted for nearly 80 percent of the growth in drug arrests in the 1990s. Despite the fact that most drug arrests are for nonviolent minor offenses, the War on Drugs has ushered in an era of unprecedented punitiveness.
The percentage of drug arrests that result in prison sentences (rather than dismissal, community service, or probation) has quadrupled, resulting in a prison-building boom the likes of which the world has never seen. In two short decades between 1980 and 2000, the number of people incarcerated in our nation?s prisons and jails soared from roughly 3000,000 to more than 2 million. By the end of 2007, more than 7 million Americans?or one in every 31 adults- were behind bars on probation, or on parole.
The system of mass incarceration is structured to reward mass drug arrests and facilitate the conviction and imprisonment of an unprecedented number of Americans, whether guilty or innocent. Few legal rules meaningfully constrain the police in the War on Drugs. The absence of significant constraints on the exercise of the police discretion is a key feature of the drug war?s design. It has made the roundup of millions of Americans for nonviolent drug offenses relatively easy. The system targets people of color and then relegates them to a second-class status analogous to Jim Crow.
The Fourth Amendment states:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated and no warrants shall issue, but upon probably cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the person or things to be seized.
Until the War on Drugs, courts had been fairly stringent about enforcing the Fourth Amendment?s requirements. The Fourth Amendment is but one example. Virtually all constitutionally protected liberties have been undermined by the drug war.
Reading Logs: One to two pages.
Heading: title of article or assignment and author, full name, class and date.
Typed paper, 12 inch font, double spaced, typed on one side.
Summarize with major details in the article in one or two paragraphs. Write your comments/thoughts about the article. What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with the theme, outcome or recommendations? Did you learn anything new or does it confirm what you know about ?The War on Drugs??
Make any connections with the people, situation, etc. Write a question or two for the class to discuss or to clarify.