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Drug War or Civil War?

The crime rate doesn’t explain the skyrocketing numbers of black men in America’s prisons. But the Drug War does.


Neighborhood rite of passage.
Photo via thinkstockphotos

By Dirk Hanson


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Author Michelle Alexander does not mince words: “More African American men are in prison or jail, on probation or parole than were enslaved in 1850, before the Civil War began.” Alexander, an Ohio State law professor and author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, believes that current drug policy leads to a discriminatory legal system in which black men cannot win. “Growing crime rates don’t explain the skyrocketing numbers of black—and increasingly brown—men caught in America’s prison system,” she said last week at a reading in Pasadena. In fact, current U.S. crime rates are at historic lows in many categories. “Most of that increase is due to the War on Drugs, a war waged almost exclusively in poor communities of color,” she said. The result is a vicious cycle of repeat offenses, accompanied by loss of voting and educational privileges. Convicted felons are often denied loans and employment as well. A majority of black offenders will return to prison within two years, Alexander said.

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