Briefing Room


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

April 19, 2011 | Faculty

As the United States celebrates the nation’s “triumph over race” with the election of Barack Obama, the majority of young black men in major American cities are locked behind bars or have been labeled felons for life. Ohio State University Moritz College of Law Professor Michelle Alexander argues in her new book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, published by The New Press in 2010, that although Jim Crow laws have been wiped off the books, an astounding percentage of the African American community remains trapped in a subordinate status — much like their grandparents before them.

In this incisive critique, former litigator-turned-legal-scholar Alexander provocatively argues that we have not ended the racial caste in America: we have simply redesigned it. Alexander shows that, by targeting black men and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control, even as it formally adheres to the principle of color blindness. The New Jim Crow challenges the civil rights community — and all of us — to place mass incarceration at the forefront of a new movement for racial justice in America.

Alexander says that this system of mass incarceration “operates as a tightly networked system of laws, policies, customs, and institutions that operate collectively to ensure the subordinate status of a group defined largely by race.”

A civil rights advocate in her own right, Alexander was formerly the director of the Racial Justice Project at the ACLU of Northern California before coming to the Moritz College of Law in 2005 where she holds a joint appointment with the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity. Prior to joining OSU, Alexander was a member of the Stanford Law School faculty, where she was director of the Civil Rights Clinic.

Alexander is teaching a course on race, class and criminal justice during the 2010-11 school year.