Week 10: Mass Incarceration

Week 10 (11/8): Mass incarceration  

  • Book: Alexander, M. (2012). The new Jim Crow: Mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness. The New Press. Available for purchase: http://newjimcrow.com/about/buy 

Two of our incredible students at Brown, Emma Storbeck and Kristen Iemma, put together an extensive lesson plan and resource list for our class on campus, and gave me permission to share on the blog. The google doc version can be found here. Please credit them if you use these materials!

Militarization of the Police:

The Marshall Project’s data on DoD contributions to local police departments

The Crisis of Police Militarization, from the New Yorker

  • What is the relationship between the “war on drugs” and the militarization of the police?
  • What kind of effect has this “war” rhetoric had on the way police departments function?
  • Compare the DoD contributions to Providence and the hometown of one or two people in your group. Are these statistics surprising to you?

Precedent and Intentionality of the War on Drugs

The Opium Exclusion Act of 1909

Reasons we started the War on Drugs: https://www.attn.com/stories/1503/war-on-drugs-real-reason

John Erlichman, aid to Richard Nixon: “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders. raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

  • How have our conceptions of criminality been historically linked to drug use, anti-immigrant sentiment, and racism?
  • What is your reaction to the quote from John Erlichman?
  • How is this quote in dialogue with The New Jim Crow? What are some ways that Michelle Alexander identifies as strategies that the Nixon administration (and the presidents that followed) employed in order to criminalize being Black and being a leftist?

 

Disproportionate Criminalization of Additional Communities:

LGBTQ People and Mass Incarceration

Additional information on transgender people and incarceration

Quartz article on Native Americans in the carceral system

  • How do we create conceptions of “criminals”?
  • Which communities are visibly absent from The New Jim Crow?
  • In what ways are these communities differently impacted by issues of mass incarceration?

Monetization of Prisons and Prison Labor:

Watch minute 1:06:00 through 1:09:30 in Netflix’s 13th

List of companies that utilize prison labor

  • How does force fit into the conversation about mass incarceration and monetization of prisons and prison labor?
  • How does the monetization of the prison system incentivize incarceration? Who are some of the beneficiaries of this system?
  • Conversations about capitalism and mass incarceration can sometimes serve to focus solely on the evils of private prisons, but less on the other, many ways that the government, law enforcement, and corporations financially benefit from the prison industrial complex. How can we problematize private prisons while simultaneously challenging the very existence of prisons themselves?

More Information

Further Reading

 

Teaching Resources

  • Teaching The New Jim Crow -great set of resources for those teaching this text to high school students (from Teaching Tolerance, a project of the SPLC)

Ways to get involved

  • NYPL Correctional Services -The NYPL runs one of the largest reference letter services for incarcerated people in the country. People incarcerated in the US do not have access to the internet, and are therefore reliant upon library reference requests for many of their information needs. The NYPL is always in need of volunteers to help answer these reference questions.
  • Black & Pink, which is an open family of LGBTQ prisoners and “free world” allies who support each other

Documentaries and films

  • 13th, directed by Ava DuVernay
  • The House I Live In, by Eugene Jarecki

 

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