109+ Michelle Alexander Quotes On Mass Incarceration, Racial Justice Advocacy

Top 10 Michelle Alexander Quotes (BEST)

  1. The nature of the criminal justice system has changed. It is no longer primarily concerned with the prevention and punishment of crime, but rather with the management and control of the dispossessed.
  2. Many offenders are tracked for prison at early ages, labeled as criminals in their teen years, and then shuttled from their decrepit, underfunded inner city schools to brand-new, high-tech prisons.
  3. There are more African Americans under correctional control, in prison or jail, on probation or parole, than were enslaved in 1850 a decade before the civil war began.
  4. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.
  5. Nothing has contributed more to the systematic mass incarceration of people of color in the United States than the War on Drugs
  6. Sociologists have frequently observed that governments use punishment primarily as a tool of social control, and thus the extent or severity of punishment is often unrelated to actual crime patterns.
  7. Mass incarceration is the most pressing racial justice issue of our time.
  8. My great crime wasn't refusing to represent an innocent man; my great crime was imagining that there was some path to racial justice that did not include those we view as 'guilty'.
  9. Once you have been branded a criminal or felon, you are typically trapped for life.
  10. People on probation and parole are typically denied the right to vote, and in eleven states people are denied the right to vote even after completion of their sentences.

Michelle Alexander Short Quotes

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  • I say we haven't ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.
  • I do believe that something akin to a racial caste system is alive and well in America.
  • The mass criminalization of white men would disturb us to the core.

Michelle Alexander Quotes On Mass Incarceration

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Like Jim Crow (and slavery), 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. — Michelle Alexander

One in three young African American men is currently under the control of the criminal justice system in prison, in jail, on probation, or on parole - yet mass incarceration tends to be categorized as a criminal justice issue as opposed to a racial justice or civil rights issue (or crisis). — Michelle Alexander

The mass incarceration of poor people of color, particularly black men, has emerged as a new caste system, one specifically designed to address the social, economic, and political challenges of our time. — Michelle Alexander

I think it's critically important that the people who have been most harmed by mass incarceration, by mass deportation, by neoliberalism, by all of it, not only have a voice in crafting these platforms but emerge and are supported as real leaders in these movements. — Michelle Alexander

Mass incarceration has become normalized in the United States. Poor folks of color are shuttled from decrepit, underfunded schools to brand new, high tech prisons and then relegated to a permanent undercaste - stigmatized as undeserving of any moral care or concern. — Michelle Alexander

For those interested in learning more about corporations and private individuals profiting from the caging of human beings, I highly recommend the book "Prison Profiteers: Who Makes Money From Mass Incarceration." — Michelle Alexander

In my view, the critical questions in this era of mass incarceration are: What disturbs us? What seems contrary to expectation? Who do we really care about? — Michelle Alexander

Our system of mass incarceration is better understood as a system of racial and social control than a system of crime prevention or control. — Michelle Alexander

Michelle Alexander Famous Quotes And Sayings

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No other country in the world imprisons so many of its racial or ethnic minorities. The United States imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid — Michelle Alexander

We have avoided in recent years talking openly and honestly about race out of fear that it will alienate and polarize. In my own view, it’s our refusal to deal openly and honestly with race that leads us to keep repeating these cycles of exclusion and division, and rebirthing a caste-like system that we claim we’ve left behind — Michelle Alexander

If we want to do more than just end mass incarceration—if we want to put an end to the history of racial caste in America—we must lay down our racial bribes, join hands with people of all colors who are not content to wait for change to trickle down, and say to those who would stand in our way: Accept all of us or none. — Michelle Alexander

The fate of millions of people—indeed the future of the black community itself—may depend on the willingness of those who care about racial justice to re-examine their basic assumptions about the role of the criminal justice system in our society. — Michelle Alexander

We must build a movement for education, not incarceration. A movement for jobs, not jails. A movement that will end all forms of discrimination against people released from prison - discrimination that denies them basic human rights to work, shelter and food. — Michelle Alexander

The War on Drugs, cloaked in race-neutral language, offered whites opposed to racial reform a unique opportunity to express their hostility toward blacks and black progress, without being exposed to the charge of racism. — Michelle Alexander

The United States imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid. In Washington, D.C., our nation’s capitol, it is estimated that three out of four young black men (and nearly all those in the poorest neighborhoods) can expect to serve time in prison. — Michelle Alexander

Since the nation's founding, African Americans repeatedly have been controlled through institutions such as slavery and Jim Crow, which appear to die, but then are reborn in new form, tailored to the needs and constraints of the time. — Michelle Alexander

If you ask for good schools, you aren't likely to get them. If you ask for jobs or economic investment, you won't get that either. But what we have learned, is that the one thing that poor folks of color can ask for and get are Police & Prisons. — Michelle Alexander

The fact that more than half of the young black men in any large American city are currently under the control of the criminal justice system (or saddled with criminal records) is not - as many argue - just a symptom of poverty or poor choices, but rather evidence of a new racial caste system at work. — Michelle Alexander

Middle-class white children, children of privilege, are afforded the opportunity to make a lot of mistakes and still go on to college, still dream big dreams. But for kids who are born in the ghetto in the era of mass incarceration, the system is designed in such a way that it traps them, often for life. — Michelle Alexander

Many people don't realize that financial incentives have been built into the drug war that guarantee that law enforcement will continue to arrest extraordinary numbers of people, particularly in poor communities of color, for minor drug offenses that get ignored on the other side of town. — Michelle Alexander

Voting rights expert and legal scholar Pam Karlan reports that as of 2004, there were more black men disenfranchised than in 1870, the year the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified prohibiting laws that deny the right to vote on the basis of race. — Michelle Alexander

As a criminal you have scarcely more rights, and arguably less respect, than a black man living in Alabama at the height of Jim Crow. We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. — Michelle Alexander

Nationwide about 1 in 7 black men are temporarily or permanently disenfranchised due to felon disenfranchisement laws. — Michelle Alexander

For children, the era of mass incarceration has meant a tremendous amount of family separation, broken homes, poverty, and a far, far greater level of hopelessness as they see so many of their loved ones cycling in and out of prison. Children who have incarcerated parents are far more likely themselves to be incarcerated. — Michelle Alexander

In the war on drugs, state and state law enforcement agencies have been rewarded in cash by the federal government - through programs like the Edward Byrne Memorial Grant program - for the sheer numbers of people arrested for drug offenses. — Michelle Alexander

Prison guard unions have become the powerful political forces in some states, particularly California. — Michelle Alexander

The United States does have the highest rate of incarceration in the world dwarfing the rates of even highly repressive regimes like Russia, China or Iran. This reflects a radical shift in criminal justice policy, a stunning development that virtually no one - not even the best criminologists - predicted forty years ago. — Michelle Alexander

For reasons that have stunningly little to do with crime or crime rates, we, as a nation, have chosen to lock up more than two million people behind bars. Millions more are on probation or parole, or branded felons for life and thus locked into a permanent second-class status. — Michelle Alexander

I think it's important to encourage young people to tell their own stories and to speak openly about their own experiences with the criminal justice system and the experiences of their family. We need to ensure that the classroom environment is a supportive one so that the shame and stigma can be dispelled. — Michelle Alexander

Yet far from putting any meaningful constraints on law enforcement in this war, the U.S. Supreme Court has given the police license to stop and search just about anyone, in any public place, without a shred of evidence of criminal activity, and it has also closed the courthouse doors to claims of racial bias at every stage of the judicial process from stops and searches to plea bargaining and sentencing. — Michelle Alexander

Defenders of the system will counter by saying this drug war has been aimed at violent crime. But that is not the case. The overwhelming majority of people arrested in the drug war have been arrested for relatively minor, non-violent drug offenses. — Michelle Alexander

People charged with drug offenses, though, are typically poor people of color. They are routinely charged with felonies and sent to prison. — Michelle Alexander

Black men in ghetto communities (and many who live in middle class communities) are targeted by the police at early ages, often before they're old enough to vote. They're routinely stopped, frisked, and searched without reasonable suspicion or probable cause. — Michelle Alexander

Drunk driving contains a far greater risk of violent death than the use or sale of illegal drugs, the societal response to drunk drivers has generally emphasized keeping the person functional and in society, while attempting to respond to the dangerous behavior through treatment and counseling. — Michelle Alexander

The bigger picture is that over the last 30 years, we have spent $1 trillion waging a drug war that has failed in any meaningful way to reduce drug addiction or abuse, and yet has siphoned an enormous amount of resources away from other public services, especially education. — Michelle Alexander

Millions of people are unable to vote due to felony convictions with the highest rates among black men. People in prison are denied the right to vote in 48 states, and while we accept that as normal in the United States, in other western democracies people in prison do have the right to vote. — Michelle Alexander

Most Americans violate drug laws in their lifetime, but the enemy in this war has been racially defined. Not by accident, the drug war has been waged almost exclusively in poor communities of color, even though studies have consistently shown - for decades - the people of color are no more likely to use or sell illegal drugs than whites. — Michelle Alexander

The war on drugs has been the engine of mass incarceration. Drug convictions alone constituted about two-thirds of the increase in the federal prison population and more than half of the increase in the state prison population between 1985 and 2000, the period of our prison system's most dramatic expansion. — Michelle Alexander

Private prison companies are now listed on the New York Stock exchange and are doing quite well in a time of economic recession (and depression in some communities). But that's just the tip of the iceberg. — Michelle Alexander

If the drug war was waged in those communities it would spark such outrage that the war would end overnight. This literal war is waged in segregated, impoverished communities defined largely by race, and the targets are the most vulnerable, least powerful people in our society. — Michelle Alexander

... as recently as the mid-1970s, the most well-respected criminologists were predicting that the prison system would soon fade away. Prison did not deter crime significantly, many experts concluded. Those who had meaningful economic and social opportunities were unlikely to commit crimes regardless of the penalty, while those who went to prison were far more likely to commit crimes again in the future. — Michelle Alexander

What does this system seem designed to do? As I see it, it seems designed to send people right back to prison, which is what happens about 70% of the time. — Michelle Alexander

The vastly different sentences afforded drunk drivers and drug offenders tells us who is viewed as disposable - someone to be purged from the body politic - and who is not. Drunk drivers are predominately white and male. — Michelle Alexander

Defenders of the status quo will often try to mislead the public by saying, "Just look at our state prisons: nearly half of the inmates are violent offenders. This system is about protecting the public from violent crime." This type of statement is highly misleading. — Michelle Alexander

Public housing projects as well as private landlords are free to deny housing to people with criminal records. In fact, you don't even have to be convicted. You can be denied housing - or your family evicted - just based on an arrest. — Michelle Alexander

What are people released from prison expected to do? How are they expected to survive? Can't get a job, locked out of housing, and even food stamps may be off limits. Well, apparently what we expect them to do is to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars in fees, fines, court costs, and back child support (which continues to accrue while you are in prison). — Michelle Alexander

In the 1990s - the period of the greatest escalation of the drug war - nearly 80 percent of the increase in drug arrests was for marijuana possession, a drug less harmful than alcohol or tobacco and at least, if not more, prevalent in middle class white neighborhoods and college campuses as it is in the 'hood. — Michelle Alexander

Kids are growing up in communities in which they see their loved ones cycling in and out of prison and in which they are sent the message in countless ways that they, too, are going to prison one way or another. We cannot build healthy, functioning schools within a context where there is no funding available because it's going to building prisons and police forces. — Michelle Alexander

Discrimination in public benefits is also perfectly legal. Under federal law, people convicted of drug felonies are deemed ineligible even for food stamps. — Michelle Alexander

In a growing number of states, you're actually expected to pay back the costs of your imprisonment. Paying back all these fees, fines, and costs may be a condition of your probation or parole. To make matters worse, if you're one of the lucky few who actually manages to get a job following release from prison, up to 100% of your wages can be garnished to pay back all those fees, fines and court costs. One hundred percent. — Michelle Alexander

I think first we have to begin by telling the truth, which I think has actually been a big stumbling block. We can look at Donald Trump and see how he lies, but I think we also have to look at some of the lies we've told ourselves and the lies we've accepted and internalized ourselves. — Michelle Alexander

Incarceration rates - especially black incarceration rates - have soared regardless of whether crime has been going up or down in any given community or the nation as a whole. — Michelle Alexander

Most people seem to assume that this dramatic surge in imprisonment was due to a corresponding surge in crime, particularly violent crime. — Michelle Alexander

Now that's hard for many people to believe, given that the media image of a drug dealer is a black kid standing on the street corner with his pants sagging down. — Michelle Alexander

About 70% of those released from prison return within a few years, and the majority of those who return in some states do so in a matter of months because the challenges associated with mere survival on the outside are so immense. — Michelle Alexander

The education justice movement and the prison justice movement have been operating separately in many places as though they're in silos. But the reality is we're not going to provide meaningful education opportunities to poor kids, kids of color, until and unless we recognize that we're wasting trillions of dollars on a failed criminal justice system. — Michelle Alexander

Of course it would make far more sense to invest in education and job creation in poor communities of color, rather than spend billions of dollars caging them and monitoring them upon release. — Michelle Alexander

One of those lies is that all we need to do is elect more Democrats. No. That actually isn't going to get us to the Promised Land. — Michelle Alexander

I was inspired by what students have done in some schools organizing walkouts protesting the lack of funding and that sort of thing. There are opportunities for students to engage in those types of protests - taking to the streets - but there is also writing poetry, writing music, beginning to express themselves, holding forums, educating each other, the whole range. — Michelle Alexander

I think that we need to begin talking about what does it mean to create these safe spaces in our communities, to begin welcoming one another into our homes and into our communities when they're returning home from prison, people who are on the streets. We need to begin doing the work in our own communities of creating the kind of democracy that we would like to see on a larger scale. — Michelle Alexander

We have now spent 1 trillion dollars waging the drug war since it began. A trillion. Those funds could have been used for education, jobs and drug treatment in the communities that needed it most. We could have used those funds for our collective well being, instead those dollars paved the way for the destruction of countless lives, families, and dreams. — Michelle Alexander

For those who say that the war on drugs and the system of mass incarceration really isn't about race, I say there is no way we would allow the majority of young white men to be swept into the criminal justice system for minor drug offenses, branded criminals and felons, and then stripped of their basis civil and human rights while young black men who are engaged in the same activity trot off to college. That would never be accepted as the norm. — Michelle Alexander

I think it's critically important for people to understand that this system of mass incarceration governs not just those who find themselves in prison on any given day, but also all those who are in jail, on probation or parole, as well as all those who are just months away from being locked up again because they are unable to find work or housing due to their criminal record. — Michelle Alexander

A new race-neutral language was developed for appealing to old racist sentiments, a language accompanied by a political movement that succeeded in putting the vast majority of backs back in their place. Proponents of racial hierarchy found they could install a new racial caste system without violating the law or the new limits of acceptable political discourse, by demanding 'law and order' rather than 'segregation forever'. — Michelle Alexander

Certainly youth of color, particularly those in ghetto communities, find themselves born into the cage. They are born into a community in which the rules, laws, policies, structures of their lives virtually guarantee that they will remain trapped for life. It begins at a very early age when their parents themselves are either behind bars or locked in a permanent second-class status and cannot afford them the opportunities they otherwise could. — Michelle Alexander

For the rest of your life you must check the box on employment applications asking the dreaded question: "Have you ever been convicted of a felony?" And once you check that box, the odds are sky high that your application is going straight to the trash. Hundreds of professional licenses are off-limits to people convicted of felonies. — Michelle Alexander

Of course in this age of colorblindness, a time when we have supposedly moved "beyond race," we as a nation would feel very uncomfortable if only black people were sent to jail for drug offenses. We seem comfortable with 90 percent of the people arrested and convicted of drug offenses in some states being African American, but if the figure was 100 percent, the veil of colorblindness would be lost. — Michelle Alexander

If we continue to tell ourselves the popular myths about racial progress or, worse yet, if we say to ourselves that the problem of mass incarceration is just too big, too daunting for us to do anything about and that we should instead direct our energies to battles that might be more easily won, history will judge us harshly. A human rights nightmare is occurring on our watch. — Michelle Alexander

Of course, no one should be trapped in bad schools or bad neighborhoods. No one. But I think we need to be asking a larger question: How do we change the norm, the larger context that people seem to accept as a given? Are we so thoroughly resigned to what "is" that we cannot even begin a serious conversation about how to create what ought to be? — Michelle Alexander

In response to the advocacy of groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, most states adopted tougher laws to punish drunk driving. Numerous states now have some type of mandatory sentencing for this offense - typically two days in jail for a first offense and two to ten days for a second offense. Possession of a tiny amount of crack cocaine, on the other hand, was given a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison. — Michelle Alexander

Our prison population quintupled in a thirty year period of time. Not doubled or tripled - quintupled. We went from a prison and jail population of about 300,000 to now more than 2 million. — Michelle Alexander

The fact that people of all colors have been ensnared by the drug war helps to preserve the system as a whole from serious critique, as it creates the impression - at a glance - that the war is being waged in an unbiased manner, even when nothing could be further from the truth. — Michelle Alexander

In many large urban areas, the majority of working age African American men now have criminal records and are thus subject to legalized discrimination for the rest of their lives. It is viewed as "normal" in ghetto communities to go to prison or jail. — Michelle Alexander

The dramatically different manner in which we, as a nation, responded to the crisis presented by drunk driving and the crisis caused by the emergence of crack cocaine speaks volumes about who we value, and who we view as disposable. — Michelle Alexander

By waging the drug war and "getting tough" almost exclusively in the 'hood, we've managed to create a vast new racial undercaste in an astonishingly short period of time. — Michelle Alexander

More than 2 million people found themselves behind bars at the turn of the twenty-first century, and millions more were relegated to the margins of mainstream society, banished to a political and social space not unlike Jim Crow, where discrimination in employment, housing, and access to education was perfectly legal, and where they could be denied the right to vote. — Michelle Alexander

For many, whether they go to prison or not is far less about the choices they make and far more about what kind of cage they're born into. — Michelle Alexander

A massive new penal system has emerged in the past few decades - a penal system unprecedented in world history. It is a system driven almost entirely by race and class. — Michelle Alexander

One study conducted in Washington, D.C. indicated that 3 out of 4 black men, and nearly all those living in the poorest neighborhoods could expect to find themselves behind bars at some point in their life. — Michelle Alexander

In fact, in some countries there are actually voting drives conducted in prison! But here in the U.S., we seem to take the idea of democracy a bit less seriously and people are denied the right to vote not only when they are in prison, but also upon release in many states. — Michelle Alexander

The rules and reasons the political system employs to enforce status relations of any kind, including racial hierarchy, evolve and change as they are challenged. — Michelle Alexander

The system functioned relatively automatically, and the prevailing system of racial meanings, identities, and ideologies already seemed natural. Ninety percent of those admitted to prison for drug offenses in many states were Black or Latino, yet the mass incarceration of communities of color was explained in race-neutral terms, an adaptation to the needs and demands of the current political climate. — Michelle Alexander

For the rest of their lives, [black men] can be denied the right to vote, automatically excluded from juries, and legally discriminated against in employment, housing, access to education and public benefits. So many of the old forms of discrimination that we supposedly left behind during the Jim Crow era are suddenly legal again once you've been branded a felon. — Michelle Alexander

We must muster the courage, we must find the will, we must do what is necessary to build a truly transformative movement that will end the history and cycle of caste in America. — Michelle Alexander

Nationwide, 1 in 3 black men can expect to serve time behind bars, but the rates are far higher in segregated and impoverished black communities. — Michelle Alexander

There is a tremendous amount of confusion and denial that exists about mass incarceration today, and that is the biggest barrier to movement building. As long as we remain in denial about this system, movement building will be impossible. Exposing youth in classrooms to the truth about this system and developing their critical capacities will, I believe, open the door to meaningful engagement and collective, inspired action. — Michelle Alexander

We're living in a time when so many of the civil rights and social justice organizations are run by lawyers and policy people who are often very disconnected from the communities they claim to represent. — Michelle Alexander

Eventually [black men] are arrested, whether they've committed any serious crime or not, and branded criminals or felons for life. Upon release, they're ushered into a parallel social universe in which the civil and human rights supposedly won during the Civil Rights Movement no longer apply to them. — Michelle Alexander

Plenty of drug dealing does happen in the 'hood, but it happens everywhere else in America as well. In fact, some studies suggest that where significant differences in the data can be found, white youth are more likely to engage in illegal drug dealing than black youth. — Michelle Alexander

The prison-industrial complex employs millions of people directly and indirectly. Judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, prison guards, construction companies that build prisons, police, probation officers, court clerks, the list goes on and on. Many predominately white rural communities have come to believe that their local economies depend on prisons for jobs. — Michelle Alexander

Most criminologists today will acknowledge that crime rates and incarceration rates in the United States have had relatively little to do with each other. — Michelle Alexander

We are in a social and political context in which the norm is to punish poor folks of color rather than to educate and empower them with economic opportunity. — Michelle Alexander

There can be many bars, wires that keep a person trapped. All of them don't have to have been created for the purpose of harming or caging the bird, but they still serve that function. — Michelle Alexander

What defenders of the system typically fail to acknowledge is that the reason violent offenders comprise a fairly large percentage of the state prison population is because they typically receive longer sentences than non-violent offenders. — Michelle Alexander

Just providing information about how bad things are, or the statistics and data on incarceration by themselves, does lead to more depression and resignation and is not empowering. The information has to be presented in a way that's linked to the piece about encouraging students to think critically and creatively about how they might respond to injustice, and how young people have responded to injustice in the past. — Michelle Alexander

Today it is perfectly legal to discriminate against criminals in nearly all the ways that it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans. Once you're labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination - employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits, and exclusion from jury service - are suddenly legal. — Michelle Alexander

Life Lessons by Michelle Alexander

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  1. Michelle Alexander's work emphasizes the importance of recognizing and challenging systems of racial oppression and inequality.
  2. She encourages us to think critically about our own beliefs and the ways in which they are shaped by the society we live in.
  3. Her work serves as a reminder that we must be vigilant in our fight for justice and equality for all.

In Conclusion

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