Racial Critiques of Mass Incarceration: Beyond the New Jim Crow
James Forman, Jr.
In the last decade, a number of scholars have called the American criminal justice system a new form of Jim Crow. These writers have effectively drawn attention to the injustices created by a facially race-neutral system that severely ostracizes offenders and stigmatizes young, poor black men as criminals. This Article argues that despite these important contributions, the Jim Crow analogy leads to a distorted view of mass incarceration. The analogy presents an incomplete account of mass incarceration’s historical origins, fails to consider black attitudes toward crime and punishment, ignores violent crimes while focusing almost exclusively on drug crimes, obscures class distinctions within the African American community, and overlooks the effects of mass incarceration on other racial groups. Finally, the Jim Crow analogy diminishes our collective memory of the Old Jim Crow’s particular harms.