Monday, March 26, 2012

Alexander, Abu-Jamal, and Brown

This week’s readings focused primarily on the ways in which the criminal justice system perpetuates its own flaws and weaknesses. Although the percentages of people of all races involved in drug crimes are relatively equivalent, African Americans and Latinos are targeted far more than white Americans. Alexander provides evidence of this: in a report done in 2000, white students use cocaine and heroin at a rate 7 times higher than black students and crack cocaine 8 times the rate of black students. This study also found that white youth between the ages of 12 and 17 are a third more likely to have sold illegal drugs than black youth (Alexander, 99). However, regardless of these statistics, prisons are undeniably populated by minorities. Black men have been admitted to state prisons on drug charges at a rate 13 times higher than white men (Alexander, 100). Of all people imprisoned for drug offenses, three-fourths have been either black or Latino (Alexander, 98).

These disproportionate rates are made possible by the fact that law enforcement officers are given free rein in the War on Drugs. There are far too many cases of illegal drug use throughout the country; at least 10% of all Americans violate drug laws every year (Alexander, 123).  These levels of offenses force law enforcement officers to narrow down their search into specific areas and onto specific targets. They are given immense amounts of discretion regarding who to “stop, search, arrest, and charge for drug offenses, thus ensuring that conscious and unconscious racial beliefs and stereotypes will be given free rein” (Alexander, 103). Many departments turn their attention, therefore, to the inner cities, arguing that these are the most compacted region for drug offenses; more people in a smaller area allow officers to spot drug offenses easier and more efficiently. What this results in, however, is the ability for law enforcement officers to use racial biases whether intentionally or not to determine who to target and stop.

The targeting of minorities within inner cities results in the disproportionate percentage of minorities incarcerated. Regardless of the evidence provided to the courts, the justice system itself makes it impossible to prove racial discrimination. Through a string of court decisions, the Supreme Court has consistently closed the door to challenges of racial discrimination within the judicial system.  With Whren vs. United States the Court was able to determine that police officers are able to use minor traffic violations as an excuse to stop motorists for drug investigations (Alexander, 108). This legalized the ability for police officers to use race as a reason to stop and search motorists as long as another explanation for the stop could be provided. In McCleskey vs. Kemp, the Supreme Court determined that racial bias in sentencing could not be challenged under the 14th Amendment without clear proof of conscious, discriminatory intent (Alexander, 109). As long as no one explicitly stated race as a reason for the sentencing chosen in a case, racial discrimination could not be argued. In Purkett vs. Elm the Court ruled in favor of an attorney’s ability to remove a juror from a case for any reason, regardless of how trivial it may seem (Alexander, 122). This drastically limited a defendant’s ability to be tried by his peers; a right granted to him in the Sixth Amendment. Black defendants no longer had access to a jury of people like himself, but in actuality would be tried by people who may very well seek the worst punishment regardless of the evidence of the case.

The McCleskey case made it possible for attorneys to choose punishment for a crime for whatever reason they may find. This results in uneven punishments between black, white, and Latino criminals committing the same crime. In 2000 a study found that among youth who had never been to a juvenile prison, black kids were more than 6 times as likely as whites to be sentenced to prison for the same crimes (Alexander, 118). In Georgia prosecutors sought the death penalty in 70% of cases involving a black defendant and white victims, but only 19% involving white defendants and black victims (Alexander, 110). These numbers indicate an obvious difference between the ways in which attorneys approach cases involving black or white defendants. They are far more likely to ask for a far more severe punishment of a black defendant than a white one.

What all of this creates is a cyclical process within the justice system. As the former New Jersey attorney general said, law enforcement officers point to the racial breakdown within our prisons as justification for targeting minorities, but the numbers of blacks and Latinos within the system are in fact the product of racial profiling, not a justification for the behavior (Alexander, 134). African Americans and Latinos are disproportionately in our prisons because of racial discrimination and bias. The numbers are not a reflection on the actual facts of crime rates; they are evidence that the justice system perpetuates its own misguided behaviors.

Alexander, Brown, and Abu-Jamal

This week’s reading elucidated how both structural and individual prejudices play a role in creating and perpetuating racial discrimination in the penal system. Our legal policies and the media structurally produce the discrimination. Law enforcement personal and we as recipients of the media, then internalize structurally created discrimination and project individual prejudice. These practices maintain our caste system in the United States with the privileged whites safely at the top. Regan’s war on drugs helped to make this kind of discrimination possible and his campaign made people firstly think the war existed, and produced an image of blacks being those responsible for the problem. For more than just crimes involving drugs, the media ensures that many view blacks as usual suspects who commit crimes with no excuse other than being thugs and evil. Brown calls the Western press the “Fourth Estate, the fourth arm of the ruling class…the last branch of the ruling power structure” (Brown, 37). I thought this was a good explanation for how the media works. We must examine who is in charge of running our news stations, papers, and websites, and more often than not, it is the “ruling class” of privileged whites.  The media has been successful in presenting the crimes committed by white people as unfortunate circumstances in which psychological and social misfortunes caused a person to behave in an irrational way. On top of the media manipulating national sentiment towards crimes committed by people of color, the prosecution process is also biased towards a black defendant. Juries often end up being composed of all-white jurors, which by no means is a jury of one’s own peers. However, it is easy to make up reasons other than race as a to why a black person is not qualified to be on a jury. Furthermore, jury lists are often based off DMV lists, so that people of color who are less likely to have cars or register to vote, are excluded.
With all the adversity blacks must face after being accused of a crime, the practices that allow for the actual charges are just as racially discriminatory.  Once again, we see colorblind policies at work that legally make discrimination easier. The Supreme Court argues that pulling people over for traffic violations means anyone can be searched for drugs, so it is not prejudiced.  However, police can racially profile on an individual level. It is up to their own discretion and blacks are often unreasonably pulled over and searched simply because of their race. Police also engage in discriminatory practices in their choices of where to search for drugs. They often pick the “hood” and argue it is due to the high frequency of drug trafficking. However, frat houses and other white neighborhoods are just, if not more likely to have drugs. This has always amazed me, how it is so obvious that certain people have drugs, but probably because they are white and have connections to some type of political power, police act oblivious. In the “hood” drug deals are more public because there is less space to conduct deal behind closed doors. This argument makes drug raids in ghettos seem race neutral but Alexander argues that ghettos were created to “contain and control groups of people defined by race” (Alexander, 132).
What was even more disturbing to me than what I have already mentioned, is how hopeless it seems for people of color to file law suits against discriminatory practices by law enforcement. There are so many hurdles to jump over; it is totally understandable why one may give up on the whole process. Furthermore, there is a risk that the law enforcement one is trying to sue could turn the tables and get the person of color into more trouble. Finally, some lawsuits simply cannot happen because neither the state or police can be sued for damages and city departments are often off limits as well. This leaves me to wonder, if our legal system cannot be used to combat this prejudice, what can other than a revolution of some sort?

The Color of Justice

Below is from Austin, who had some difficulties with, as he might say, the #$%&*@! blog. 

In this week’s chapter Alexander gives us the accounts of two individuals who were victims of our flawed judicial system (97-98). After reading the accounts of both Emma Faye Stewart and also Clifford Runoalds my heart was not only broken for these people but I was also enraged about these circumstances (97-98). A single mother of two loses the things that bring her the most joy, her children (97-98). Also, a father who is mourning the tragic death of his eighteen-month-old daughter has to testify to a crime and is unable to see attend the funeral of his precious child (97-98). These are only the accounts of two I can’t begin to imagine how many similar stories are out there. The sad thing is, until engaging in texts like Alexander’s I was completely uninformed of the prison industrial complex.
The media does a great job of brainwashing us as Americans into thinking that blacks and minorities are the ones committing the crimes in America. The sad thing is the media is correct, blacks and minorities are convicted of more crimes than their white counterparts but it is not because they are worse people it is simply because that is the way the system works. One study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that white students use cocaine at seven times the rate of black students, use crack cocaine at eight times the rate of black students, and use heroin at seven times the rate of black students (99). If the system were colorblind the lock up discrepancies would be tailored differently. Growing up I had a vast majority of friends that crossed numerous racial boundaries and from what I can recall these statistics seem to line up. The rich white kids at my school were the ones who were doing a majority of the hard drugs. I have actually never had a black friend who has done cocaine or crack cocaine. So from a personal stand point this part of the chapter was like shining a light on a issue that has always been there I have just been unaware of it.
We can see why whites want to oppress minorities (to keep the system of power in tact) but how do we do get away with it (103). First, we grant law enforcement officials extraordinary discretion on whom to stop (103). Also we close the courthouse doors to all claims of defendants and private litigants that the criminal justice system operates in racially discriminatory fashion (103). At this point in the chapter my heart is begging this not to be true, I want to believe that we have kind hearted people in America but I am really beginning to question the people in positions of authority.
The next intriguing part of the chapter had to do with the jury selection in trials. As I have heard growing up majority of people who have jury duty are white. Potential jurors are typically called for service based on the list of registered voters or Department of Motor Vehicles list (121). This list contains disproportionately fewer people of color, because people of color are significantly less likely to own cars or register to vote. My optimism for good-hearted white Americans continues to dwindle at this point. In order to   make sure that you receive a “fair” trial you are supposed to have a trial by jury, but what if the whole jury believes you are guilty until proven innocent then what? You are exactly that guilty until proven innocent because if you don’t have an amazing lawyer your odds of getting off seem slim to none.
To conclude I want to offer a possible solution. As we have learned this system depends primarily on the prison label, not prison time (139). Once you are out of prison you are labeled as a felon. When you are labeled as a felon you lose a good majority of your constitutional rights. You lose the right to vote, the right to live in public housing, and you also lose the right to land a decent paying job.  We first as a society need to work on these issues. I don’t know exactly what this would look like but giving people grace when they leave prison could be the very thing they need to turn their life around instead of putting them back into a society that promotes a track right back into prison. I believe people can change we just need to give them more of an opportunity once they get out. If we wont to be fair we also need to search everyone the same but this is a war that may never end, the war on racism in a “colorblind” society.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Alexander Ch. 3, Brown &Abu-Jamal

            A recurring theme in this week’s reading that I found particularly interesting is the idea of the difference between “abstract legal principles and actual practice” in America’s legal system (Alexander, 125). Alexander spends a great deal of time emphasizing the distance between written laws and the way that they are enforced, ultimately arguing that our legal system has inherent biases which greatly disadvantage those of African American decent. A key component in the perpetuation of incarceration of black people is the fact that police officers and prosecutors take advantage of the idea that the “exercise of their discretion is unchecked,” provided that they are not outwardly racist in their actions or in their justifications of actions (Alexander 119). The fact that studies have found that African Americans are more than 6 times as likely as whites to be sentenced to prison for a certain crime is a clear example of how our legal system has drastically strayed from the idea of racial equality and fairness for all (Alexander, 118). There seems to be no reasonable justification for giving two people different sentences for the same crime, yet we repeatedly see this happening, and the black “criminal” always receives the harsher punishment.
In “Evil in the City,” Elaine Brown offers the argument that the media plays a central role in perpetuating the racial stereotypes and discrimination that pervade American society. The stereotype of “the black boy as a social evil” is one that the media has historically disseminated, and it is through these biased depictions of the press that Americans are conditioned to accept the racism that our legal system supports (Brown 37). It seems that the media has helped to create a culture of accepted racism, which in turn has caused our legal justice system to become an arbitrary one; laws are no longer the ultimate guiding principle, rather, police/prosecutor discretion and personal beliefs have become the central deciders. Why have laws at all if prosecutors’ racial biases can trump anti-racism laws? One example of prosecutors’ racist views that I found particularly powerful was that prosecutors actually believe that whites and blacks have different reasons for committing crimes. Alexander explains that prosecutors believe that “blacks committed crimes because of internal personality flaws because of disrespect [and] whites did so because of external conditions such as family conflict” (Alexander, 118). Examples like this one highlight that our current system allows prosecutors to arbitrarily justify the actions of white criminals and not those of black criminals, even when it is clear that these two different groups have committed the same exact crime.
Given the racism of the media and additionally of our law enforcement officials, there now exists an explicit “racialized cultural script” which guides our society’s approach to crime, and as I have argued before, this “script” appears to be more potent than our own laws (Alexander 127). Given this reality, it seems that Americans have too much blind faith in our judicial system. We all consider the Supreme Court as the ultimate source of authority, and one whose deliberations are unquestionably moral, yet Alexander continually provides evidence suggesting that the Court “actually authoriz[es] race discrimination in policing” (123). Perhaps we need to re-consider our blind faith in institutions such as the Supreme Court, and in return, adopt a much more critically aware approach to racial issues in our country. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Alexander, Kafka, Gawande

I’m reading this from a different lens and I’m not sure if this is relevant but I think its important to recognize we are not all getting the same things from these readings, they have different significance/meaning for people. I am reading this as a person is familiar with drugs, jail, prisons, police raids, and poverty. I am getting background information about things I see and why/how they came to be that way. I am reading this and when I argue things by using experience, my experience is validated by the facts in her book. I am also learning some history that I wasn’t necessarily familiar with. This is not theoretical, this is real life.
 Random thoughts are provided below:

So, starting with Michelle Alexander, the introduction and first chapter introduce her argument that mass incarceration is The New Jim Crow in the sense that it’s a continuation of social control in order to keep black people inferior and take away their rights. This is all institutionalized through our laws and punishments for felons, which just so happen to be young black males (who have been targeted after a declaration of war on drugs). Race is socially constructed and there are structures in place to ensure that separation continues and people are treated differently based off of that. There’s also this idea of an underclass-“a group so estranged from mainstream society that is no longer in reach of the mythical ladder of opportunity”, there is social exclusion and people see this as okay because they look at these people like they deserve it.

Random Thoughts on Alexander:
·         The implications of this kind of punishment for felons are stated early on in her book where Alexander says what these people are deprived of. People cannot vote because of legalized discrimination based off the fact that they’re felons. “Once labeled a felon, the old form of discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits…” (2) The idea is that these people committed crimes; if they commit these crimes they no longer have a right to these “privileges”. It’s seen like they don't deserve it anymore, which makes it hard to fight because it’s argued in that way. I don’t know if it’s understood what this could create. When released from jail/prison (which are different) you have a harder time adjusting to the real world, your record follows you not only with jobs but also with public assistance. So if you can’t find a job when you are out of jail and the government refuses to support you, you are pretty much screwed. You are trapped in a cycle of poverty and stigma without much support leading to the kind of second class citizenship Alexander describes.

·         The idea of the War on Drugs as a conspiracy is really interesting. It’s described as the effort to address rampant drug crime in poor minority neighborhoods. The fact that it was announced before crack became an issue implies this was a conspiracy. Declaring war on something that wasn’t necessarily an issue is sketchy. I also thought it was really interesting how at the time he declared the new war, less than 2 percent of the American public viewed drugs as the most important issue facing the nation. (49) As soon as I saw this I thought about the word war and what it implies. I was confused because you can’t have a war with something inanimate right? Who were the two sides fighting in this war? Drugs are merely catalysts, then later Alexander points out how there was a justification for an all-out war on an “enemy” that had been racially defined years ago. (52)

·         I also thought the media’s role in this was interesting, especially after our section on photography/media. It was pointed out a few times when stalking about how the war on drugs got really popular and the social construction of stereotypes regarding black people, welfare and crack. Media’s role “saturated with images of black ‘crack whores’, ‘crack dealers’, and ‘crack babies’, seemed to confirm the worst negative racial stereotype.” (5) I thought about who’s controlling these images and stories and who’s watching it and the long term effects of this. I also thought about how this shames people on welfare and how white people seeing this felt (who are also on welfare). Did they internalize this or did they displace themselves from these images because they’re white. How about middle class or upper class black people? Were they challenging these images or did their class privilege blind them?They repeatedly raised the issue of welfare, subtly framing it as a contest between hardworking blue collar whites and poor blacks who refused to work. Reagan’s colorblind rhetoric on crime, welfare, taxes, and statuses rights was clearly understood by white (and black) voters as having a racial dimension."

·         Alexander describes this war on drugs and mass incarceration as a genocidal plan on page 5- I’m not sure what she meant by this but it thought the choice of words were interesting because genocide is intent to eliminate a specific group of people. Even though in the context of this conversation language seems menial, I still thought the choice of words needed to be reflected and explained more to make sure it wasn’t to dramatize anything, but that she really believed this was a form of genocide people were trying to do.

·         Use of punishment as social control where the severity of punishment is unrelated to the actual crime patterns (7). Who decides which crime is worse? It’s frustrating because there are times where people have had more time in jail for jumping someone or stealing than rape. What crimes are seen as worse and why? In order to level it out are there people voting to see how much the minimum years should be for a particular crime?

·         Prison doesn’t deter crime so why the heavy reliance on it to help decrease some of the crimes?

·         I’m not sure I agree with one of her statements on page 9. She said that virtually every progressive national civil rights organization rallied in defense of affirmative action leading the public to believe affirmative action is the main battlefront in the US. I thought that was an overgeneralization even though I don't know much, I know there are organizations that fight hard for health care, jobs, and education. Also, on the next page she lists all the issues people were discussing, besides affirmative action. Although criminal justice reform wasn’t a part of the fight, I guess that doesn’t mean you should say they all only focus on affirmative action because I felt like she was delegitimizing or ignoring all the other work these organizations were doing. Maybe I just read it weird.

·         Barack Obama and Oprah with black exceptionalism is always a conversation that gets intense. I guess referring to Rachel’s blog post, it seems like the American dream is achievable since we have those few people make it. They are not a reflection of the entire race though, and there were specific circumstances that allowed them to move across class. I like the way Alexander acknowledges their strides yet critiques it without critiquing them as individuals. There are Obamas and Oprah’s but that shouldn’t make people dismiss the issues that still exist in society for black people.

·         The focus on eliminating the risk of future alliances between black slaves and poor whites was really interesting. Especially when thinking about the Poor Movement and the way that was dismantled. Every time there’s hope for building coalitions with intersectional oppression something comes up that further the gap and difference between people.

·         Constitution is colorblind, what does it say about our country. Black people were not really people so the rights didn’t necessarily apply to them.

·         Vagrancy laws, what’s the difference between rules and legit crimes?

·         Interesting to think about with the enforcing these rules where the black people had to take their cases to federal courts, waste their time, money, risk threats and violence. It wasn’t worth it. (30)Do you think this still applies to things that happen today?

·         Convict leasing? Is this for real? Selling these people,, were they comfortable doing this to white people as well/ were they auctioned off/ the people were treated badly because they were seen as replaceable, disposable tools. Slavery remained an appropriate as punishment for a crime. I was just really upset about it. It also made me think about if white people were a part of this leasing as well? Who practiced this, and where? From what Alexander said it didn’t seem like anyone was regulating the treatment of prisoners being leased, they had no protection, that’s dehumanizing and just wrong.

·         I didn’t understand what she was talking about on p. 32. I didn’t completely understand what was happening with the conservatives blaming liberals for the aggressive ‘war’ with black people. Were they arguing that this hostility they’re facing I because the liberals are waging rights in the wrong way? I’m not sure.

·         Arguing civil disobedience was a leading cause of crime because people were choosing which laws follow and not. Harsh responses to lawbreakers, it’s funny because the crimes against these people are worse than the crimes they’re actually committing.

·         FBI antidrug funding increased from $8 million to $95 million. This got me really upset because we waste so much money on things that are just selfish and stupid.

·         This is a little personal but this is slowly helping me make sense of some of the things I see in real life. For example I live in the south Bronx, in Hunt’s Point which is 640 acres, with over ½ the population below the poverty line, 90% Black and Latino. Three detention centers exist: Spofford Juvenile Center, Vernon C. Bain Correctional Center and Rikers Island which is between the Bronx and Queens. There was also rallying to prevent another jail to be made.  In addition to that, in this area the narcotics police bought three apartment buildings (621-624 Manida Street) in order to catch those who sell and use drugs. I thought about how that money could’ve gone to books for a school but instead we prioritize drugs. We prioritize wars, those outside the US and inside, we prioritize/fund terrorism and it’s beyond frustrating. The book is helping me make sense of why we have so many jails in such a small area that’s poor and filled with people of color. It’s an interesting argument she’s making, and I’m not completely convinced but look forward to the rest of the book.

That Kafka story was really sad to me. That was my initial reaction. I’m still processing the story though. (it takes me a while sometimes)

Gawande, Alexander, and Kafka

It's hard to think about imprisonment as separate from torture. Not only do torture and imprisonment overlap in terms of activity (victims of torture are generally also imprisoned), but they overlap in terms of the effects of removing people from normal social life for an extended period--both victims and perpetrators. Journalist Atul Gawande presents us with striking evidence of the damaging effects of social isolation in his article "Hellhole," both in hostage situations and in legal "imprisonment," which we like to see as a different institution. In considering fellow journalist Terry Anderson's seven years of isolation, Gawande writes, "He felt himself disintegrating. It was as if his brain were grinding down." But during times when Anderson was placed with cellmates, "he noticed that his thinking recovered rapidly [. . .]. He could read and concentrate longer, avoid hallucinations, and better control his emotions." Anderson's story is only one example of the way solitary confinement breaks down people's abilities to function socially and to care for themselves, mentally and physically. Due to these known dangers, Gawande asks, "how did we end up with a prison system that may subject more of our own citizens to it than any other country in history has?"

This humbling question reminds me of when we asked ourselves, if torture is ineffective, and if there are few real ticking-bomb scenarios, why do we still accept it as a method of war? Just as with torture, we need to consider how we developed our penal system, what its true goals were and are, and if its reality fulfills those goals. Are we trying to rehabilitate people who have broken the law? If we see that the isolation of humans can only cause further damage to people's ability to flourish in our particular society and thus cannot be the means to that goal, are we perhaps trying to protect law-abiding citizens? Or are we trying to simply weed out those we deem socially undesirable, regardless of whether or not they pose a real threat to other people? The most obvious difference between torture and imprisonment is that, while torture victims frequently have done nothing wrong, we presume people in U.S. prisons to be guilty of a crime and worthy of punishment. But, as Gawande writes, "only a subset of prisoners currently locked away for long periods of isolation would be considered truly dangerous" in terms of the incidents that landed them there, while nearly 90% of prisoners in one California maximum security isolation prison experienced "irrational anger" after being isolated. There is really no logic to this.

Professor Michelle Alexander, in The New Jim Crow, highlights the racial discrimination present in the U.S. legal system, which is causing "a new racial caste" (3) to develop. Alexander provides us with the horrifying reality that the "United States imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of the apartheid" (6). While we like to speak of social mobility and the value of hard work, the fact remains that a huge proportion of black Americans are legally incapable of improving their own lives by any measure. Alexander illustrates how the War on Drugs was constructed to re-create and ensure the continuation of a racial hierarchy, labeling, stereotyping, and closely surveying black populations with the end result of mass incarceration. And while racial discrimination is not officially legal any longer, policies such as President Clinton's "made it easier for federally assisted public housing projects to exclude anyone with a criminal history" during a time when unprecedented numbers of black Americans were facing criminal drug charges.

What seems the most frustrating to me is that we know objectively that incarceration is not the solution to our societal woes. Gawande points out that Britain and other European countries have seen and accepted that education and work programs are far more effective methods for cultivating a safe and productive society. Our refusal to follow their lead is a testament only to our continued racism, not to being "tough on crime." Author Franz Kafka illustrates the absurdity of legal systems, as represented by "the Law" in his work "Before the Law." A man spends essentially his entire life being repeatedly denied access to his individual path into accordance with the Law, despite his obvious desire to enter it. My interpretation of the story as it applies to the U.S. prison system is that while we claim that people shape their own lives and can choose to operate on the straight and narrow, our legal structures deny many people even the opportunity to try. However, in the story no reason is given for the man's marginalization, while in modern America we can assume that historical constructs of race and class determine people's abilities to enter society to the degree of their choosing.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Alexander - The New Jim Crow

Although the validity and attainability of the American Dream has been debated, the fact that the idea itself exists, that people believe it to be true, is undeniable. By the American Dream, I am referring to the understanding that in the United States, socio-economic mobility is not only an inherent right of American citizens, but it is also widely feasible. Further, the degree to which the American Dream can be achieved is based on a person's "discipline and drive" and "failure to move up reflects on one's character" (13).

Michelle Alexander challenges this notion of the American Dream in the introduction of "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness" by citing the existence of a clear "underclass" in American society today (12). This "underclass" is "a group so estranged from mainstream society that it is no longer in reach of the mythical ladder of opportunity" (13).

 My first reaction was to question Alexander's qualifications for deeming this marginalized group unable to get to the alleged ladder. What makes someone entirely ineligible for the American Dream, as opposed to it just not being realistically feasible? For example, a common example regarding the ways in which poverty prohibits a person from obtaining certain rights as a citizen is the method for calling on potential jurors. The list of potential  jurors is often taken directly from the Department of Motor Vehicles. Therefore, if a person does not have a license (presumably because he or she is too poor even for the potential of car ownership), he or she will not be chosen as a potential juror, which is the right of American citizens. In this case, a person's change to serve on a jury is not technically impossible, in the sense that they do have the ability to register at the DMV, it is just not realistic.

However, Alexander clearly differentiates what she calls the "underclass" from all other members of society, including the lowest of the lower-class. The "underclass" or "undercaste" are "permanently barred by law or custom from mainstream society" (13). The important distinction here is that the "underclass" has been LEGALLY marginalized by the United States Government, prohibited from an array of social, economic and political rights. These rights include, but by no means are limited to, access to public housing, welfare, employment, right to vote, right to be a juror, etc.

According to Alexander, the creation of a second class of citizens denied certain rights inherent to all Americans is implemented through the American criminal justice system. Contrary to many people's understanding of the American penal system, this marginalization is maintained well beyond a person's status as a prisoner: once a person is labeled a criminal, he or she has lost his or her rights even after release from prison. According to Alexander, "the system of mass incarceration is based on the prison label, not prison time" (14).

The reason, though, that Alexander equates this issue of the ramifications of mass incarceration with the likes of Jim Crow is that the overwhelming majority of those who are made criminals in the United States are African American. According to Alexander, "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 largely defined by race" (13).

It is important to understand, however, the fact that this intention of the subordination of African Americans is no longer explicitly stated. Rather, this racism is masked by new "race neutral language" (40). This rhetoric uses the concept of the criminal to persecute African Americans, essentially creating "preservation through transformation," as articulated by Reva Siegel (21). According to Alexander, "proponents of racial hierarchy found they could install a new racial caste system without violating the law or the new limits of political discourse, by demanding 'law and order' rather than 'segregation forever'" (40).