What is the New Jim Crow?

Throughout the early 20th century, across the United States of America, legal social and economic discrimination ensured that black and brown Americans were relegated to a secondary status as citizens. These laws and policies were called Jim Crow. They resulted in the segregation of people of color from white people throughout all facets of society. The Civil Rights Movements saw the downfall of Jim Crow in the United States.

In her book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, civil rights lawyer and social justice activist Michelle Alexander writes about the evolution of that legal discrimination into a different, more insidious system called the New Jim Crow. Policies that promote the mass imprisonment of people of color and the poor result in disparate incarceration rates. Those released from prison are doubly punished— returning to a society that excludes them from fully transitioning back in. This includes barring re-entering citizens from voting, excluding them from welfare programs and economic assistance, and discriminatory practices in hiring, to name a few.

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  • In 2015, it was estimated that 1.53 million prisoners were held in state and federal facilities across the United States, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics.
  • Eight percent of all state and federal prisoners were held in privately operated facilities.  Six states (Hawaii, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Oklahoma) housed at least 20% of their prison population in privately operated facilities.
  • In 2015, the total Delaware prison population was 6,654.
  • More than 90 percent of Delaware’s prison population is released back into society.
  • In 2015, Delaware prisons were 117 percent over capacity— that is had “more prisoners in custody than the maximum number of beds for which their facilities were designed, rated, or operationally intended.”

     But, there is hope.


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The New Jim Crow is a result of legalized racist policy. The Coalition believes that justice requires a hard look at these policies and practices, and a strong resolution to overcome them through resistance, policy advocacy, and racial healing. We have hope that the New Jim Crow— like the old Jim Crow– can be dismantled.