What is the New Jim Crow?


The United States imprisons 2.4 million men, women, and children—one out of every 100 Americans. The United States has largest prison population in the world, both in total numbers and as a percentage of its population. With only five per cent of the world’s population, the United States accounts for nearly a quarter of all prisoners in the world.

These alarming incarceration rates disproportionately affect people of color. Representing only 30 per cent of our population, people of color comprise almost 60 per cent of those imprisoned. One in 15 African American men and one in 36 Hispanic men is incarcerated. One of every three African American men can expect to go to prison at some point during his lifetime.

Rise in incarceration rate

Why is this happening? What social and political forces are behind these extraordinary statistics? Who benefits from mass incarceration? Who suffers? What are the social costs of putting so many behind bars?

Michelle Alexander

Michelle Alexander

These questions are increasingly being asked across American society—in part as a result of a single book by Michelle Alexander, a civil rights lawyer and social justice activist. Her 2010 book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Color Blindness has sparked a national conversation.