The overarching theme of this paper is that the racialization of mass incarceration in America, which has been taking place since the latter part of the last century, and continues to this very day, is characterized by what I term, the “Jim Crow effect.” Michelle Alexander has eloquently described this effect as “a stunningly comprehensive and well disguised system of racialized social control that functions in a manner strikingly similar to Jim Crow.” She goes on to describe this modern version of Jim Crow as functioning “[t]hrough a web of laws, regulations, and informal rules, all of which are powerfully reinforced by social stigma, [the victims of this stigma] are confined to the margins of society and denied access to the mainstream economy.” Moreover, I argue that this “Jim Crowing” of America has not taken place in secret. Most Americans are, at some level, totally aware of the pernicious and suffocating effects of racialized mass incarceration, but they have turned a collective blind eye to it. In short, most of the American public and its officials are in deep denial about this racialized plague, which is disastrously impacting so many Black and Brown lives. In addition, the existential cost of this process is a deep affront to the dignity and human rights of its victims, and ripples out into both their families and communities. In addition, there are also enormous costs to society at large, in terms of the huge financial drain on the American economy caused by the establishment and maintenance of such a large and complex system of racialized punitiveness. I conclude by arguing that in order to begin to unwind the tragic consequences of this system, we must first address the almost complete denial of its existence by so many Americans. Then we must begin to see this system in moral terms as a complete repudiation of the principles upon which this country was founded, and as a direct assault on the dignity and human rights of the victims that are ground under its oppressive institutionalized boot every day.
I begin this examination in section I, with a brief review of the many shades of meaning and consequence which is at the heart of America’s historical obsession with Jim Crow. In Section II, I examine the subtle but significant interplay between social denial and racialized mass incarceration. In Section III, I focus my attention on explicating the phenomenon of racialized mass incarceration. In Section IV, I discuss the “Drivers of Mass Incarceration,” and in Section V, I conclude with a warning.