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New Jim Crow Lesson 7

Racial Disparity in the Criminal Justice System

Hello and welcome to Southern Fried Socialist and Lesson 7 of the Teach Tolerance Lesson Plan for the New Jim Crow. Michelle Alexander was inspired to write The New Jim Crow while working as a civil rights lawyer at the ACLU, and you can read her interview with Teaching Tolerance : A Conversation with Michelle Alexander . Teach Tolerance’s mission is to Discover and develop world-class materials with a community of educators committed to diversity, equity and justice.

Essential Questions

  • How does mass incarceration function as a mechanism of racialized social control in the United States today?
  • What is “the age of colorblindness” and how does it attempt to mask racial caste?

Tier II and III vocabulary

  • Arbitrary – based on random choice or personal whim, rather than any reason or system
  • Chokeholds – a tight grip around a person’s neck, used to restrain him or her by restricting breathing “I CANT BREATHE”
  • Discretion – the quality of behaving or speaking in such a way as to avoid causing offense or revealing private information.
  • Disparity – a great difference.
  • Exacerbating – make (a problem, bad situation, or negative feeling) worse.
  • Juxtapose – place or deal with close together for contrasting effect
  • Lenient – of punishment or a person in authority permissive, merciful, or tolerant.
  • Mandatory Sentencing – requires that offenders serve a predefined term for certain crimes, commonly serious and violent offenses
  • Paradigm – a typical example or pattern of something; a model
  • Rehabilitation – the action of restoring someone to health or normal life through training and therapy after imprisonment, addiction, or illness, behavior
  • Saturated – having or holding as much as can be absorbed of something, imbued thoroughly
  • Socioeconomic – relating to or concerned with the interaction of social and economic factors.

Warm Up

Exercise 1: Pre-reading; Introduces the problem of the school-to-prison pipeline and the practices that favor incarceration over education.

“Policies that encourage police presence at schools, harsh tactics including physical restraint, and automatic punishments that result in suspensions and out-of-class time are huge contributors to the pipeline, but the problem is more complex than that.” -Marilyn Elias

Elias, Marilyn. “The School-to-Prison Pipeline. Teaching Tolerance, Spring 2013.

Exercise 2: Before we get started or into the chapter consider the last lessons and our guided reading. In your head , or if you want to write it down and later participate in the comments – complete the following prompts “Something I know … ,”   “Something I believe … ” and “Something I wonder … ” about each of the following (totaling nine responses):

  1. crack cocaine
  2. media coverage of crime
  3. racial profiling

Chapter 3

Exercise 1: This lesson focuses on a subsection of Chapter 3, “The Color of Justice” in which Alexander discusses racialized social control and how it has adapted to race-neutral social and political norms in the form of mass incarceration. Criminalization stands in as a proxy for overt racism in limiting the rights and freedoms of a racially defined undercaste. While we are reading, consider the following…

  1. What are the racial disparities in the rates of arrest, conviction and sentencing for drug crimes?
  2. How does political rhetoric and media imagery feed racial stereotypes about drug crime?
  3. What is implicit bias? What is the affect of the prevalence of implicit bias in drug law enforcement?
  4. How did the Supreme Court has rule with regard to discrimination in the criminal justice system?

Guided Reading Lesson 5

Guided Reading Critical Thinking Questions :

Exercise 2: Return to your warm-up “I know … , I wonder … , I believe … ” responses and respond. 

  1. Has anything you thought you knew changed? Explain.
  2. Have any of your beliefs changed? Explain.
  3. Were any of the things you wondered about answered? Explain.
  4. What new questions do you have?

Full Audio: Chapter 3

1. Frontline, The Plea,; and Angela Davis, Arbitrary Justice: The Power of the American Prosecutor (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 50–52.
2. American Civil Liberties Union, Stories of ACLU Clients Swept Up in the Hearne Drug Bust of November 2000 (Washington, DC: American Civil Liberties Union, 2002),
3. Marc Mauer and Ryan S. King, Schools and Prisons: Fifty Years After Brown v. Board of Education (Washington, DC: Sentencing Project, 2004), 3.
4. Researchers have found that drug users are most likely to report using as a main source for drugs someone who is of their own racial or ethnic background. See, e.g., K. Jack Riley, Crack, Powder Cocaine and Heroin: Drug Purchase and Use Patterns in Six U.S. Cities (Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice, 1997), 1; see also George Rengert and James LeBeau, “The Impact of Ethnic Boundaries on the Spatial Choice of Illegal Drug Dealers,” paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Criminology, Atlanta, Georgia, Nov. 13, 2007 (unpublished manuscript), finding that most illegal drug dealers sell in their own neighborhood and that a variety of factors influence whether dealers are willing to travel outside their home community.
5. See Rafik Mohamed and Erik Fritsvold, “Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangsta: The Social Organization of the Illicit Drug Trade Servicing a Private College Campus,” Deviant Behavior 27 (2006): 97–125.
6. Human Rights Watch, Punishment and Prejudice: Racial Disparities in the War on Drugs, HRW Reports, vol. 12, no. 2 (May 2000).
7. PEW Center on the States, One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008 (Washington, DC: Pew Charitable Trusts, 2008)— data analysis is based on statistics for midyear 2006 published by the U.S. Department of Justice in June 2007.
8. Ibid.; Pew Center on the States, One in 31: The Long Reach of American Corrections (Washington, DC: Pew Charitable Trusts, 2009).
9. Jimmie Reeves and Richard Campbell, Cracked Coverage: Television News, the Anti-Cocaine Crusade and the Reagan Legacy (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1994).
10. Betty Watson Burston, Dionne Jones, and Pat Robertson-Saunders, “Drug Use and African Americans: Myth Versus Reality,” Journal of Alcohol and Drug Abuse 40 (Winter 1995): 19.
11. Franklin D. Gilliam and Shanto Iyengar, “Prime Suspects: The Influence of Local Television News on the Viewing Public,” American Journal of Political Science 44 (2000): 560–73.
12. See, e.g., Nilanjana Dasgupta, “Implicit Ingroup Favoritism, Outgroup Favoritism, and Their Behavioral Manifestations,” Social Justice Research 17 (2004): 143. For a review of the social science literature on this point and its relevance to critical race theory and antidiscrimination law, see Jerry Kang, “Trojan Horses of Race,”Harvard Law Review 118 (2005): 1489.
13. See John F. Dovidio et al., “On the Nature of Prejudice: Automatic and Controlled Processes,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 33 (1997): 510, 516–17, 534; and Dasgupta, “Implicit Intergroup Favoritism.” See also Brian Nosek, Mahzarin Banaji, and Anthony Greenwald, “Harvesting Implicit Group Attitudes and Beliefs from a Demonstration Web Site,” Group Dynamics 6 (2002): 101.
14. John A. Bargh et al., “Automaticity of Social Behavior: Direct Effects of Trait Construct and Stereotype Activation on Action,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 71 (1996): 230; Gilliam and Iyengar, “Prime Suspects”; Jennifer L. Eberhardt et al., “Looking Deathworthy,” Psychological Science 17, no. 5 (2006): 383–86 (“[J]urors are influenced not simply by the knowledge that the defendant is Black, but also by the extent to which the defendant appears to be stereotypically Black. In fact for the Blacks with [the most stereotypical faces], the chance of receiving a death sentence more than doubled”); Jennifer L. Eberhardt et al., “Seeing Black:Race, Crime, and Visual Processing,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 87, no. 6 (2004): 876–93 (not only were black faces considered more criminal by law enforcement, but the more stereotypical black faces were considered to be the most criminal of all); and Irene V. Blair, “The Influence of Afrocentric Facial Features in Criminal Sentencing,” Psychological Science 15, no. 10 (2004): 674–79 (finding that inmates with more Afrocentric features received harsher sentences than individuals with less Afrocentric features).
15. The notion that the Supreme Court must apply a higher standard of review and show special concern for the treatment of “discrete and insular minorities”—who may not fare well through the majoritarian political process—was first recognized by the Court in the famous footnote 4 of United States v. Caroline Products Co. , 301 U.S. 144, n. 4 (1938).
16. McCleskey v. Kemp , 481 U.S. 279, 327 (1989), Brennan, J., dissenting.
17. Ibid., 321.
18. Doris Marie Provine, Unequal Under Law: Race in the War on Drugs (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 26.
19. See, e.g., Carl E. Pope and William Feyerherm, “Minority Status and Juvenile Justice Processing: An Assessment of the Research Literature,” Criminal Justice Abstracts 22 (1990): 527–42; Carl E. Pope, Rick Lovell, and Heidi M. Hsia, U.S. Department of Justice,Disproportionate Minority Confinement: A Review of the Research Literature from 1989 Through 2001 (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, 2002); Eleanor Hinton Hoytt, Vincent Schiraldi, Brenda V. Smith, and Jason Ziedenberg, Reducing Racial Disparities in Juvenile Detention (Baltimore: Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2002), 20–21.
20. Christopher Hartney and Fabiana Silva, And Justice for Some: Differential Treatment of Youth of Color in the Justice System (Washington, DC: National Council on Crime and Delinquency, 2007).
21. Brian Kalt, “The Exclusion of Felons from Jury Service,” American University Law Review 53 (2003): 65, 67.
22. David Cole, No Equal Justice: Race and Class in the American Criminal Justice System
(New York: The New Press, 1999), 162.
23.City of Los Angeles v. Lyons, 461 U.S. 95, 105 (1983).
24. See Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton, American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993).
25. For a thoughtful overview of these studies, see David Harris, Profiles in Injustice: Why Racial Profiling Cannot Work (New York: The New Press, 2002).
26. Ibid., 80.
27. Ibid.
28. Al Baker and Emily Vasquez, “Number of People Stopped by Police Soars in New York,” New York Times, Feb. 3, 2007.
29. Alexander v. Sandoval, 532 U.S. 275 (2001)