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New Jim Crow Lesson 8

Understanding the Prison Label

Hello and welcome to Southern Fried Socialist and Lesson 8 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 Question

  • What is the long-term harm and wider impact of mass incarceration on people and communities of color?

Tier II and III Vocabulary

  • Commodification – the action or process of treating something )such as an intrinsic value or a work of art, water) as a mere commodity
  • Counterintuitive – contrary to what one would intuitively expect
  • Demonize – portray as wicked and threatening
  • Grassroots – the common or ordinary people, especially as contrasted with the leadership or elite of a political party, social organization, etc.; the rank and file.
  • Misdemeanor – Law. a criminal offense defined as less serious than a felony.
  • Misogyny – hatred, dislike, or mistrust of women, or prejudice against women.
  • Pander – a person who caters to or profits from the weaknesses or vices of others
  • Pervasivespread throughout
  • Proxy – the agency, function, or power of a person authorized to act as the deputy or substitute for another.
  • Rampant – violent in action or spirit; raging; furious: growing luxuriantly, as weeds, in full sway; prevailing or unchecked
  • Romanticize – to make romantic; invest with a romantic character
  • Solidarity – union or fellowship arising from common responsibilities and interests, as between members of a group or between classes, peoples, to promote solidarity among union members, community of feelings, purposes, etc.

Warm Up

Exercise 1: Video, Daryl Atkinson, an attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, received the White House Champion of Change Award for his efforts to facilitate employment opportunities for adults and juveniles returning home from incarceration.

Daryl Atkinson Receives White House Champion of Change Award | Southern Coalition for Social Justice

Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “Daryl Atkinson Receives White House Champion of Change Award.” YouTube video, 6:12. July 4, 2014.

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. black male teens
  2. public assistance
  3. unemployment

Chapter 4

Exercise 1: This lesson focuses on a subsection of Chapter 4 excerpt: “The Cruel Hand” in which Alexander discusses how the racial caste system established and perpetuated by mass incarceration continues beyond a prison sentence and extends into families, communities and society at large. The criminalization and demonization of black men creates a “prison label” of stigma and shame that damages the black community as a whole. While we are reading, consider the following…

  1. What are the challenges faced by ex-offenders and convicted drug felons when they attempt to reintegrate into society after they are released from prison?  
  2. What is the “prison label”? In what ways does it harm individuals and communities?

Guided Reading : Lesson 8

Full Audio : Chapter 4

Formerly Incarcerated & Convicted Peoples Movement

Formerly Incarcerated & Convicted Peoples Movement advocates for the rights of people who have been charged, convicted and branded with an arrest and conviction history. Formerly Incarcerated & Convicted Peoples Movement.

1. Edward Rhine, William Smith, and Ronald Jackson, Paroling Authorities: Recent History and Current Practice (Laurel, MD: American Correctional Association, 1991).
2. Gene Johnson, “‘Ban the Box’ Movement Gains Steam,” Wave Newspapers,New America Media, Aug. 15, 2006.
3. Legal Action Center,After Prison: Roadblocks to Reentry, a Report on State Legal Barriers Facing People with Criminal Records (New York: Legal Action Center,2004), 10.
4. Jeremy Travis, Amy Solomon, and Michelle Waul, From Prison to Home: The Dimensions and Consequences of Prisoner Reentry (Washington, DC: Urban Institute, 2001); and Amy Hirsch et al., Every Door Closed: Barriers Facing Parents with Criminal Records (Washington, DC: Center for Law and Social Policy and Community Legal Services, 2002).
5. Keith Ihlanfeldt and David Sjoquist, “The Spatial Mismatch Hypothesis: A Review of Recent Studies and Their Implications for Welfare Reform,” Housing Policy Debate 9, no. 4 (1998): 849; and Michael Stoll, Harry Holzer, and Keith Ihlanfeldt, “Within Cities and Suburbs: Employment Decentralization, Neighborhood Composition, and Employment Opportunities for White and Minority Workers,” Journal of Policy Analysis and Management , Spring 2000.
6. Harry Holzer et al., “Employer Demand for Ex-Offenders: Recent Evidence from Los Angeles,” Mar. 2003, unpublished manuscript.
7. Harry Holzer and Robert LaLonde, “Job Stability and Job Change Among Young Unskilled Workers,” in Finding Jobs: Work and Welfare Reform, ed. David Card and Rebecca Blank (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2000); see also Joleen
Kirshenman and Kathryn Neckerman, “We’d Love to Hire Them But . . .” in The Urban Underclass, ed. Christopher Jencks and Paul Peterson (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 1991).
8. See Devah Pager, Marked: Race, Crime and Finding Work in an Era of Mass Incarceration (University of Chicago Press, 2007), 157; Steven Raphael, “Should Criminal History Records Be Universally Available?” (reaction essay) in Greg Pogarsky, “Criminal
Records, Employment and Recidivism,” Criminology & Public Policy 5, no. 3 (Aug. 2006): 479–521; and Shawn Bushway, “Labor Market Effects of Permitting Employer Access to Criminal History Records,” Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 20 (2004): 276–91.
9. Michelle Natividad Rodriguez and Maurice Emsellem, 65 Million “Need Not Apply”: The Case for Reforming Criminal Background Checks for Employment (New York: National Employment Law Project, 2011),
10. Alicia Bannon, Mitali Nagrecha, and Rebekah Diller, Criminal Justice Debt: A Barrier to Reentry (New York: Brennan Center for Justice, 2010)
11. Ibid.
12. See Legal Action Center, “Opting Out of Federal Ban on Food Stamps and TANF: Summary of State Laws,”
13. Ryan S. King, Felony Disenfranchisement Laws in the United States (Washington, DC: Sentencing Project, 2008).
14. Sasha Abramsky, Conned: How Millions Went to Prison, Lost the Vote, and Helped Send George W. Bush to the White House (New York: The New Press, 2006), 224.
15. Ibid.
16. See Kathryn Russell-Brown, The Color of Crime: Racial Hoaxes, White Fear, Black Protectionism, Police Harassment, and Other Macroaggressions (New York: New York University Press, 1998), coining the term criminalblackman.
17. See, e.g., Steve Liss, No Place for Children: Voices from Juvenile Detention (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005). Stories include youth describing the verbal abuse they receive from their parents.
18. Robert Toll, Blacking Up: The Minstrel Show in Nineteenth-Century America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1974), 258.
19. Mel Watkins, On the Real Side: Laughing, Lying and Signifying: The Underground Tradition of African American Humor That Transformed American Culture, from Slavery to Richard Pryor (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994), 124–29