While cruelty has been a hallmark of prisons for a long time, the prison industrial complex has grown and evolved, becoming an racially oppressive equivalent to Jim Crow.
These resources will help you to understand the history of the prison industrial complex in the United States, especially as it impacts black, brown and poor communities.
In the era of colorblindness, it is no longer socially permissible to use race, explicitly, as a justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social contempt. So we don’t. Rather than rely on race, we use our criminal justice system to label people of color “criminals” and then engage in all the practices we supposedly left behind."
Fast and Furious
Prison Cruelty (Article)
This Atlantic article from 1920 states that “The prison cannot be changed as long as the old basis of suppression and isolation is maintained.” In a lot of ways, conditions have stayed the same.
Ta-Nehisi Coates "The Black Family in an Age of Mass Incarceration" (Article)
American politicians are now eager to disown a failed criminal-justice system that’s left the U.S. with the largest incarcerated population in the world. But they've failed to reckon with history. Fifty years after Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s report “The Negro Family” tragically helped create this system, it's time to reclaim his original intent.
The Other Side of "Broken Windows" (Article)
The New Yorker: "What if vacant property received the attention that, for decades, has been showered on petty crime?"
Blood in the Water:The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy (Book)
“Gripping . . . Not all works of history have something to say so directly to the present, but Heather Ann Thompson’s Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy, which deals with racial conflict, mass incarceration, police brutality and dissembling politicians . . . It’s Ms. Thompson’s achievement, in this remarkable book, to make us understand why this one group of prisoners [rebelled], and how many others shared the cost.” —Mark Oppenheimer, The New York Times
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (Book)
“The New Jim Crow offers a devastating account of a legal system doing its job perfectly well. We have simply replaced one caste system (Jim Crow) for another one (imprisonment, parole, detention) that keeps the majority of minorities in a permanent state of disenfranchisement." -Forbes
Incarceration Nation (Video)
America’s prison population has exploded from 300,000 to more than two million today due to harsh sentencing policies and the 40-year-old war on drugs. In this video, Bill Moyers speaks to civil rights lawyer and legal scholar Michelle Alexander about why we need to end our system of mass incarceration.
An in-depth look at the prison system in the United States and how it reveals the nation's history of racial inequality. Available to stream on Netflix.
The House I Live in (Film)
From the dealer to the narcotics officer, the inmate to the federal judge, a penetrating look inside America's criminal justice system, revealing the profound human rights implications of U.S. drug policy. Available to stream on Amazon Prime.