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Race and the Drug War, Part II

After more than 20 years, even with the heightened awareness of the impact of the drug war on blacks and other minorities, Congress still does nothing.  The drug war's impact has reached directly into minority neighborhoods with devastating results.  A recent book by Todd Clear documents the impact of mass incarceration (brought about mostly by the drug war) on these communities.  He shows that "get tough on crime" polices in recent years have actually contributed to higher crime rates in these communities.  He shows through the presentation of empirical evidence that there has been a reduction of what is known as "social capital" (education, skills, etc.) within these communities which in turn would normally contribute to positive outcomes for the youth of these communities.  Also within these communities there has been a decline in various "social support" networks (strong family ties, etc.), higher levels of unemployment (reaching as high as more than 50% in some areas), a decline in "marriageable men" (with so many going to prison) and children without adult men in their lives (not to mention the fact that the incarceration rate for women has risen faster than for men during the past 20 years, especially for drugs), with the predictable rise in youth crime, gangs and drug use (Imprisoned Communities: How Mass Incarceration Makes Disadvantaged Neighborhoods Worse, Oxford University Press, 2007).

Through an historical lens we can clearly see that the certain aspects of the caste system of slavery have continued to the present day, given the mass incarceration of so many black people.  The book by Douglas Blackmon (see Part I) bears noting.  His book documents a system of "convict leasing" that occurred throughout the South until World War II.  This was a system whereby blacks were summarily arrested by county sheriffs on either minor charges (especially vagrancy) or no charges at all, fined by local Justices of the Peace and when the "offenders" could not pay their fines (and few could), they were paid by either local land owners or corporations, who in turn coerced the offenders to sign contracts to work for periods of up to a year or more.  For all practical purposes, it was slavery. It is not much different today, especially with the recent rise in the use of chain gangs (the subject of another blog).

Keywords: adult corrections, racial disparities, Randall Shelden

Posted in Blog, Drug Policy

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