Copyright (c) 2011 The Corporation of Gonzaga University
Gonzaga Law Review
ARTICLE AND ESSAY: Mass Incarceration: A Contemporary Mechanism of Racialization in the United States
2011 / 2012
Gonzaga Law Review
47 Gonz. L. Rev. 301
Jacqueline Johnson, Ph.D.*
The election of Barack Obama to the United States presidency was heralded by some as a symbol of the demise of the Jim Crow era socioeconomic and cultural landscape that defined systems of justice, mobility, and daily life for millions of African Americans along racial lines. 1 Yet in every state of the nation, a disproportionately high percentage of African American men presently live under some kind of state or federally mandated detainment. 2 Just one year prior to the 2008 election, roughly 35% of incarcerated men in federal and state prisons and jails were African American, 3 although they comprised just over 12% of the total non-incarcerated adult male population. 4 Patterns of racial disparity in 2008 were even more dramatic in states such as Massachusetts, where African American men were incarcerated at eight times the rate of non-Hispanic whites. 5 In 2010, the U.S. prison population declined for the first time since 1972, 6 but this trend has not significantly changed racial disparities in imprisonment. According to recent estimates, African American males are imprisoned at an overall rate of nearly seven times that of white males. 7
The high rate of incarceration among African American men is part of an overall trend in punishment defined by a dramatic increase in the "carceral system" 8 - a term used to characterize the legitimization and normalization of imprisonment as a factor of social life. 9 Yet the collateral consequences of increased incarceration are most significant for African ...
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