Friday, September 20, 2019

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Article Index

II. Mass Incarceration

One of the primary reasons that the minority family, particularly families headed by women, has been crushed by the market crisis is that since the 1970s, America has waged a campaign intent on imprisoning, in overwhelming numbers, African American and Latino men. Since 1980, the rate of incarcerated Americans has skyrocketed. The United States has increased its incarceration rate in the last thirty years by an incredible 335%. Since 1980, imprisonment for drug crimes alone has increased an astonishing 1,412%. The United States now imprisons more of its citizens than any other nation on Earth. Despite its relatively small population size when compared to other nations globally, Americans are imprisoned at rates that far exceed any other country. The United States has less than 5 percent of the world's population. But it has almost a quarter of the world's prisoners. The vast majority of prisoner increase in the U.S. has been that of African American and Latino male citizens. The United States imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid.

Professor Michelle Alexander author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, endeavors to address this unconscionable explosion in prison population by examining America's continuing subordination of its black and brown citizens. Alexander boldly traces the Southern Strategy of the Richard Nixon era to the racial coding of the Ronald Reagan and George Bush, Sr. era, through Bill Clinton's New Democrat era and concludes that these eras of divisive racial politics and tough on crime rhetoric led to a new era of subordination just as nefarious as slavery and Jim Crow. The War on Drugs allows racial subordination without explicitly naming race. Mass incarceration of African Americans and Latinos based almost entirely upon soft drug crimes allows the United States to deprive minority citizens--men in particular--of their constitutional rights, while appearing race neutral.

As a result, this War on Drugs has overwhelmed the black community. With prisons literally teeming with minority prisoners, some have argued that current U.S. incarceration is similar to the impact of slavery upon early American society, as the focused machinery of the war on drugs and its disparate impact on African-American prisoners fractures families [,] . . . destroys individual lives[,] and destabilizes whole communities. To wit, current drug policies and regulations have direct and devastating impacts on family structure and particularly impact women and children.

Clear collateral damage of the War on Drugs is the black family. With so many men of color serving out prison sentences for soft drug crimes, women and children in urban city centers are forced to work and live exclusive of their fathers, sons and partners. It is no wonder then, that when a housing market collapses, the brunt of the consequences falls hardest and heaviest on those mothers and children.

Not only will millions of people lose their home and family wealth but neighborhoods will be decimated and tens of millions of other homeowners will see their home values decline precipitously, says Julia Gordon, senior policy counsel at the Center for Responsible Lending. A disproportionate percentage of subprime loans are made in low-income neighborhoods. Black and Latino communities were especially hard-hit by the foreclosure crisis, which has wiped out the asset base in many neighborhoods across the country.

In fact, a study by United for a Fair Economy examining housing and racial bias found the subprime-lending mess has caused the greatest loss of wealth to Blacks and Latinos in modern U.S. history. During the past eight years, Black borrowers have lost between $72 billion and $93 billion from subprime loans, while Latino borrowers have lost between $76 billion and $98 billion during that same time period, according to the report.

This loss is exacerbated by the literal absence of scores of minority men in those urban communities most harshly hit by the financial crisis. Much has been written about the genuine loss suffered by families of color based on massive imprisonment in urban communities. The fallout from the financial market crisis of 2008 simply adds insult to injury: evaporation of minority wealth, disproportionate foreclosure based on predatory lending, and unemployment visited on those families that remain in our nation's city centers, while their husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons sit in prison.

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Vernellia R. Randall
Founder and Editor
Professor Emerita of Law
The University of Dayton School of Law

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