More Black Men in Prison Than Were Enslaved II

Prison Based GerrymanderingPrison Based Gerrymandering Vote

Recently we ran a piece written by Dick Price entitled, “More Black Men Now in Prison System Than Were Enslaved“. Tens of thousands read it. Many left comments. The popularity of his article and the comments posted lead to this follow-up.

The article Dick wrote was a recap of a talk given by Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow (see image to the left). Alexander, a civil rights attorney turned scholar, recently made an appearance in Southern California. She delivered an information packed presentation at the Pasadena Library, to a standing-room-only crowd.

Dick wrote a review of her talk. In this article I focus on a specific topic addressed in her book — what is driving the growth in the prison population and prison-based gerrymandering.

Like the military-industrial complex, the prison-industrial complex has had far-reaching negative consequences many of which remain unaddressed or ignored by the larger society. At the same time, this system is also benefitting certain sectors of the population. This article touches on both of these issues.

Prison-Based Gerrymandering

The practice of gerrymandering is one of the costs to our democracy. This practice renders a small minority of Americans with more voting power than others.  But the mass incarceration phenomenon is also costing the U.S. taxpayer more than $60 billion per year for federal, state and local prison systems (source The Sentencing Project).

Speaking of the unprecedented growth of the prison population in a recent ABC News article, Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project had this to say:

“The unrivaled growth of the United States’ incarcerated population over 30 years casts a great burden on this nation. The country’s $60 billion prison budget results in less money for education, health care and child services. Communities need the resources to prevent crime by investing in youth and families.”

Many of the people who read Dick’s article questioned whether the natural growth in the U.S. population could explain the growth of the prison population. The Justice Department released a report that makes it clear that the rate of  growth in the prison population far exceeds the rate of growth in the U.S. population. You can also read a quick article on this reported by ABC News.

Legal scholar and author Michelle Alexander spent years researching this unprecedented growth. She did not come to this research with preconceived notions. In fact, she makes it clear that before she embarked upon this investigation, she was of the mindset that radical activists were making more of this “prison-industrial complex” than they should. Then she got a fellowship that allowed her the free time needed to delve into the numbers. She slowly but surely drew new conclusions.

The reason her “awakening” is one of the most poignant aspects of this story is because it magnifies the depth and breath of the blindness that she talks about in her book. Michelle Alexander is a black woman. She was a civil rights attorney. She worked for the ACLU and even she was blind to the magnitude of this problem and its racial component until she took a look at the numbers.

It should not be surprising that the vast majority of Americans who have not taken a look at the numbers are clueless about the toll this is taking on all of us.

Matt Pillischer is producing a documentary entitled,”Broken on All Sides”, that takes a hard look at what is driving this unprecedented growth in our prisons.

While it seems almost impossible to get any traction on this issue, lack of knowledge continues to be a contributing factor that helps to support the phenomenal prison growth especially as it relates to black and now brown male inmates. Some think that black and browns are growing demographics in the prison population because they commit more crime. This assertion has been debunked. Evidence suggests that the war on drugs has a very specific demographic that is targeted.

ABC News ran a report in response to the Justice Department’s announcement that the United States had 2.3 million inmates in custody. Speaking of the Justice Department report, ABC News said:

The report provides a breakdown, noting “of the 2.3 million inmates in custody, 2.1 million were men and 208,300 were women. Black males represented the largest percentage (35.4 percent) of inmates held in custody, followed by white males (32.9 percent) and Hispanic males (17.9 percent).”

The United States leads the industrialized world in incarceration. In fact, the U.S. rate of incarceration (762 per 100,000) is five to eight times that of other highly developed countries, according to The Sentencing Project, a criminal justice think tank.

Some of the key factors for the record imprisonment rate include:

Race: Black males continue to be incarcerated at an extraordinary rate. Black males make up 35.4 percent of the jail and prison population — even though they make up less than 10 percent of the overall U.S population. Four percent of U.S. black males were in jail or prison last year, compared to 1.7 percent of Hispanic males and .7 percent of white males. In other words, black males were locked up at almost six times the rate of their white counterparts.

Immigration: Is it an emerging crime trend or is this the result of more local police and federal targeting of illegal immigrants? Non-U.S. citizens accounted for nearly 8 percent of the jail population at midyear 2007, the new Justice Department report noted. “From mid-year 2000 through midyear 2007, Hispanic men (120,000) represented the largest increase to the custody population,” it said.

In an essay published two years ago in Time magazine, the writers of The Wire made the argument that they believe the war on drugs has devolved into a war on the underclass, that in places like West and East Baltimore, where the drug economy is now the only factory still hiring and where the educational system is so crippled that the vast majority of children are trained only for the corners, a legal campaign to imprison our most vulnerable and damaged citizens is little more than amoral.

The Sentencing Project has reported that more than 60% of the people in prison are now racial and ethnic minorities. For Black males in their twenties, 1 in every 8 is in prison or jail on any given day. These trends have been intensified by the disproportionate impact of the “war on drugs,” in which three-fourths of all persons in prison for drug offenses are people of color. And now, with prison populations bursting at the seams, there is a movement underway to shift to privatization. I’ll be writing more on this in future articles. But please move on to the next page of this article to find out more about the collateral consequences of our current sentencing policies and how it impacts all Americans.

Modern Day 3/5ths Compromise

Last week in her talk, Michelle Alexander addressed most of the salient points covered in her award-winning book with one exception; she didn’t talk much about the impact of mass incarceration on the census, particularly with regard to redistricting. Because I knew this topic was covered in the book , I asked Ms. Alexander to give the audience her condensed version of what has come to be known as prison-based gerrymandering during the Q&A.

Audible gasps could be heard from the audience as  Alexander explained census residence rules which require that people who are incarcerated be counted at their places of incarceration on Census Day. . .cont’d on page 2 Audible gasps could be heard from the audience as  Alexander explained census residence rules which require that people who are incarcerated be counted at their places of incarceration on Census Day as opposed to their home addresses while, at the same time, almost without exception these people do not have the right to vote.  Alexander went on to say that most prisons are constructed in rural areas yet most people who are incarcerated come from urban areas. The shift in population from urban to rural increases the political clout of rural communities while decreasing the political clout of urban communities.

In addressing the census residence rule and specifically prison-based gerrymandering,  the NAACP Legal Defense fund reports:

This residence rule skews the balance of political power by inflating the population counts of communities where prisons are located by including the non-voting prison populations in these districts during the redistricting process.

Over the last several decades, the percentage of Americans incarcerated in prisons has increased four-fold. Incarcerated persons are often held in areas that are geographically and demographically far removed from their home communities. For instance, although non-metropolitan counties contain only 20% of the national population, they host 60% of new prisons.

In addition, because Latinos and African Americans are incarcerated at three to seven times the rate of Whites, where incarcerated people are counted has tremendous implications for how African-American and Latino populations are reflected in the census, and, consequently, how these communities are impacted through redistricting.

Recently, three states enacted legislation that would adjust for prison populations such that their numbers wouldn’t artificially inflate the population numbers of the district where the prison is located. Legislators in Maryland, New York and Delaware had the foresight to prepare for the 2010 census by addressing this in various forms of legislation. But the rest of the nation still operates under a policy that disproportionately disadvantages black and brown communities and gives unearned advantage and power to small, rural, mostly white communities.

The Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) documents the impact of mass incarceration on individuals, communities, and the national welfare. They produce research and make it available to empower the public to participate in creating better criminal justice policy. Their main focus is on ending prison-based gerrymandering. According to PPI , the 2010 census counted 2 million people in the wrong place.  They give specific examples of how and where this happened, for example, PPI sites the following:

In 2002, the New York State Senate deliberately underpopulated districts in the upstate region while overpopulating districts in the downstate region. This problem ran parallel to the fact that the Census Bureau credited downstate residents to upstate census counts, and together served to dilute minority voting rights. For example, one of those upstate districts was the 59th Senate District, drawn to contain 294,256 people instead of the 306,072 that each district should have contained. Using Census data, the state reported that the district contained 6,273 African Americans, but three quarters of this population was incarcerated residents of other parts of the state. The legislature used the prison population to disguise the fact that the district had the smallest African-American population of any senate district in the state and they deliberately underpopulated that district to give it extra influence.

I urge the readers of this article to explore the suggestions made by the PPI. They can be found here. Another recommendation is to read any of the books shown below. Click any of the books and you can purchase them here.  Education on this issue is essential if we intend to dismantle this unjust system. It’s also important to support politicians who support dismantling this web of oppression.

The Sentencing Project

The Prison Policy Initiative

Sharon Kyle


  1. Bishop Omega says

    This Document is Exhibit 10 of U.S. Supreme Court Case No.00-9587


    MARCH 17, 1978

    Presidential Review Memorandum NSCM/46
    TO: The Secretary of State
    The Secretary of Defense
    The Director of Central Intelligence

    SUBJECT: Black Africa and the U.S. Black Movement

    The President has directed that a comprehensive review be made of current developments in Black Africa from the point of view of their possible impacts on the black movement in the United States. The review should consider:

    1. Long-term tendencies of social and political developments and the degree to which they are consistent with or contradict the U.S. interests.

    2. Proposals for durable contacts between radical African leaders and leftist leaders of the U.S. black community.

    3. Appropriate steps to be taken inside and outside the country in order to inhibit any pressure by radical African leaders and organizations on the U.S. black community for the latter to exert influence on the policy of the Administration toward Africa.

    The President has directed that the NSC Interdepartmental Group for Africa perform this review. The review should be forwarded to the NSC Political Analysis Committee by April 20.


    Zbigniew Brezinski

    cc: The Secretary of the Treasury
    The Secretary of Commerce
    The Attorney General
    The Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff



    Objective of our policy toward Black Africa is to prevent social upheavals which could radically change the political situation throughout the area. The success or failure of our policy in the region depends on the solution international
    and internal issues whose importance of the United States is on the increase.


    A multiplicity of interests influences the U.S. attitude toward black Africa. The most important of these interests can be summarized as follows:

    If black African states assume attitudes hostile to the U.S. national interest, our policy toward the white regimes; which is a key element in our relations with the black states, may be subjected by the latter to great pressure for fundamental change. Thus the West may face a real danger of being deprived of access to the enormous raw material resources of southern Africa which are vital for our defense needs as well as losing control over the Cape sea routes by which approximately 65% of Middle Eastern oil is supplied to Western Europe.

    Moreover, such a development may bring about internal political difficulties by intensifying the activity of the black movement in the United States itself.

    It should also be borne in mind that black Africa is an integral part of a continent where tribal and regional discord, economic backwardness, inadequate infrastructures, drought, and famine, are constant features of the scene. In conjunction with the artificial borders imposed by the former colonial powers, guerilla warfare in Rhodesia and widespread indignation against apartheid in South Africa, the above factors provide the communist states with ample opportunities for furthering their aims. This must necessarily redound to the detriment of U.S. political interests.

    Black Africa is increasingly becoming an outlet for U.S. exports and investment. The mineral resources of the area continue to be of great value for the normal functioning of industry in the United States and allied countries. In 1977, U.S. direct investment in black Africa totaled about $1.8 billion and exports $2.2 billion. New prospect of substantial profits would continue to develop in the countries concerned.


    Apart from the above-mentioned factors adverse to U.S. strategic interests, the nationalist liberation movement in black Africa can act as a catalyst with far reaching effects on the American black community by stimulating its organizational consolidation and by inducing radical actions. Such a result would be likely as Zaire went the way of Angola and Mozambique.

    An occurrence of the events of 1967-68 would do grievous harm to U.S. prestige, especially in view of the concern of the present Administration with human rights issues. Moreover, the Administration would have to take specific steps to stabilize the situation. Such steps might be misunderstood both inside and outside the United States.

    In order to prevent such a trend and protect U.S. national security interests, it would appear essential to elaborate and carry out effective countermeasures.

    1. Possibility of Joint Action By U.S. Black and African Nationalist Movement.

    In elaborating U.S. policy toward black Africa, due weight must be given to the fact that there are 25 millions American blacks whose roots are African and who consciously or subconsciously sympathies with African nationalism.

    The living conditions of the black population should also be taken into account. Immense advances in the field are accompanied by a long-lasting high rate of unemployment, especially among the youth and by poverty and dissatisfaction with government social welfare standards.

    These factors taken together may provide a basis for joint actions of a concrete nature by the African nationalist movement and the U.S. black community. Basically, actions would take the form of demonstrations and public protests, but the likelihood of violence cannot be excluded. There would also be attempts to coordinate their political activity both locally and in international organizations.

    Inside the United States these actions could include protest demonstrations against our policy toward South Africa accompanied by demand for boycotting corporations and banks which maintain links with that country; attempts to establish a permanent black lobby in Congress including activist leftist radical groups and black legislators; the reemergence of Pan-African ideals; resumption of protest marches recalling the days of Martin Luther King; renewal of the extremist idea national idea of establishing an “African Republic” on American soil. Finally, leftist radical elements of the black community could resume extremist actions in the style of the defunct Black Panther Party.

    Internationally, damage could be done to the United States by coordinated activity of African states designed to condemn U.S. policy toward South Africa, and initiate discussions on the U.S. racial issue at the United Nations where the African representation constitutes a powerful bloc with about one third of all the votes.

    A menace to U.S. economic interests, though not a critical one, could be posed by a boycott by Black African states against American companies which maintain contact with South Africa and Rhodesia. If the idea of economic assistance to black Americans shared by some African regimes could be realized by their placing orders in the United States mainly with companies owned by blacks, they could gain a limited influence on the U.S. black community.

    In the above context, we must envisage the possibility, however remote, that black Americans interested in African affairs may refocus their attention on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Taking into account; the African descent of American blacks it is reasonable to anticipate that their sympathies would lie with the Arabs who are closer to them in spirit and in some case related to them by blood. Black involvement in lobbying to support the Arabs may lead to serious dissention between American black and Jews. The likelihood of extremist actions by either side is negligible, but the discord may bring about tension in the internal political climate of the United States.

    3. Political options

    In the context of long-term strategy, the United States can not afford a radical change in the fundamentals of its African policy, which is designed for maximum protection of national security. In the present case, emphasis is laid on the importance of Black Africa for U.S. political, economic and military interests.


    In weighing the range of U.S. interests in Black Africa, basic recommendations arranged without intent to imply priority are:

    1. Specific steps should be taken with the help of appropriate government agencies to inhibit coordinated activity of the Black Movement in the United States.

    2. Special clandestine operations should be launched by the CIA to generate mistrust and hostility in American and world opinion against joint activity of the two forces, and to cause division among Black African radical national groups and their leaders.

    3. U.S. embassies to Black African countries specially interested in southern Africa must be highly circumspect in view of the activity of certain political circles and influential individuals opposing the objectives and methods of U.S. policy toward South Africa. It must be kept in mind that the failure of U.S. strategy in South Africa would adversely affect American standing throughout the world. In addition, this would mean a significant diminution of U.S. influence in Africa and the emergence of new difficulties in our internal situation due to worsening economic prospects.

    4. The FBI should mount surveillance operations against Black African representatives and collect sensitive information on those, especially at the U.N., who oppose U.S. policy toward South Africa. The information should include facts on their links with the leaders of the Black movement in the United States, thus making possible at least partial neutralization of the adverse effects of their activity.


    In connection with our African policy, it is highly important to evaluate correctly the present state of the Black movement in the Untied States and basing ourselves on all available information, to try to devise a course for its future development. Such an approach is strongly suggested by our perception of the fact that American Blacks form a single ethnic group potentially capable of causing extreme instability in our strategy toward South Africa. This may lead to critical differences between the United States and Black Africa in particular. It would also encourage the Soviet Union to step up its interference in the region. Finally, it would pose a serious threat to the delicate structure of race relations within the United States. All the above considerations give rise to concern for the future security of
    the United States.

    Since the mid-1960s, when legislation on the human rights was passed and Martin Luther King murdered, federal and local measures to improve black welfare have been taken, as a result of which the U.S. black movement has undergone considerable changes.

    The principle changes are as follows:

    *Social and economic issues have supplanted political aims as the main preoccupations of the movement. and actions formerly planned on a nationwide scale are now being organized locally.

    *Fragmentation and a lack of organizational unity within the movement.

    *Sharp social stratification of the Black population and lack of policy options which could reunite them.

    *Want of a national leader of standing comparable to Martin Luther King.


    The concern for the future security of the United States makes necessary the range of policy options. Arranged without intent imply priority they are:

    (a) to enlarge programs, within the framework of the present budget, for the improvement of the social and economic welfare of American Blacks in order to ensure continuing development of present trends in the Black movement;

    (b) to elaborate and bring into effect a special program designed to perpetuate division in the Black movement and neutralize the most active groups of leftist radical organizations representing different social strata of the Black community: to encourage division in Black circles;

    (c) to preserve the present climate which inhibits the emergence from within the Black leadership of a person capable of exerting nationwide appeal;

    (d) to work out and realize preventive operations in order to impede durable ties between U.S Black organizations and radical groups in African states;

    (e) to support actions designed to sharpen social stratification in the Black community which would lead to the widening and perpetuation of the gap between successful educated Blacks and the poor, giving rise to growing antagonism between different Black groups and a weakening of the movement as a whole.

    (f) to facilitate the greatest possible expansion of Black business by granting government contracts and loans with favorable terms to Black businessmen;

    (g) to take every possible means through the AFL-CIO leaders to counteract the increasing influence of Black labor organizations which function in all major unions and in particular, the National Coalition of Black Trade Union and its leadership including the creation of real preference for adverse and hostile reaction among White trade unionists to demands for improvement of social and economic welfare of the Blacks;

    (h) to support the nomination at federal and local levels of loyal Black public figures to elective offices, to government agencies and the Court.

    This would promote the achievement of a twofold purpose:

    first, it would be easier to control the activity of loyal black representatives within existing institution;

    second, the idea of an independent black political party now under discussion within black leadership circles would soon lose all support.

  2. Chante says

    Hi Mrs. Kyle,

    I loved your article following up on your husband’s report of Mrs. Alexander’s book. It was extremely informative.

    I noticed in the concluding paragraph that you were going to list some books for further education and reading on this issue, but I could not seem to locate a list of books. Could you please post or re-post the recommended reading?



  3. Eric says

    I agree that the number of black men in prison is a crisis. We must also stop committing all
    these crimes. The majority of these prisoners are guilty. As longer we embrace a culture
    that propagates ignorance, unwed mothers, overspending, dropping out of school
    and being ok with poverty we will continue to see this.

    We have to stop with this victim mentality and tell the truth. The law abiding working blacks
    have to separate ourselves from the blacks that hold us back. We can help the ones
    that want to be helped. But its time to stop making excuses.

    When my dad was growing up in the segregated south he had to worry about
    the klan. Now I worry about other black males.

    • Carthell Granison says

      I agree that all the Black males are not innocent but lets not be so niave that we believe social injustice does not add up to crime. Also look at the educational system in most places its a joke and our children are being dumbed down. We can be the biggest hippocrates of all it wasn’t an issue when our teenage girls were getting married and pregnant back in the years. When moms and dads would allow their little girls to marry extremely early. Our kids are dropping out because they see no hopes and all dads are dead beats many are broken from not being able to be men. Lets not pretend that this system of injustice and prejudice has not left psychological affects that have transcended through generations. These are the effects of 400 years of oppression and being behind you don’t catch up overnight. All the law abiding Blacks want to do is live their lives and talk about how they made it, well if you are not doing anything to help your people. Then you are no different than the people who inflict these atrocities. Moving north and trying to live in their housing areas they don’t want you there in the first place. I will never be afraid of my people and each everyday I am in the trenches attempting to educate and rescue misguided individuals. Maybe you should do the same rather than take the same stance they do. Political power and racist policies are the blame as well as some just won’t do right but that is in all races. Fact to be known whites and blacks commit just about the same amount of crime though ours can be more violent and theirs more predatory (child pornography and rape). We are just the smaller percentage of people.

  4. catherine Whitehead says

    My sons are bth in prison, no evidence. The judge decided it did nt matter that the supposed victim purjued her self in one son’s trial. My son had never been in prison or jail. He received 26 years. 34 years old. The judge claimed he had served time. Too much power in his hands. As he said HIS court.My son has been locked up now for almost 3 years. The other one was coming out of a bar in WI, they said he did a home invasion, drunk he was supposed to have out ran the police, ran two blocks down the street stored belongs into another white couples yard., none of the finger prints was his, nor was any doors brken or windows. The D.A claims that he “must have had on gloves and the garbage man must have come and took them, they didn’t look for the garbage truck r ask questions. My son received 20/20 years. 17 years if he’s to be paroled.
    The DA had told him he was going to get him and so he did. My son has been locked up now for 11 years. He had a record. I wonder sometimes are these black haters going to go to hell for all they are diong and have done. I pray all parent will take out the time and read ms. Alexander book. I can’t afford to publish mines or my sons, but the word is getting out there any way.

    It’s ashame

  5. says

    Thanks Sharon and Dick for these insightful articles following up on Michelle’s book and talk. I too have become deeply disturbed by what is happening in our American criminal justice” system as I spent the last several years researching and writing the book Grace Goes to Prison: An Inspiring Story of Hope and Humanity.

    After my book was published, I spent 2 1/2 months on a cross-country speaking tour to try to raise awareness about these issues in churches, civic groups, colleges & universities – basically anywhere that people were willing to listen. But, as with Michelle’s recent talk that you mentioned in your article, I too found that I was often “preaching to the choir”.

    I’ve become convinced that until there is a critical mass of voters and taxpayers asking our legislators to be brave enough to make changes in the law, little will change. It has become political career suicide for our legislators to do anything that may be perceived as “soft on crime” – so instead, we become increasingly “stupid on crime.” I was so encouraged by what Senator Jim Webb was trying to do at the national policy level . . . he was a bold and brave voice for change . . . but sadly Webb has apparently decided not to run for office again in 2012.

    Well, I could go on forever (as could so many of us who have a passion for this topic). Again, thank you so very much for these excellent and thought-provoking articles. I pray they’ll reach additional readers and will open eyes, hearts and minds to the issues.

    Blessings to you!

    Melanie G. Snyder, author, Grace Goes to Prison

    • Victor Pate says

      It’s good to see and hear people who are not afraid to reveal this “criminal injustice” system for what it is.
      as a former victim of the prison industrial complex i know all too well the reality of what is being revealed
      in the many books on this subject. I remain a soldier and advocate against the unjust and racial-biased
      system. To all the soldiers, “forward ever, backward never”!

  6. Don Duitz says

    I was on my way to dinner just before I read about what is going on regarding our prisons, laws and citizens. Thank you for bringing back that old nausea that occurs when I am reminded how our country is so perverse and getting worse.

  7. Lauren Steiner says

    Thanks for alerting me to this phenomenon of prison gerrymandering. I heard Michelle Alexander talk about her book at the Hammer last year. But she didn’t mention this fact. I’m glad that you were able to address it. It really is insidious.

  8. says

    I wanted to thank the LA Progressive for taking this topic on and providing points of entry for people to learn a bit about this subject and possibly pick up Michelle Alexander’s important book.

    I also wanted to make it known that I am finishing a documentary on this subject that I can make available for people for free, in order to education local communities about this issue. It starts with looking at local jail overcrowding here in Philadelphia, but is an exploration of mass incarceration across the nation, its causes, and possible solutions.

    The movie centers around Alexander’s thesis from The New Jim Crow, and features interviews with Michelle Alexander and others involved in the criminal justice system, from formerly incarcerated people to a judge to a former prison guard. You can see a preview and get more info here: I can also be reached through the website.

    Thanks, Matt


  1. […] Alexander, who drew her early inspiration from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., devotes the last part of “The New Jim Crow” to steps people can take to combat this gross injustice. In particular, she recommended supporting the Drug Policy Alliance. At the book signing afterwards, Dr. Anthony Samad recruited Michelle Alexander to appear this fall at one his Urban Issues Forums, typically held at the California African American Museum next to USC. CLICK HERE FOR PART TWO […]

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