Michelle Alexander, a civil rights lawyer who gained national renown after publishing the book “The New Jim Crow,” spoke to students and faculty at the Yale Divinity School Monday afternoon about the phenomenon of mass incarceration in the United States, which she described as a legalized form of racial discrimination. Because African-Americans make up a large percentage of America’s prison population, Alexander said millions of African-Americans nationwide are deprived of basic human rights to housing and employment, adding that the prisoners have fallen victim to the kind of racial discrimination that existed at the time of Jim Crow.
“We have not ended racial caste in America, we have merely redesigned it,” she said. “This is a system that has literally turned back the clock on racial progress in the U.S.”
Alexander said a series of American government campaigns to curb the illegal drug trade, commonly referred to as the war on drugs, is causing an unprecedented number of incarcerations, especially of people of color. More than 45 million people have been “swept into the system” for drug offenses, Alexander said, adding that the number of people currently incarcerated for drug offenses surpasses the number of people incarcerated for any one reason in 1980.