Previously published on BillMoyers.com
There are more African Americans under correctional control today -- in prison or jail, on probation or parole -- than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began. According to The Sentencing Project, an advocacy group dedicated to changing how we think about crime and punishment, "More than 60 percent of the people in prison are now racial and ethnic minorities. For Black males in their thirties, one in every ten is in prison or jail on any given day."
Because of the 40-year war on drugs and get tough sentencing policies, the American prison population has exploded from about 300,000 in the 1970s to more than 2 million today. The United States has a higher rate of incarceration than any other nation and spends billions every year to keep people behind bars. The cost on democracy is immeasurable.
On this week's Moyers & Company, civil rights lawyer and legal scholar Michelle Alexander tells us,
"If we are going to build a movement to end not only mass incarceration but to achieve much greater social equity for all, it's going have to be a movement that begins in our churches, in our faith communities, in our neighborhoods, in our schools. One where people really wake up and say, 'We are going to build a kind of democracy that we deserve.'"
Her book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness had just been published last time she joined us in conversation, three and a half years ago. The book helped to ignite a national conversation about justice in America and sparked a movement.
Since then, Alexander has traveled the country to meet advocates and everyday Americans working to end mass incarceration in America -- home to 25 percent of the world's prisoners, despite representing only five percent of the world's population.
She has seen a grassroots movement brewing in communities across the country, "There are enormous victories that are being achieved precisely because the people whom we have written off and viewed as disposable are reclaiming their voice, standing up, speaking out, organizing even as they struggle to survive."
This week's program also includes an excerpt from the film Susan, by Tessa Blake and Emma Hewitt about the life of Susan Burton, a former California inmate who started A New Way of Life, an organization devoted to helping formerly-incarcerated women rebuild their lives.
Moyers & Company airs weekly on public television. Explore more at BillMoyers.com.