Faculty Publications: Critique of the New Jim Crow

April 17, 2012

In a recent NYU Law Review article, Professor James Forman examines the claim that mass incarceration policies constitute a new form of Jim Crow. He finds that although the New Jim Crow analogy sheds light on the often-hidden injustices of criminal justice policies, the analogy oversimplifies the origins of mass incarceration and limits the effectiveness of efforts to challenge it.    

Prof. Forman agrees with proponents of the New Jim Crow that mass incarceration policies present a profound social crisis. Low income and undereducated African Americans are incarcerated at unprecedented levels. Race-neutral criminal justice policies unfairly target black communities and permanently diminish the opportunities of convicted offenders. (See Part II of the article).

However, Prof. Forman questions the usefulness of the analogy which, he argues, leads to a distorted view of mass incarceration by: failing to consider black attitudes toward crime and punishment; focusing on the War on Drugs and neglecting violent crime; and drawing attention away from the harms that mass incarceration has on the most disadvantaged groups. He also warns that in seeking to find parallels between the Old Jim Crow and mass incarceration, scholars risk overlooking other terrible aspects of the Old Jim Crow. Finding common ground with the New Jim Crow writers, Forman concludes his piece with a few suggestions for opponents of mass incarceration to scale back the prison population and reduce its damaging effects.  

Further Reading:

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (2010). 

Franklin E. Zimring, The City that Became Safe: New York's Lessons for Urban Crime and Its Control (2012).

Yale Law School Legal Scholarship Repository collection of Prof. Forman's work

Published In: