Moyers & Company

Incarceration Nation

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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 1970's 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. This week on Moyers & Company (check local listings), Bill Moyers speaks with civil rights lawyer and legal scholar Michelle Alexander. Her book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness had just been published last time she joined Bill in conversation, three and a half years ago. It's a work of scholarship that lays out how the war on drugs, harsh mandatory minimum sentencing and racism have converged to create a caste system in this country very much like the one under Jim Crow segregation laws. The book became a bestseller and spurred a wide conversation about justice and inequality in America - inspiring one reviewer to call it "the bible of a social movement." Michelle Alexander, an associate professor at Ohio State University and a civil rights lawyer, took a leave to travel the country, speaking, writing and campaigning to end our debilitating system of mass incarceration. Alexander tells Moyers, "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.'" This week's program also includes an excerpt from the film "Susan", by Tessa Blake and Emma Hewitt. It tells the story of former California inmate Susan Burton, who now runs five houses offering help to women struggling to rebuild their lives.

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