Log out
My profile and settings
My bookmarks
Comment history
Please complete your account verification. Resend verification email.
today
This verification token has expired.
today
Your email address has been verified. Update my profile.
today
Your account has been deactivated. Sign in to re-activate your account.
today
View all newsletters in the newsletter archive
today
You are now unsubscribed from receiving emails.
today
Sorry, we were unable to unsubscribe you at this time.
today
0
0
Back to profile
Comment Items
You have not left any comments yet.
title
in reply to
name
description
Saved Posts
You haven’t bookmarked any posts yet.
“So how exactly do you talk to a 5-year-old about engineering?”
watch video
Become a Gates Notes Insider
Sign up
Log out
Personal Information
Title
Mr
Mrs
Ms
Miss
Mx
Dr
Cancel
Save
This email is already registered
Cancel
Save
Please verify email address. Click verification link sent to this email address or resend verification email.
Cancel
Save
Address
Cancel
Save
Email and Notification Settings
Send me updates from Bill Gates
You must provide an email
On
Off
Send me Gates Notes survey emails
On
Off
Send me the weekly Top of Mind newsletter
On
Off
Email me comment notifications
On
Off
On-screen comment notifications
On
Off
Interests
Select interests to personalize your profile and experience on Gates Notes.
Saving Lives
Energy Innovation
Improving Education
Alzheimer's
Philanthropy
Book Reviews
About Bill Gates
Account Deactivation
Click the link below to begin the account deactivation process.
If you would like to permanently delete your Gates Notes account and remove it’s content, please send us a request here.
Behind bars
An eye-opening look into America’s criminal justice system
The New Jim Crow will help you understand the history and the numbers behind mass incarceration.
|
0

My last holiday books list included a novel called An American Marriage which really stuck with me over the previous year. I was deeply touched by its story of a husband torn away from his wife by a false accusation that lands him in prison. The book did a beautiful job of showing how incarceration can devastate a family, even after release from prison.

As moving as the book was, the story was fiction. But the idea of a family torn apart by mass incarceration is not. If you’re interested in learning more about the real lives caught up in our country's justice system, I highly recommend The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. It offers an eye-opening look into how the criminal justice system unfairly targets communities of color—and especially Black communities.

The book was released more than 10 years ago, but this is a topic that has taken on extra relevance this year. The horrifying killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor set off a summer of protests that put Black Lives Matter front and center. Like many white people, I’ve committed to reading more about and deepening my understanding of systemic racism. Alexander’s book is about much more than the police—whom she describes as the “point of entry” into the justice system—but it provides useful context to understand how we got to where we are.

Alexander explains how mass incarceration is a cycle. Once you’ve been in prison, you can’t often get a job after you get out because having a felony on your record makes it hard to get hired. In some cases, the only way to make money and support your family is through illicit means—which can land you back in prison. The result of this cycle is a permanent underclass that is disproportionately Black and low-income. (Alexander also talks about this in Ava DuVernay’s excellent documentary 13th.)

The book is good at explaining the history and the numbers behind mass incarceration. I was familiar with some of the data, but Alexander really helps put the numbers—especially around sentencing and the War on Drugs—in context. The New Jim Crow was published a decade ago, so some of the figures are outdated. The incarceration rates have only gone down a tiny bit in the last ten years, though, and the general picture she paints is still highly relevant.

Alexander argues that the criminal justice system has been the primary driver of racial inequity in America since the end of the Jim Crow era (hence the book’s title). The U.S. is unique in putting so many people in jail for such long periods. We lock people up at five to ten times the rate of other industrialized countries according to the Sentencing Project, and prison spending has risen three times faster than education spending over the last three decades.

I was particularly shocked to read the stories Alexander uses to illustrate the extreme sentences that many judges are forced to hand down. Because of how sentencing laws are often structured, judges sometimes don’t have “judicial discretion”—the ability to make decisions based on their personal evaluation of the defendant. Their hands are tied, especially in drug cases. Alexander tells the story of one federal judge who broke down in tears when he was forced to sentence a man to “ten years in prison without parole for what appeared to be a minor mistake in judgment in having given a ride to a drug dealer for a meeting with an undercover agent.”

It’s clear that we need a more just approach to sentencing and more investment in Black communities and other communities of color. The good news is that support for change is growing. Although there has only been modest progress on this front since The New Jim Crow was published in 2010, a new bipartisan coalition has emerged in support of prison reform in that time. (I met with a bipartisan group to learn about the subject during a trip to Georgia in 2017.) And I am hopeful that this year’s protests for Black lives—which are now considered the largest movement in U.S. history—will go a long way toward building more public support for updating our justice system.

I hope Alexander plans on writing a follow-up to The New Jim Crow someday. The latest edition includes a new preface that touches on the Black Lives Matter movement, but it was published before the events of this summer. She’s so good at explaining the historical context behind the injustices that Black people experience every day, and I am eager to hear her thoughts on how this year might have moved us closer to a more equal society.

Read this next
NEXT
Comments
posting ...
Please verify your email in order to make comments. Click here to resend verification email
Sorry, duplicate comments are not allowed. 
Sorry, that HTML is not allowed. 
Sorry, something went wrong. 
In order to comment you must be a Gates Notes Insider. Please sign up or log in to continue. 
Be the first to leave a comment.
Comment Locked
Comments more than 2 months old are locked. For more information, contact us.
Report
Delete Comment?
Deleting this comment will remove replies to this comment by you and others as well. This action cannot be undone.
Delete Comment
Why do you want to report this comment?
It's annoying or not interesting
It's abusive and/or vulgar
It's spam
Report Comment
Your report has been submitted.
Close
Save
Cancel
Thanks for visiting the Gates Notes. We'd like your feedback.
Logout:


Become a Gates Notes Insider
Become a Gates Notes Insider
Join the Gates Notes community to get regular updates from Bill on key topics like global health and climate change, to access exclusive content, comment on stories, participate in giveaways, and more.
Already joined? Log in
Please send me updates from Breakthrough Energy on efforts to combat climate change.
On
Off
LOG IN
SIGN UP
Use your social account:
Or sign up with email:
Title
Mr
Mrs
Ms
Miss
Mx
Dr
This email is already registered. Enter a new email, try signing in or retrieve your password
Why are we collecting this information? Gates Notes may send a welcome note or other exclusive Insider mail from time to time. Additionally, some campaigns and content may only be available to users in certain areas. Gates Notes will never share and distribute your information with external parties.
Bill may send you a welcome note or other exclusive Insider mail from time to time. We will never share your information.
Sign up
We will never share or spam your email address. For more information see our Sign Up FAQ. By clicking "Sign Up" you agree to the Gates Notes Terms of Use / Privacy Policy.
Street address
City
postal_town
State Zip code
administrative_area_level_2
Country
Data
Gates Notes Insider Sign Up FAQ

Q. How do I create a Gates Notes account?

A. There are three ways you can create a Gates Notes account:

  • Sign up with Facebook. We’ll never post to your Facebook account without your permission.
  • Sign up with Twitter. We’ll never post to your Twitter account without your permission.
  • Sign up with your email. Enter your email address during sign up. We’ll email you a link for verification.

Q. Will you ever post to my Facebook or Twitter accounts without my permission?

A. No, never.

Q. How do I sign up to receive email communications from my Gates Notes account?

A. In Account Settings, click the toggle switch next to “Send me updates from Bill Gates.”

Q. How will you use the Interests I select in Account Settings?

A. We will use them to choose the Suggested Reads that appear on your profile page.

BACK
Forgot your password?
Enter the email you used to sign up and a reset password link will be sent to you.
This email is already registered. Enter a new email, try signing in or retrieve your password
Reset Password
Reset your password.
Set New Password
Your password has been reset. Please continue to the log in page.
Log in
Get emails from Bill Gates
Send me updates from Bill Gates
You must provide an email
On
Off
Email me comment notifications
On
Off
On-screen comment notifications
On
Off
This email is already registered
Finish
We will never share or spam your email address. For more information see our Sign up FAQ. By clicking "Continue" you agree to the Gates Notes Terms of Use / Privacy Policy.
You're in!
You're in!
Please check your email and click the link provided to verify your account.
Didn't get an email from us? Resend verification email
Upload a profile picture
Choose image to upload
Uploading...
Uh Oh!
The image you are trying to upload is either too big or is an unacceptable format. Please upload a .jpg or .png image that is under 25MB.
Ok
Title
Mr
Mrs
Ms
Miss
Mx
Dr
Cancel
Save
This email is already registered
Cancel
Save
Please verify email address. Click verification link sent to this email address or resend verification email.
Email and notification settings
Send me updates from Bill Gates
You must provide an email
On
Off
Email me comment notifications
On
Off
On-screen comment notifications
On
Off
Select your interests
Saving Lives
Energy Innovation
Improving Education
Alzheimer's
Philanthropy
Book Reviews
About Bill Gates
Finish
Confirm Account Deactivation
Are you sure you want to deactivate your account?
Deactivating your account will unsubscribe you from Gates Notes emails, and will remove your profile and account information from public view on the Gates Notes. Please allow for 24 hours for the deactivation to fully process. You can sign back in at any time to reactivate your account and restore its content.
Deactivate My Acccount
Go Back
Your Gates Notes account has been deactivated.
Come back anytime.
Welcome back
In order to unsubscribe you will need to sign-in to your Gates Notes Insider account
Once signed in just go to your Account Settings page and set your subscription options as desired.
Sign In
Request account deletion
We’re sorry to see you go. Your request may take a few days to process; we want to double check things before hitting the big red button. Requesting an account deletion will permanently remove all of your profile content. If you’ve changed your mind about deleting your account, you can always hit cancel and deactivate instead.
Submit
Cancel
Thank You! Your request has been sent