“Today it is perfectly legal to discriminate against criminals in nearly all the ways that it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans” states Michelle Alexander, (the author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (2010) ), in an interview with a nonprofit, independent publisher of educational materials known as Rethinking Schools. A perfect example of Michelle Alexander’s statement is Sonya Jennings who is an African American mother, as well as a convicted drug felon.
She was sentenced to eight years probation after being arrested for possession of drugs, and since she is now labeled as a felon, illegal discrimination such as, denial of the right to vote, denial of public assistance, and employment discrimination have now become legal (Alexander). The Jim Crow system has been redesigned in America today, legalizing discrimination against people with criminal backgrounds (Alexander). Jim Crow was the practice of discriminating against African Americans, after slavery was in abolished between the 1870’s to the mid 1960’s in the Southern States.
This system was the belief that whites were superior to blacks so keeping public places segregated and placing restrictions upon blacks was legal to do. Denial of the right to vote was one form of discrimination that African Americans faced. “As a native-born or naturalized American citizen, you may think you are free to vote. Not so, however, if you are a Negro American and live in the South. ” This was written by author Stetson Kennedy in his book called Jim Crow Guide: The Way It Was (147).
Many African Americans that lived in the South were unable to vote, and even if they tried to, they had to pass literacy tests or even pay poll taxes. Also, places of employment were segregated as well; “White southerners refused to work under black supervisors and most white craftsmen strenuously opposed the hiring of African Americans in the skill trades” (Remembering 206). Kennedy states in his book that people of color were always “the last to get hired and the first to get fired” (Kennedy 113), so because of this it was extremely hard for African Americans to find employment or even keep a steady job due to discrimination they faced.
This form of discrimination made it hard for African Americans to make a living for themselves during this time and is similar to how criminals are treated in today’s society. The practice of the Jim Crow Laws back during the 1870’s to the mid 1960’s is similar to how criminals are discriminated against today. Throughout America, prison inmates in 48 states, paroles in 33 states, and probationers in 29 states are not allowed to vote (Karjick). This is about 4. 7 million Americans that are denied this right (Karjick).
One may argue that the poor choices that these 4. 7 million Americans have made make them untrustworthy to help make decisions for the country but labeling these people as criminals should not define them as a person or determine whether they have the right to take part in the government of their country (Karjick). Also, as a felon, when completing an application for employment, education, or public assistance such as food stamps or public housing, they must answer the question that is often asked, “Have you ever been convicted of a crime? Answering this question as a “yes” makes the chances of them getting a job or eligible for public assistance very slim. This leaves them living in severe poverty and the chances of these felony offenders returning to prison are high. Once a person is labeled as a felon, they must carry that title for the rest of their lives. Because of the discrimination that they face, they begin to cycle in and out of prison. Not being able to find employment or being denied housing sends most felony offenders right back to prison.
According to Howard Husock, vice president for policy research for The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, “About 700,000 inmates are released from state and federal prison each year. Of those released, about two-thirds re-offend within three years,” (Tahmincioglu). Felony offenders are often sent back to prison because of the lack of employment opportunities and the severe poverty that they are forced to live in. At times some felons are sent back because since they cannot find employment, they are unable to pay back court fines or sometimes some go back for not finding a job on time and it becomes a probation violation (Return).
Cycling in and out of prison keeps mass incarceration at a high rate and these circumstances not only affect the criminals but their loved ones as well. The way America has redesigned the Jim Crow system today has a negative impact on the children with parents who have criminal backgrounds. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, a study done on parents in prison showed that the year of 2007 there was 1,518,535 prisoners nationwide and about 809,800 of these prisoners were parents of children under the age of 18 (Glaze).
Once these parents are released, they are forced to live in a second-class status permanently and this can have a great deal of effect on the children’s futures. Since the children’s parents are being denied access to public housing, food stamps and employment opportunities, these children are forced to be raised in severe poverty. A theory that has been done by a researcher, who has been funded by the National Institutes of health, claims that the stresses of poverty can lead to impaired learning abilities in children (Stresses).
The stress that is triggered by poverty is dangerous and can really affect our children’s future. The New Jim Crow system that has been redesigned in America leaves a lot of people with criminal backgrounds jobless and stuck in a second-class status. Discriminating against the criminals is morally wrong and it not only affects them but others such as their loved ones as well. “All men are created equal” is a famous phrase from The Declaration of Independence that America would like to believe, but it is clear that today’s society is unequal just based on how criminals are treated.