From the post-Civil War era to this very day, many of the individuals caught up in the U.S. criminal justice system are victimized by laws that criminalize people to facilitate labor exploitation or other economic gain. The convict leasing system in the South was developed to provide free labor to various industries, as well as help states to modernize their infrastructure, such as roads and railroad tracks. States received substantial income from the leasing of men, women, and children convicted of crimes; and laws were passed regularly to ensure a steady stream of people into southern state prison systems. Even those convicted of petty crimes such as stealing a pig were sentenced to lengthy prison terms in the era of Jim Crow. In the late twentieth century through today—the era of “mass incarceration”—it was the private prison corporations that lobbied for mandatory sentencing to ensure both the building and filling of such prisons. In 2019, for example, privatized prisons in the U.S. accounted for 15.7% of the entire federal prison population and 7.1% of all state prisoners. At the same time, social justice organizations and groups have formed to bring about fair sentencing for those who are guilty of crimes and to exonerate those who did not commit crimes. These activities have led to the release of many prisoners and the overturning of convictions, even for those facing the death penalty. Criminal justice reform efforts have led to the decrease in the total number of prisoners released through the overturning of convictions and reductions in sentencing. Social justice activism has also recently focused on the passage of decriminalization laws, changes in the sentencing of minors and of misdemeanor offenders, and the ability to vote by the formerly incarcerated. There is still much to be accomplished by social justice campaigns in the United States.
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- Blackmon, Douglass. Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II. New York: Doubleday, 2008.
- Brown-Marshall, Gloria. She Took Justice: The Black Woman, Law, and Power. New York, 2020.
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- Herivel, Tara and Paul Wright. Eds. Prison Nation: The Warehousing of America’s Poor. New York: Routledge, 2003.
- Natapoff, Alexandra. Punishment without Crime: How Our Massive Misdemeanor System Traps the Innocent and Makes America More Unequal. New York, 2018.
- Ogletree, Charles and Austin Sarat, eds. When Law Fails: Making Sense of Miscarriages of Justice. New York: New York University Press, 2009.
- Perkinson, Robert. Texas Tough: The Rise of America’s Prison Empire. New York: Picador, 2009.
- Purnell, Derecka. Becoming Abolitionists: Police, Protests, and the Pursuit of Freedom. United States: Astra Publishing House, 2021.
- Rothstein, Richard. The Color of Law: The Forgotten Story of How Our Government Segregated America. New York, 2018.
- Taylor, Keeanga-Yamahtta. Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership. United States: University of North Carolina Press, 2019.
- Washington, Harriet A. Medical Apartheid : The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present. United Kingdom: Doubleday, 2006.
- Wilkerson, Isabel. Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. United States: Random House, 2020.
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Links- Related Organizations and Projects
- The Brennan Center
“The Brennan Center for Justice is a nonpartisan law and policy institute.” https://www.brennancenter.org/
- The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. is America’s premier legal organization fighting for racial justice. https://www.naacpldf.org/
- Color of Change
“The nation’s largest online racial justice organization.” https://colorofchange.org/
- Political Research Associates
“Political Research Associates (PRA) has produced investigative research and analysis on the U.S. Right to support social justice advocates and defend human rights.” https://www.politicalresearch.org/