Starting in the mid-1970s, the United States stiffened its laws on drugs and violent crime and ratcheted up the police presence on city streets. The number of people in American jails and prisons has risen fivefold over the past 40 years. There are now roughly six million people under criminal-justice supervision. “In modern history,” Goffman writes, “only the forced labor camps of the former U.S.S.R. under Stalin approached these levels of penal confinement.”
“More African American men are in prison or jail, on probation or parole than were enslaved in 1850, before the Civil War began,” Alexander, an Ohio State law professor, recently told listeners at the Pasadena Branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.