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Following Michelle Alexander’s argument, I argue that the War on Drugs is not only a new form of Jim Crow era discrimination, but also responsible for systemic racism in our criminal justice system perpetrated through the institutionalization of a prison industrial complex.
“The legal battle against segregation is won, but the community battle goes on.” -Dorothy Day, 1956.
The stocks, pillory, whipping, branding and the ducking-stool were the normal methods used for imposing punishment.
For the lesser offenses fines were prescribed, with an alternate sentence of corporal punishment if the fine was not paid. Imprisonment was rarely employed as a method of punishment.
Black Codes and Jim Crow laws increased the severity of petty crimes, and acts such as loitering or jaywalking resulted in imprisonment.
A majority of newly freed African Americans found themselves in prison, and back on the plantations.
The Howard League for Penal Reform explains that in 1791 “Bentham designed the ‘panopticon’.
This prison design allowed a centrally placed observer to survey all the inmates, as prison wings radiated out from this central position.
Nearly all who were imprisoned for any considerable period of time were debtors, imprisonment for debt not having been abolished in New York State until the laws of April 7, 1819, and April 26, 1831, were passed, the latter in part as a result of the campaign against imprisonment for debt carried on by Louis Dwight of the Boston Prison Discipline Society (p. By the late 18 century imprisonment, with hard labor, was beginning to be seen as a suitable sanction for petty offenders (Howard League, p. Imprisonment gained legitimacy as a more civilized form of punishment, but it was mostly a form of labor camp.
Those found guilty of small crimes were assigned to hard labor during the day, and at night they were held in a detention ship with appalling living conditions.