In her book, The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander addresses an epidemic of mass incarceration of African American men. During class, it seemed that majority felt that this way indeed a form of discrimination, and a way to keep African Americans from having political authority, more specifically the vote. However, I believe what is truly controversial about Alexander’s argument is her claim that instead of turning to law, the best way to address this issue to form a social movement. I believe that a social movement alone will not only fail to provide the necessary remedies to mass incarceration, but also will be incredibly difficult to create and sustain because of the nature of the issue of mass incarceration.
During my exploration of the requirements for a successful social movement, I came across this article about what works with regards to social movements.
The article goes over several ingredients for a social movement to be successful. The issue of mass incarceration met some of the requirements. Alexander is obviously and intelligent person that could lead such a movement and as a group I feel it would be easy to convince the victims of mass incarceration to agree that their rights are being restricted. However, as I looked critically at some of necessary pre-conditions that are conducive a successful social movement, I believe I found serious flaws. In fact, there were so many flaws that I will only be able to address a few of them in this blog post.
One of the most significant flaws I noticed was the lack of prosperity among the group. What do I mean by this? What I mean is that felons are one of the most marginalized groups in society. They cannot participate in the political process by voting, and they are often in economically precarious conditions as a result. This group would need massive support from the general public because they themselves cannot vote or provide the resources to fund the movement.
Another serious problem is the physical concentration of felons. Though felons are concentrated in prisons, they are both physically and mentally removed from the public to the extent that they wouldn’t even be able to effectively reach the public. Once felons are released from prison, they are then spread across the nation and often try to hide their status as a felon from others. Recidivism also put them back into the prison system, once again removing their contact with the public.
Above are just a two of the problems that a mass incarceration movement would have to overcome. In the past we have seen the ineffectiveness of social movements that fail to have the proper support and grievances. For example, take a moment to look at this article about why the 99% movement failed, despite massive support and huge media coverage.
A failed social movement often harms more than it helps. I just don’t think mass incarceration is an issue that will be solved with a social movement. Instead, I think that people who care about this issue really should reconsider using the law to their advantage.