The New Jim Crow: Michelle Alexander on the Criminalization of Race in America

May 25, 2011

Earlier this May in New York, activists working to end mass incarceration in the United States organized "The New Jim Crow," a conference inspired by the work of legal scholar Michelle Alexander. In this clip from the conference, Alexander argues that racism has been given cover to operate within the supposedly colorblind criminal legal system. Through the disproportionate enforcement of loitering and drug laws in communities of color, the prison population has exploded. As a result, mass incarceration has systematically established a disenfranchised caste of young and low-income people of color, dividing families, entrenching stigma against formerly incarcerated people, and moving resources to the prison system and out of communities already experiencing profound divestment.

Posted in: Criminalization

Why Are So Many Black Women Being Forced to Register as Sex Offenders?

February 17, 2011

According to the Center for Constitutional Rights, in Louisiana's Orleans Parish "seventy-five percent of the people registered as sex offenders for solicitation of a crime against nature (SCAN) conviction are women, and 80 percent of them are African American." What's SCAN, and why is it putting so many Black women on the sex offender registry? Louisiana's SCAN statute increases existing penalties on soliciting oral or anal sex in exchange for money, and classifies them as a serious sex crime. As a result, a SCAN conviction forces women to register as sex offenders, putting those women at risk for the loss of their jobs, children, and homes, as well as other forms of harassment and violence. Additionally, the people most likely to be charged under the SCAN statute are women engaged in survival sex and street economies -- low income women, women of color, and transgender women. Women With A Vision, the New Orleans based advocates for women's reproductive and sexual health and justice and a recent Third Wave grant partner, have been working to educate the public about the effects of SCAN on their communities:

"Since our founding in 1991, Women With A Vision has been standing with the women of New Orleans no questions asked. We’ve been let into worlds that few others see, and trusted with stories that traditional public health workers rarely, if ever, hear. But little could have prepared us for that day when ‘J’ arrived at one of our Our Space events. Barely saying hello, she pulled out her photo I.D. card, which read ‘SEX OFFENDER’ in block red letters. She is only 23 years old, and one month clean from a heroin addiction; the ‘sex offender’ label will remain on her ID until she turns 48." - Women With A Vision, "No Justice"
This week, supported by Women With A Vision and their "No Justice" campaign, the Center for Constitutional Rights has filed a Federal civil rights suit challenging the constitutionality of the SCAN statute. Women With A Vision's executive director, Deon Haywood, said in support of this suit:
“I work with the people directly affected by this statute every day: the toll it takes is devastating. Many of these women are survivors of rape and domestic violence themselves, many have struggled with addiction and poverty, yet they are being treated as predators.What this law does is completely disconnect them from our community and from what remains of a social safety net, making it impossible for them to recognize and develop their goals and dreams.”
We'll be following the developments in this case closely and letting you know ways you can support Women With A Vision to protect the rights and freedom of low-income women, women of color, and transgender women. Their policy brief "Just A Talking Crime" was released this week.

Posted in: Blog, Criminalization, Women With a Vision