Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, which recently reached the eighth anniversary of its original publication date in 2010, was banned from New Jersey state prisons by its Department of Corrections even though by their own admission the book was being used in prison curriculum. In a letter to the Department of Corrections, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lambasted New Jersey’s more than 12:1 Black/white prisoner ratio as one reason among many that the state’s Department of Corrections was seeking to keep those who were incarcerated in the dark.

Alexander’s book focuses on the political and social ramifications faced by those who are locked away in America’s prisons, which the book argues are similar to those faced by Black people in the Jim Crow South.

As the letter reads:

As the ACLU-NJ and others have extensively documented, these ratios and percentages play out in terms of human lives. The gross racial disparities in New Jersey’s prison system are reflected in, and directly impact, the lived experiences of communities of color – from targeting by police in day-to-day activities to rates of arrest and prosecution, through each stage of the criminal justice system. The disparities also play out in the form of collateral consequences, which block tens of thousands of New Jerseyans from accessing the voting booth, jury service, public
benefits, housing and employment opportunities, and literally thousands of other rights and benefits. These consequences disproportionately burden family members and communities of color, who have already borne the challenges of separation from loved ones and the emotional and financial costs of incarceration.

The New Jim Crow addresses each of these issues, beginning with the origin of the so-called War on Drugs as a “system of racialized social control.” Throughout the book, Michelle Alexander argues that people of color are not only locked up by the criminal justice system, but that they are also locked out of civic participation and the full exercise of their freedoms by being labeled“felons” and “drug offenders,” relegated to “a permanent underclass.” On its face, New Jersey’s 12-to-1 disparity makes it hard to dispute Alexander’s claim that mass incarceration is hardly colorblind.

In a response statement, the New Jersey Department of Corrections claimed:

“The ban on The New Jim Crow which had been in effect in certain New Jersey Department of Corrections (NJDOC) facilities, has been lifted in all facilities. It should be noted that there was no department-wide ban on the book.”