February 28th, 2012
For most privileged, professional people, the experience of confinement is a mere brush, encountered after a kidâ€™s arrest, say. For a great many poor people in America, particularly poor black men, prison is a destination that braids through an ordinary life, much as high school and college do for rich white ones. More than half of all black men without a high-school diploma go to prison at some time in their lives. Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country todayâ€”perhaps the fundamental fact, as slavery was the fundamental fact of 1850. In truth, there are more black men in the grip of the criminal-justice systemâ€”in prison, on probation, or on paroleâ€”than were in slavery then. Over all, there are now more people under â€œcorrectional supervisionâ€ in Americaâ€”more than six millionâ€”than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin at its height. That city of the confined and the controlled, Lockuptown, is now the second largest in the United States.