This is the third in a series of three reports released by the Center for Law and Justice in 2012. Two earlier reports described the alarming overrepresentation of minorities in the Capital Region criminal and juvenile justice systems. In this report, the Center documents the devastation wrought by recent arrest sweeps conducted in Albany minority communities by federal, state, and local authorities; as a result of the sweeps, scores of Albany’s young African-American men have been sentenced to more than 600 years in prison for non-violent offenses.
This additional punishment meted out to minorities for drug-related offenses upholds Albany County’s dubious distinction as one of the most racially-disparate sentencing jurisdictions in the state. Section I of this report presents statistical data demonstrating the local impact of the “War on Drugs”: the disproportionate representation of minorities among arrests, convictions, and sentences to state prison in Albany County. In one national study, Albany County ranked 5th in the nation in the ratio of African American to white drug admission rates.
Although steps have recently been taken to reduce inequities in state and federal drug crime sentencing, law enforcement officials are now using a new tool to arrest and prosecute drug-related crimes alleged to have been committed by minorities: racketeering laws. Section II documents how young African-American men from Albany are now being subjected to additional years in prison, in some cases for committing no new crimes. Though law enforcement officials claimed to have been targeting serious offenses, many of Albany’s black males were sentenced to serve a third of their young lives behind bars for merely having associated in one way or another — either through a phone call, by enjoying similar music, by attending the same social function, or through some other seemingly innocuous connection — with those suspected of criminal activity. Federal sweeps incarcerated 33 of Albany’s young African-American males for a total of nearly 300 years, for non-violent crimes; a single state sweep sent 17 non-violent offenders, all minorities, to prison for a total of 317 years, for non-violent crimes.
Section III provides historical context demonstrating that the mass incarceration of Albany’s young black men is rooted in structural racism that perpetuates a racial caste system. Sustaining an era of the new Jim Crow, the “War on Drugs” launched in response to civil rights legislation in the 1960s replicates post-Civil War laws passed to discriminate against blacks in response to Reconstruction-era constitutional amendments. Just as the vast majority of those “hanged, shot and roasted alive” in nineteenth-century lynchings were not even charged with the crime (rape) for which the “sentence” was imposed, most imprisoned for hundreds of years as a result of twenty-first century Albany drug sweeps were sentenced not for the heinous crimes of murder, robbery, and assault trumpeted by investigators, but for non-violent convictions.
Section IV describes the devastating individual and community consequences of mass incarceration. Section V explains that the enormous toll mass incarceration exacts on minority communities across the country can only be addressed through a two-pronged approach: a commitment by government entities to address the impact of mass incarceration, and a grass-roots social movement to educate and mobilize communities regarding “The New Jim Crow.”
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