If there is a single issue that ought to dominate all others in scholarship about race, it should be the hyperincarceration of black men. And if I had to recommend one piece of scholarship on this issue to read, it would be a recently published essay by Loic Wacquant. Wacquant contributed this essay (which has no title) to a slim and elegant volume edited by Glenn Loury. Wacquant’s short contribution is more than just provocative; it is a bit mind blowing, for reasons that I will explain. The essay draws on a decade’s worth of work by Wacquant, synthesized here into seven short pages. I am happy to note that, owing to Loury’s visibility, both the issue and Wacquant’s contribution now are finally likely to get the attention they deserve.
Wacquant sets out his argument in four steps. First, Wacquant argues that hyperincarceration targets a very specific population by race and class: poor black men in the crumbling ghetto. Several commentators have suggested that the spike in incarceration rates can be attributed to a general increase in crime and punishment. Using available statistics, Wacquant demonstrates that we are imprisoning more people even controlling for the crime rate; the number of convictions per 10,000 “index crimes” has quintupled, from 21 in 1975 to 106 in 1999. Moreover, these new convictions are of black men: the predominant race of prisoners has flipped, from 70% white just after World War II to the current rate of 70% non-white. Continue reading "The Ghetto and the Prison"