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7 Day High School Curriculum

Learning Objective: The goal of this curriculum is to help students understand, discuss, and address America’s criminal justice system and how it impacts and shapes the lives of different communities based on race, socioeconomic status, and other core identifiers. We seek to introduce students to the topics of mass incarceration and the prison industrial complex through a comprehensive overview of the policies, systems, and historical factors that created and continue to perpetuate this epidemic. We also hope to use innovative and hands-on activities to guide students through crafting their own ideas, policies, and solutions surrounding the issue. 


Overview: America’s prison population has grown 800% since 1980, and although US citizens are 5% of the world population, they are also a fourth of the world’s prisoners. This epidemic disproportionately impacts marginalized communities and communities of color. One in three Black men in the United States can expect to be incarcerated, and Native women are 6 times more likely to be incarcerated than their white counterparts. This issue extends beyond the gates of our prisons and jails. 1 in 13 Black Americans is disenfranchised due to felony status, and every day millions of people are unable to access healthcare, employment, housing, and other benefits due to having a criminal record. This curriculum seeks to explore how we got here, tracing the issue from the beginning of American slavery to the social guidelines of Jim Crow to Clinton’s “Three-Strikes and You’re Out Policies,” and to today, where racial minorities make up 60% of our prison population and where we incarcerate more of our citizens than any country. This curriculum will look at systemic causes of the disproportionate impact of mass incarceration on historically marginalized communities as well as recent incentives for major stakeholders for enacting policies that contribute to the epidemic. It will explore the roots of the prison industrial complex and for-profit prison systems and guide students through the impact of the industrial complex on American communities. It will look at the “War on Drugs” and why the prison population skyrocketed and has continued to increase since the 80s. It will examine the mass incarceration epidemic through a historical lens and connect the issue to early policies and societal norms that disenfranchised minority populations. Finally, it will help students understand how mass incarceration impacts American communities, shapes our legal system, and creates structures within the fabric of our social and political spheres. 


Target Audience: This curriculum is aimed at high school students(grades 9 through 12) who are taking a history, social studies, or related class(such as an elective). It is created specifically for independent schools to adopt. 


Timeline: This curriculum has been created for approximately 7 40-60 minute classes over the span of 2 weeks, but can be condensed into a minimum of 3 class periods or one “short version” class period. The activities and content are adaptable and can be switched or shuffled around somewhat, although each session will proceed in chronological order based on historical time periods and other factors. 

Note: There are more activities than time may permit, teachers should pick and choose which discussion questions and/or activities they want to implement for the time that they have.


Platform and Materials: This class can be conducted in-person, with the aid of online videos and books/online pdf of books. It can also be conducted virtually through Zoom with screen sharing. Students are assigned approximately an hour of homework a night.  Materials include handouts/documents that are provided in this curriculum, a computer, internet access, and The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander(hard copy or online pdf version).

Homework 1: Have students read the Introduction and Chapter 1 “The Rebirth of Caste”(Pages 1-58) of The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander for Class 1 

Class 1: What is Mass Incarceration? 


Introduction: Word Connection Activity

Timeframe: Approximately 30 minutes 

Materials needed: White board and pens(or Zoom alternative), post-it notes(or Zoom alternative)

Overview: Create word clouds for mass incarceration and racial justice 


3 minutes: Explanation and Splitting Students Up

Using a whiteboard or a virtual alternative, guide students through a brainstorm on overarching concepts of this curriculum.  Start by writing the phrase “mass incarceration” on a large piece of paper, directly on your board, or on your virtual white board. Tell students that they will be exploring this concept for the next 7 class periods. Ask them to work in groups and write down any words, phrases, ideas, concepts, or names that they associate with the phrase on post-it notes(or through annotating the virtual white board on Zoom). Remind them that no word is “wrong,” and the activity seeks to explore what the phrase currently means to them or what comes up for them when they hear that phrase. Split students up into groups of three/four and have them work in groups(in person), or in break-out rooms(via Zoom). 

Remote Alternatives: PollEverywhere live word clouds or Padlet


5 minutes: Student Brainstorm 

Give students 5 minutes to brainstorm words that come to mind while popping into groups/breakout rooms to listen to discussions. Encourage students to explain the connection they draw between the words that they write down and mass incarceration. 


1 Minute: Bring group back together 

Ask students to place their sticky-notes on your board/paper surrounding the phrase mass incarceration. If conducting virtually, students will brainstorm together and then the instructor will annotate the white board with what students share out when the group gets back together. 


5 minutes: Class Share Out 

Have each group present the words/phrases/ideas that came to mind for them. If you are conducting the class virtually, write the words and phrases down as students share them. Ask students to explain the connection that they drew between the word they chose and mass incarceration. Depending on the number of students in each group and the number of groups, allocate roughly 45 seconds to a minute per group. 

Remote Alternatives: Screen annotations if previous activity was done on PollEverywhere and otherwise, padlet


1 Minute: Split Groups Up for Second Phrase 

Have students complete the same activity for the phrase “racial justice”. Split them up into new groups. 

5 Minutes:  Student Brainstorm 

Follow the above instructions 


5 Minutes: Class Share Out 


Optional: If time permits, repeat this activity for the phrase “the prison industrial complex” 


3 Minutes: Wrap Up And Answer Questions 

Use this template to provide students with an overview of the curriculum that they will be learning for the next 7 class periods. 


Template(Adapt and Develop for your Classroom):

Thank you for participating in the word connection activity. We are going to keep these word clouds up around the classroom(or virtual classroom) to refer back to as we delve into the topic of mass incarceration. This unit will explore our criminal justice system and specifically the concept of mass incarceration through historical, political, legal, and economic lenses. We are going to examine how our legal system is shaped by social factors, and in turn, how our legal system shapes our communities and social climate, particularly when we are talking about our prisons. We are going to look at the concept of privatized or for-profit prisons and how this development changes the way that prisons are run and we are going to identify historical trends in relation to mass incarceration. We generated word clouds for mass incarceration, but we have not defined the term yet. That was intentional. We are going to work towards creating our own definition as we learn about the issue through this curriculum. Are there any questions? 

Remote alternative: keeping all of these documents in a shared google drive

Video and Discussion

Timeframe: 12 Minutes 

Materials needed: YouTube video 

Overview: Discuss video as an introduction to mass incarceration 


Play video: 3 Minutes

Play this video on Mass Incarceration from The Atlantic:


Discussion: 9 Minutes 

Using the video as a jumping off point, facilitate an introductory discussion. 


Guiding Questions 

  • What in the video surprised or shocked you? 

  • How did the video impact or change your understanding of the criminal justice system or American prisons? 

  • Why do you think the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world? 

  • What role do you think prisons should play in our society? 


The New Jim Crow Discussion 

Timeframe: Approximately 20 Minutes 

Materials needed: White board and pens(or Zoom alternative)

Overview: Delve into the introduction and first chapter of The New Jim Crow, have students benign to analyze what they read and engage in discourse 


Summary: 5 Minutes 

Call on students to help summarize what they read in the first chapter and introduction. Write on the board(or virtual white board) the specific terms, concepts, ideas, or take-aways that they got from the introduction and first-chapter. Break down the board writing into chosen categories(suggestions are policies, concepts, names, statistics/numbers) 

Remote alternative: Google Jam different color post its for different categories or Padlet note colors


Open Discussion: 15 Minutes 

Use these discussion questions as guidelines for helping students discuss the introduction and first chapter 


Content Questions 

  1. What is Michelle Alexander’s main idea as expressed in the Introduction?

  2. What facts about drug use are important when assessing the timing of the War on Drugs?

  3. What factors undermined the “Old” Jim Crow system? 

  4. How does Michelle Alexander assess the impact of the Clinton Presidency on African Americans? 

  5. What changes were taking place in the African American community and other communities of color that made them particularly vulnerable to the War on Drugs?


Discussion Questions 

  1. Why have Civil Rights organizations not focused on or have been slow to focus on the issue of racial justice? 

  2. What strategies have wealthier whites used to divide poor whites from African Americans in the past and in the present? 

    1. Was this a successful strategy? If so, why?  

    2. Where else have you seen groups apply similar strategies in society? Can you draw a modern analogy? 

  3. “The current system of control depends on black exceptionalism; it is not disproved or undermined by it.” (p. 14) Do you agree or disagree?

Homework 2: Have students read the Introduction and Chapter 2: The Lockdown(Pages 59-96) of The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander for Class 2

Class 2: The War on Drugs 


Lecture: The War on Drugs

Timeframe: 30 Minutes 

Materials needed: Presentation slides linked in this document 

Overview: Provide students with a comprehensive overview of the War on Drugs and how it plays into mass incarceration and the criminal justice system 


Use the lecture overview below as a guideline to teach students about the War on Drugs.


Accompanying Slides: 


Lecture Overview 

Slide 1: The 1960s were marked by political protests against the Vietnam war, the fight for civil rights, and radicalism in both political views and social trends. As drugs became symbols of youthful rebellion, social upheaval, and political dissent, the government halted scientific research to evaluate their medical safety and efficacy. In June 1971, President Nixon declared a “war on drugs.” He dramatically increased the size and presence of federal drug control agencies, and pushed through measures such as mandatory sentencing and no-knock warrants.


Slide 2: In 1971, Nixon declared a “war on drugs,” stating that drug abuse was “public enemy number one.” He appealed to many Americans who conflated race with criminality and believed that the drug addiction epidemic was corrupting America and could be ultimately tied back to communities of color. As part of the war on Drugs, Nixon increased funding for drug-control agencies and proposed mandatory prison sentencing for drug crimes. In 1973, Nixon created the Drug Enforcement Administration(DEA), a special police force committed to targeting illegal drug use and smuggling. Nixon targeted heroin, a drug used in many Black communities, and also criminalized marijuana. Police were sent to police communities of color very heavily, as Nixon and much of the media portrayed Black people as drug addicts and drug dealers who were contributing to increasing crime rates and corrupting American communities. 


A top Nixon aide, John Ehrlichman, later admitted: “You want to know what this was really all about. The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying. We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” Nixon temporarily placed marijuana in Schedule One, the most restrictive category of drugs, pending review by a commission he appointed led by Republican Pennsylvania Governor Raymond Shafer. 


In 1972, the commission unanimously recommended decriminalizing the possession and distribution of marijuana for personal use. Nixon ignored the report and rejected its recommendations.


Slide 3: The prison population skyrocketed during President Ronald Reagan’s administration. Reagan reinforced and expanded Nixon’s War on Drug Policies, passing severe penalties for drug-related crimes in Congress and state legislatures which led to a massive increase in incarceration for nonviolent drug crimes. The number of people behind bars for nonviolent drug law offenses increased from 50,000 in 1980 to over 400,000 by 1997. Public concern about illicit drug use built throughout the 1980s, largely due to media portrayals of people addicted to the smokable form of cocaine dubbed “crack.” Soon after Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, his wife, Nancy Reagan, began a highly-publicized anti-drug campaign, coining the slogan "Just Say No."


This set the stage for the zero tolerance policies implemented in the mid-to-late 1980s. Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates, who believed that “casual drug users should be taken out and shot,” founded the DARE drug education program, which was quickly adopted nationwide despite the lack of evidence of its effectiveness. The increasingly harsh drug policies also blocked the expansion of syringe access programs and other harm reduction policies to reduce the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS.


In the late 1980s, a political hysteria about drugs led to the passage of draconian penalties in Congress and state legislatures that rapidly increased the prison population. In 1985, the proportion of Americans polled who saw drug abuse as the nation's "number one problem" was just 2-6 percent. The figure grew through the remainder of the 1980s until, in September 1989, it reached a remarkable 64 percent – one of the most intense fixations by the American public on any issue in polling history. Within less than a year, however, the figure plummeted to less than 10 percent, as the media lost interest. The draconian policies enacted during the hysteria remained, however, and continued to result in escalating levels of arrests and incarceration.


Slide 4: In 1986, Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which established mandatory minimum prison sentences for certain drug offenses. This law had devastating ramifications on communities of color, because it allocated  longer prison sentences for offenses involving the same amount of crack cocaine (used more often by black Americans) as powder cocaine (used more often by white Americans). When Reagan took office in 1980, the total prison population was 329,000, and when he left office eight years later, the prison population had doubled, to 627,000. This rise in incarceration hit communities of color hardest, yet drug usage did not go down. In fact, it increased by 3000% in America. 


Throughout the next few decades, incarceration grew both at the federal and state level. In Texas, the state incarceration rate quadrupled: In 1978, the state incarcerated 182 people for every 100,000 residents. By 2003, that figure was 710. 


Slide 5: In 1983, the privatization of prisons gave birth to the idea of the "prison industrial complex" when the Corrections Corporations of America(CCA) founded the first private prison. The prison industrial complex(PIC) becomes a term used to describe the overlapping interests of government and industry that uses surveillance, policing, and imprisonment as solutions to economic, social, and political problems. The PIC allows companies ranging from retail stores like Victoria’s Secret to tech companies to construction contractors to profit off of the labor of prisoners. In addition to earning huge profits for private companies that deal with prisons and police forces, the PIC helps earn political gains for “tough on crime” politicians, increasing the influence of prison guard and police unions, and eliminating social and political dissent by oppressed communities that make demands for self-determination and reorganization of power in the US. The American Legislative Exchange Council(ALEC) is a key stakeholder in the PIC, writing and proposing legislation that perpetuates and enables the system to continue through allowing companies to profit off of prisoners making $0.50 an hour and allowing these companies to unfairly compete with other companies that pay their workers wages at or above the minimum wage. 


Other Resources on The War on Drugs to Use for Lecture 

  • From the Drug Policy Alliance, “A Brief History of the Drug War,”, Link

  • From Vox, “The War on Drugs Explained,” Link

  • From PBS, “Thirty Years of America’s Drug War,” Link

  • From NPR, “Timeline: War on Drugs,” Link

  • From Jailed for Melanin, History, Timeline, and Statistics 

Activity: Debate on Mandatory-Minimum Sentences

Timeframe: 30 Minutes 

Materials needed: Video linked in this document, handout provided below, internet research, helpful links included below 

Overview: Guide students through a simulation activity to understand the motivations, values, and goals of the major stakeholders in the War on Drugs and the concept of mandatory minimum sentences in the criminal justice system.


Watch Video: 3 minutes


Handout for Students

The year is 1985, and you are a member of either Reagan’s administration or a civil rights group tasked with debating whether there should be mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses. Reagan’s administration is currently working on the Anti-Drug Abuse Act(1986), and is planning on including drug offenses in the list of crimes that have mandatory minimum sentences for the first time in the bill. Reagan’s cabinet believes that the only way to counteract rising crime rates is through being tough on crime. The “pro” group is proposing reinstated mandatory prison terms by defining the amounts of various drugs that it believed would be in the hands of drug "kingpins," or high-level dealers. Those amounts include 1,000 grams of heroin or 5,000 grams of powder cocaine. Offenders possessing, with intent to distribute, these "kingpin" amounts face a minimum ten-year prison sentence. Offenders possessing smaller amounts that would generally be possessed by "mid-level dealers"—such as 100 grams of heroin or 500 grams of powder cocaine—face a minimum five-year sentence. Civil rights groups say that these sentences give too much power to prosecutors and politicians, while judges should be making these decisions. Civil rights groups also argue that mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses derail the lives of many individuals who contribute positively to society and who are not a danger or flight risk. 

Debate: Should the US government impose mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related crimes?  Using research and what you have learned so far about the War on Drugs and the Reagan administration, make an argument either supporting or opposing mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related offenses.  


Considerations for Both Sides 

  • What are your stakeholders goals, considerations, and priorities in this debate?  

  • What will your stakeholder get out of a “win” for their side? 

  • Are mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses cost-effective? Are they feasible with the current system we have in place? 

  • What do we know about the correlation between mandatory minimum sentences for other crimes and lower/higher crime rates and recidivism? 

  • What impact will mandatory minimum sentences have on the way that our criminal justice system operates? Will this change be positive or negative?  

    • How will these sentences shift the roles that prosecutors, judges, Congress, and defense attorneys place in this process? 

  • Should the federal government be making decisions about appropriate sentences? Or should judges? 

  • What are the benefits to having a standardized baseline punishment for certain crimes? What are the downsides? 

  • How will this legislation impact different communities in the United States(communities of color, poor people, immigrants, etc.)? 

  • What civil rights are at stake here? In what ways might these laws infringe upon them? 


Talking Points for Both Sides 

Reagan’s Administration(Pro)

  • There is evidence that mandatory minimum sentences are correlated with lower crime rates for some violent crimes 

  • Crime rates are growing in American cities, and more Americans are dying from drug-related crimes 


Civil Rights Groups(Con) 

  • This act would take away the power from federal and state judges and would transfer that power to prosecutors and to Congress/administration that is making the call about mandatory sentences 

  • Most drug-related crimes are nonviolent, and incarcerating people for minimum 5 or 10 years would derail their lives


Helpful Links 

Split students up into relatively even groups for both sides. Remind students that they are not debating based on their personal beliefs, but are being challenged to take on a role and think from the perspective of someone else.


Preparation Time: 15 Minutes 

Have students work in teams to craft arguments backed by evidence for their side. Help students conduct research or formulate arguments. 

Remote alternative: shared google doc for students to keep track of arguments


Debate: 10 Minutes 

Have each side deliver an opening statement(45 seconds), followed by 7 minutes of free debate(each team alternates turns), and then closing statements(45 seconds). Encourage every member of each team to participate, but have groups nominate group members to deliver opening and closing statements. Students should refer to statistics, historical trends, and other forms of evidence to back their arguments. Encourage students to use real stories as examples and to consider the long-term effects, including cost, recidivism, re-entry, and crime levels, when making their arguments. 


Debrief: 5 Minutes 

Ask students to raise their hands to indicate if they were debating for the side that they personally align with or not if they are comfortable doing so. 


Call on students to debrief on their experience. Guidance questions are included below. 


  1. What was it like to argue for your side? 

  2. What arguments were you particularly stumped or impressed by from the other side? 

  3. What challenges did you face when crafting your arguments? 

  4. What were you surprised by when conducting research or engaging in the debate? 

  5. What are your main takeaways from this experience? 

Homework 3: Have students read Chapter 3: The Color of Justice(pages 97 to 141) of The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander for Class 3 

Class 3: Race and Mass Incarceration 


Discussion: The Color of Justice 

Timeframe: 60 Minutes 

Materials needed: Books, writing utensils for annotation or alternative, internet access to research Supreme Court cases mentioned, posters/white boards or virtual alternative 

Overview: Guide students through an analysis of the mass incarceration epidemic through a racial lens; look at how different identities and communities are impacted by policy 


Verbal Annotation: 20 Minutes 


10 minutes: Have students work with their partners to identify: 

  • One statistic or fact that stood out to them 

  • One idea that they would like to explore further 

  • One question that they had after reading the chapter 


10 Minutes: Share out

Ask each pair to share one of the three points that they were asked to identify in the activity. Allow students to build on each other’s points, ask questions, or react to other student’s presentations. If time permits, go through each of three identifications and have each pair share out on all three.  


Supreme Court Cases: 20 Minutes

Have students work in groups to identify the Supreme Court Cases discussed in Chapters 2 and 3 and explain the case, the question at hand, and the ruling. 


Split students up into groups of 3-4. Assign each group one of 3 Supreme Court cases discussed (McCleskey vs Kemp,  Alexander vs. Sandoval, Purkett vs ElmAsk). If in person, have students write on posters or white boards to brainstorm. If virtual, encourage students to use a shared google document or appoint a notetaker. 

10 minutes: Each group should go through their case using the book and the internet summaries of the cases to answer: 

  1. What are the facts of the case? In other words, what happened? 

  2. What is the plaintiff seeking by filing this case? 

  3. What are the legal considerations discussed? 

  4. What was the ruling? 

  5. Why is this case important to the story that Michelle Alexander is telling? How does it shape, influence, or impact policies and the execution of policies that contribute to mass incarceration? 


5 Minutes: Have each group present for roughly 1.5 minutes, summarizing what they found 

Supreme Court Case Links to Share With Students: 


Open Discussion: 25 Minutes 

Use the guiding questions to facilitate an open discussion on the reading, using jumping off points that students mentioned in their Part 1 share out  

Discussion Questions

  1.  What has been the role of the Supreme Court in addressing racial bias since the beginning of the Drug War? 

  2. Compare the “Old Jim Crow” system to the “New Jim Crow” system. What similarities? What differences? Purposes? Methods?

  3. What are the myths and assumptions the general public believe about the criminal justice system? 

  4. How have the courts weakened the Fourth Amendment since 1982? 

  5. Why might police departments in the various states prioritize drug arrests?

  6. Both the police and prosecutors have a great deal of discretion in their roles. How has this discretion been used? 

  7. In what ways is jury selection biased?

Homework 4: Have students read Chapter 4: The Cruel Hand (Pages 140 to 177) of The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander for Class 4 

Class 4: Re-Entry and Disenfranchisement


Lecture: Re-Entry and Disenfranchisement 

Timeframe: 60 minutes

Materials: Provided guidance slides, white board and pens or virtual alternative, books 

Overview: Learn how a criminal record/time incarcerated shapes a person’s life, understand the re-entry experiences of the incarcerated. 


Accompanying Slides:


Slide 1: Ask students to brainstorm what challenges prisoners who are integrating back into society might face. Brainstorm answers on a whiteboard or a virtual alternative 


Slide 2 Recidivism: 

The Congressional Research Service defines recidivism as “the re-arrest, reconviction, or re-incarceration of an ex-offender within a given time frame.” Over 600,000 individuals are released from prison annually and three-quarters of them are rearrested within five years of their release (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2005). Men and women released from correctional facilities receive minimal preparation and inadequate assistance and resources, which makes their re-entry into communities challenging (Visher & Mallik-Kane, 2007). A criminal conviction limits employment prospects, public housing assistance and social services (Coates, 2015). Even having a minor criminal record creates substantial barriers and far-reaching collateral consequences. Oftentimes, prisoners leave prison with no support, no family, no clothes, no car, no job, no housing, and no money. It is not uncommon for prisoners to leave prisons with nothing but their prison clothes in hand. 


Slide 3 Jobs: 

A significant challenge that previously convicted individuals face is re-entry into the labor market. Released prisoners have difficulty securing and maintaining employment after re-entry since employers are reluctant to hire people with criminal records (Urban Institute, 2008). In addition to a criminal record, limited education, the stigma of incarceration and a lack of employment history contribute to limited employment opportunities (McGrew & Hanks, 2017). Many prisoners have limited education and work experience, which makes it difficult for them to secure employment after they are released. According to several studies, “about 70 percent of offenders and ex-offenders are high school dropouts.” According to the Urban Institute, around 75 percent of formerly incarcerated men have a history of substance abuse, and a significant percentage suffer from physical and mental health issues (i.e., 15 percent to 20 percent report emotional disorders). That limits their employability in that employers may not view them as “job ready.”  As a result of incarceration and involvement in the criminal justice system, many former prisoners are viewed negatively by former employers or by individuals within their former professional networks, if they previously had one. The combination of a limited professional network and a conspicuous résumé gap can make it very difficult for ex-convicts to get an interview with a prospective employer. Also, most states allow employers to deny jobs to individuals who were previously arrested but never convicted of a crime (Legal Action Center, 2004). Released prisoners generally find employment and work in low-skill jobs (Urban Institute, 2008) in food service, wholesale, maintenance or the manufacturing industry. These employment opportunities provide few benefits and little to no opportunities for upward mobility. Furthermore, previously convicted individuals who manage to secure a job are employed at lower wages than they earned before incarceration (Urban Institute, 2008). Offenders also experience obstacles in public and private job sectors since they are unable to obtain professional and technical licenses (Holzer, Raphael & Soll 2003). When limited legal employment opportunities and resources are available, individuals who are re-entering their communities are more likely to reoffend. A 2002 study of more than 200 employers in the Milwaukee area found that formerly incarcerated candidates with nearly identical professional experience as non-offenders were less than half as likely to receive job offers. According to the Bureau of Justice, only 12.5 percent of employers said they would accept an application from an ex-convict. Ironically, getting back to work decreases recidivism, but there are barriers for ex-convicts finding work. Race is also a factor, particularly when combined with a history of incarceration. In the 2002 study of Milwaukee employers mentioned above, African-American offenders were two-thirds less likely to receive offers, and African-American non-offenders were half as likely as white non-offenders to receive an offer. So African-Americans ex-offenders face a huge double-challenge: Even if they hadn’t committed a crime, racism significantly restricts their job opportunities; since they have committed a crime, they must somehow overcome the racism and convince the employer that their ex-con status does not make them a risky hire.


Slide 4 Housing: 

Re-entering individuals also face difficulties in finding and securing housing. The high risk of residential instability can lead some to experience homelessness after release (Fontaine, 2013). Most individuals leave prison with limited finances to secure an apartment. Additionally, strict housing policies make it harder for these individuals to be considered as viable candidates for housing. Currently, private market rental housing associations have policies against renting to people with criminal records (Cortes & Rogers, 2010). Also, individuals with past drug or felony convictions are ineligible for public housing (Dougherty, 2012). Studies show that the first month after release is a vulnerable period during which the risk of becoming homeless and/or recidivism is high (Cortes & Rogers, 2010). In fact, the lack of stable housing can increase the possibility of being rearrested (Cortes & Rogers, 2010). Providing access to affordable housing options and lenient policies can help support an individual’s transition back into their respective communities and is an important factor in recidivism prevention.

Slide 5 Public Assistance: 

Returning individuals also face barriers in accessing public assistance. Majority of states ban individuals with drug felony convictions from being eligible for federally funded public assistance and food stamps (Legal Action Center, 2004). The 1996 Federal Welfare Law prohibits individuals convicted of a drug-related felony from receiving federally funded food stamps or cash assistance. Re-entering individuals are ineligible even if they have completed their sentence, overcome their addiction or earned a certificate of rehabilitation (Legal Action Center, 2004). Welfare assistance is an essential transitional resource for those who face economic hardships after release from prison (O'Brien, 2002). Denying re-entering individuals from public assistance causes difficulties for them to support themselves as they leave the criminal justice system and re-enter society. This would increase the likelihood that they will return to criminal activity and drug use.


Slide 6 Community and Family: 

The costs of unsuccessful re-entry and reincarceration negatively impacts communities, families and individuals. Incarceration has disproportionately impacted minorities, primarily young black men, and individuals with low levels of education (Morenoff and Harding, 2014). A consequence of incarceration is that relationships with families and the broader community are strained. For communities with high rates of removal and return of offenders, this further produces immense social and economic disadvantages (Travis, Solomon & Waul, 2001). Evidence shows that the outcomes of corrections are not cost-effective and do not justify the costs to communities, families and individuals (Datchi, Barretti & Thompson, 2016).  Studies have shown that prisoners who maintain consistent contact and connection with their families during their sentences have a lower recidivism rate than those who do not. Over half of incarcerated adults are parents of minor children, which means they may miss out on many of their children’s critical and formative years. Unfortunately, there are obstacles to maintaining consistent contact with family, and challenges for ex-offenders once released. Once ex-offenders return home, they are dependent on family members and must overcome years of limited contact, potential resentment, and a change in the household dynamic. According to the Urban Institute Justice Policy Center, just before release, 82 percent of ex-offenders thought it would be easy to renew family relationships; after returning home, over half reported it was more difficult than expected. Family members often assume a new financial and emotional burden when ex-offenders return home.


Slide 7: Parole

While conditions of parole vary widely from state to state and depend on the original crime and the prisoner’s behavior, there are some common conditions, including: (1) Remaining within a prescribed geographic area, (2) Obtaining permission to change residence, (3) Maintaining employment, (4) Prohibition against possession of firearms, (5) Paying supervision fees, (6) Submitting to searches (of home, person, or vehicle) at any time by parole officers, (7) Not drinking alcohol or visiting bars, (8) Adherence to state or federal laws. In theory parole gives offenders a chance to prove that they can re-enter society without serving their maximum sentences. Paradoxically, parole conditions can create extra, unintended readjustment challenges for ex-offenders. For example, one common collateral consequence is difficulty in re-obtaining a driver’s license. Many ex-offenders are not given a new driver’s license simply because of their criminal record, but yet must drive to work, or drive to see their parole officers. They receive fines for driving without a license, which contributes to their debt and complicates their access to a license. Many such examples exist, with little or no evidence  that these restrictions deter crime


Slide 8: Mental Health 

Many prisoners not only suffer with the guilt of their crimes, but also with a feeling of hopelessness when they return home. To make matters worse, many suffer traumas such as sexual abuse and aggression from guards and other prisoners while in prison, which exacerbates poor mental health. The obstacles that immediately amount before them are a heavy burden to endure. ​Prisoners often suffer with depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicidality, and those conditions follow them home. Poor mental health can lead to recidivism. 


Slide 9 Solving the problem: 

One approach to reducing recidivism and assisting previously incarcerated re-enter society successfully is prison education and re-entry programming. Many states have responded by offering an adult education, adult postsecondary education, career and technical education, and special education. A focus on pre-release programs, which prepares individuals to be productive members of their communities, is essential. Providing incarcerated individuals with job and life skills, education programming, mental health counseling and addiction treatment will help overcome some of the challenges they face upon re-entering their communities. Many of the challenges facing ex-offenders are systemic and require policy changes and a shift away from the attitude of some that punishment should continue after sentences have been served. “Ban the Box” is a national campaign against continued punishment in hiring that calls for employers to remove the box on job applications that requires applicants to disclose criminal records. In a November 2015 speech at Rutgers University, President Barack Obama called on the federal government to support the campaign:“[The federal government] should not use criminal history to screen out applicants before we even look at their qualifications … . It is relevant to find out whether somebody has a criminal record. We're not suggesting ignore it. What we are suggesting is that when it comes to the application, give folks a chance to get through the door. Give them a chance to get in there so they can make their case." In addition to lobbying for policy changes, many nongovernmental organizations are leading grassroots efforts to help ex-offenders with recidivism. Programs like The Prison University Project help inmates earn college degrees while incarcerated. A 2013 National Criminal Justice Reference Service study found that when inmates complete degrees before re-entering society, recidivism rates substantially decrease. The “Ride Home Program in California employs ex-offenders to pick up inmates on the day of their release so they can get them home, but also help facilitate their transition to life on the outside. A new startup,, makes it significantly cheaper and easier for inmates to stay in contact with loved ones — an important part of decreasing the chances of returning to prison once released.


Slide 10 Disenfranchisement: Over 6 million Americans are disenfranchised due to felony status. 

Felony disenfranchisement laws disproportionately affect Black Americans.  Today, one out of thirteen Black Americans can't vote because of their status as felons—four times the rate of other Americans. There are four states — Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia — in which more than one in five Black citizens cannot vote. A February 2017 report by the League of Women Voters of Kentucky found that, due to the state’s lifetime ban on voting for people with felony convictions, more than 300,000 residents were disenfranchised, an increase of 68 percent since 2006—including more than a quarter of its black population, the highest such rate in the nation. Disenfranchising sectors of the population is nothing new. In the Reconstruction era, many states enacted voting restrictions like poll taxes and literacy tests that made it hard for Black people to get to the polls. Following the passage of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments—which,  banned slavery, established birthright U.S. citizenship; and gave black men the right to vote—states passed a flood of new or amended bans. According to a report by The Sentencing Project, some states tailored their laws specifically to apply to crimes thought to be committed more often by Black people—and excluded crimes thought to be committed more often by white people. Additionally, states with a higher proportion of Black residents—like Mississippi and South Carolina—were more likely to pass harsher restrictions. 47 out of 50 states still have felony disenfranchisement laws. Today, Vermont, Maine, and recently DC are the states that have no restrictions around voting based on felony status. In other states, the right to vote is restored after prison, parole, and probation, and in some states, it is never restored. 


Discussion(If time permits):

  1. Why are recidivism rates(¾ in 5 months) so high in the United States? 

  2. What factors and conditions are necessary for successful re-entry? 

  3. Do you support felon disenfranchisement? Why or why not? What are some pros and cons? 

  4. How might elected officials benefit from felon disenfranchisement? 

  5. Is voting a right or a privilege? 

Homework 5: Have students read Chapter 5: The New Jim Crow (Pages 178 to 220 of The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander for Class 5) 

Class 5: Clinton to Modern Day 


Activity: Videos on Crime Bills 

Timeframe: 15 minutes

Materials: Videos linked below 

Overview: Delve into a comprehensive overview of Cilnton’s policies and their relationship with mass incarceration, hear from people on both sides of the issue about the complexity and considerations of drafting criminal justice policy. 


Watch video: 6 minutes


13th Documentary: 8 minutes

Watch from 35 minutes to 43 minutes 


Activity: the 1994 Crime Bill 

Timeframe: 45 minutes

Materials: Internet access to conduct research, books

Overview: Help students understand the provisions of the 1994 Crime Bill and their impact on society, empower students to think creatively and come up with their own solutions to problems 


Split students up into groups of 3 or 4. Have them read through the handout and follow instructions. 


Handout for Students:

Imagine you are a member of Congress tasked with re-evaluating the 1994 Crime Bill based on the knowledge that you have now of its effects on society and the current state of American today. In your groups, choose one provision(outlined below) in the bill. You now have the option to (A) Keep the provision as is, or (B) Rewrite the provision. If you choose to keep the provision, you must work on a presentation defending your choice to keep the provision, explaining how it has been beneficial to the bill’s overall goal and to American communities. If you choose to rewrite the provision, use your research and given materials to craft a concrete provision that replaces the pre-existing one. You can keep parts of the provision and rewrite others as part of the rewrite, but must defend your choices. At the end of class, you will present your defense of the provision or rewritten provision to the class. Remember that you are rewriting the bill in the context of today(in the 2020s), not 1994. “Rewrites” do not have to follow conventions for bill writing — they can be written in plain language. Your rewrite should lay out the main points of your rewrite and be followed by a comprehensive explanation, using evidence and statistics. 


  1. What statistics can you look at that will help you determine if the provision has achieved its goal/succeeded? 

  2.  What unintended or negative effects did this provision have? How can you work to reverse the effects? 

  3. How does the fact that we are over 15 years past the passage of this bill inform the way you craft your provision or defend your existing-one? How has American changed in terms of crime rates, social trends, and policies since the passage of the bill? 

  4. Is there still a need for your provision today? Why or why not? If there’s not, how can you rewrite it to address evolving needs or goals? 

  5. What main criminal justice issues that are important today should you factor into your rewrite or defense? 


  • Federal Assault Weapons Ban: Title XI-Firearms, Subtitle A-Assault Weapons, formally known as the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act but commonly known as the Federal Assault Weapons Ban or the Semi-Automatic Firearms Ban, barred the manufacture of 19 specific semi-automatic firearms, classified as "assault weapons", as well as any semi-automatic rifle, pistol, or shotgun capable of accepting a detachable magazine that has two or more features considered characteristic of such weapons. The list of such features included telescoping or folding stocks, pistol grips, flash suppressors, grenade launchers, and bayonet lugs. This law also banned possession of newly manufactured magazines holding more than ten rounds of ammunition

    • *Note: The ban took effect September 13, 1994 and expired on September 13, 2004 by a sunset provision. Since the expiration date, there is no federal ban on the subject firearms or magazines capable of holding more than ten rounds of ammunition. You may choose to renew the ban, rewrite the provision, or do nothing(maintain the repeal), but should defend your decision 

  • Federal Death Penalty Act: Title VI, the Federal Death Penalty Act, created 60 new death penalty offenses under 41 federal capital statutes, for crimes related to acts of terrorism, non-homicidal narcotics offenses, murder of a federal law enforcement officer, civil rights-related murders, drive-by shootings resulting in death, the use of weapons of mass destruction resulting in death, and carjackings resulting in death.

  • Elimination of higher education for inmates: One of the more controversial provisions of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act overturned a section of the Higher Education Act of 1965 permitting prison inmates to receive a Pell Grant for higher education while they were incarcerated. The amendment is as follows:

    • IN GENERAL- Section 401(b)(8) of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (20 U.S.C. 1070a(b)(8)) is amended to read as follows: (8) No basic grant shall be awarded under this subpart to any individual who is incarcerated in any Federal or State penal institution.

    • The VCCLEA effectively eliminated the ability of lower-income prison inmates to receive college educations during their term of imprisonment, thus ensuring the education level of most inmates remains unimproved over the period of their incarceration.

    • There is growing advocacy for reinstating Pell Grant funding for all prisoners who would qualify despite their incarceration status. At the executive level, the Obama administration backed a program under development at the Department of Education to allow for a limited lifting of the ban for some prisoners, called the Second Chance Pell Pilot. 

  • Violence Against Women Act: Title IV, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), allocated $1.6 billion to help prevent and investigate violence against women. VAWA was renewed in 2000, 2005, and 2013. This includes:

  • Driver's Privacy Protection Act: Title XXX, the Driver's Privacy Protection Act, governs the privacy and disclosure of personal information gathered by the states' Departments of Motor Vehicles. The law was passed in 1994; it was introduced by Jim Moran in 1992 after an increase in opponents of abortion rights using public driving license databases to track down and harass abortion providers and patients, most notably by both besieging Susan Wicklund's home for a month and following her daughter to school. 

  • Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act: Under Title XVII, known as the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act, guidelines were established for states to track sex offenders. States had also been required to track sex offenders by confirming their place of residence annually for ten years after their release into the community or quarterly for the rest of their lives if the sex offender was convicted of a violent sex crime.The Wetterling Act was later amended in 1996 with Megan's Law, which permanently required states to give public disclosure of sex offenders.In 2006, the Wetterling Act's state registers was replaced with a federal register through the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act

  • Community Oriented Policing Services: Since 1994, the COPS Office has provided $30 billion in assistance to state and local law enforcement agencies to help hire community policing officers. The COPS Office also funds the research and development of guides, tools and training, and provides technical assistance to police departments implementing community policing principles.The law authorized the COPS Office to hire 100,000 more police officers to patrol the nation's streets. 

  • Violent Offender Incarceration and Truth-in-Sentencing Incentive Grants Program: Title II of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 provided incentive grants to build and expand correctional facilities to qualifying states that enforced mandatory sentencing of 85% of a person's sentence conviction. "One purpose of theVOI/TIS incentive grants," the Bureau reported, "is to enable States to manage prison capacity by providing funds to increase prison beds for violent offenders. 

  • Building Prisons: The Act authorized the initiation of "boot camps" for delinquent minors and allocated a substantial amount of money to build new prisons

  • Mandatory Minimum Sentences: Explained in previous lecture 

  • 3 Strikes And You're Out Penalty: This law imposes a mandatory life sentence without parole on offenders convicted of certain crimes. Despite its catchy baseball metaphor, this law is a loser, for the following reason

  • Criminalizing Behaviors: Fifty new federal offenses were added, including provisions making membership in gangs a crime. Some argued that these provisions violated the guarantee of freedom of association in the Bill of Rights

  • Insurance Work: The Act also generally prohibits individuals who have been convicted of a felony involving breach of trust from working in the business of insurance, unless they have received written consent from state regulators.

  • Mandatory Drug Testing: The Act made drug testing mandatory for those serving on federal supervised release.


Group work time: 30 minutes 


Presentation time: 15 minutes

Give student groups 3-5 minutes to present to the class. Presentations should include: 

  • Why students chose the provision they chose 

  • Whether they are defending or rewriting 

  • Main provisions of the rewrite or the original bill if not opting for a rewrite 

  • Explanation, backed by evidence, statistics, and logical reasoning 

  • Questions from other groups 

Homework 6: Have students read Chapter 6: The Fire This TIme (Pages 221 to 260 of The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander for Class 6) 

Class 6: Prison Alternatives and Restorative Justice 

Lecture: Alternatives to Prison 

Timeframe: 10 minutes

Materials: Slides provided below 

Overview: Students will learn about other forms of punishment/consequence that the criminal justice system and other institutions often use when an individual is in violation of a policy. 

Accompanying Slides:


Slide 1: Fines and Restitution 

Courts often impose sentences involving fines, restitution and community service for misdemeanor crimes such as trespassing, loitering, and disorderly conduct as an alternative to jail. (In most states, offenders sentenced to less than one year imprisonment go to jail and those sentenced to one year or more serve their time in state prison.) The judge can sentence the offender to pay a fine, pay restitution to the victim, and perform a certain number of community service hours in any combination. Restitution involves paying the victim for any financial losses sustained as the result of a crime such as the cost of replacing property, medical or counseling costs, and lost wages because of missed work. 


Slide 2: Community Service 

We most often think of road clean-up when we think of community service, but it also can include working at a public or non-profit agency by doing janitorial work or using skills the defendant may have, such as accounting or computer work. As long as the defendant pays the fine or restitution and completes the community service hours, he will serve his sentence without going to jail.


Slide 3: Probation

As an alternative to jail or prison, a judge can sentence a defendant to unsupervised or supervised probation. This usually involves a deferred or suspended sentence and these sentences are available in both misdemeanor and felony cases. If a sentence is suspended, the court sentences the offender to a period of incarceration but suspends that sentence (or a portion of it) as long as the defendant successfully completes probation. If the judge suspends a portion of the sentence, the defendant must serve the balance of the time in jail or prison but is then released and serves the rest of the sentence on probation. At the end of a successfully completed suspended sentence, the defendant has a criminal conviction on his record. If the defendant violates the terms of probation, as discussed below, the judge can order him to serve some, or all, of the remaining sentence in jail or prison. A defendant placed on supervised probation will be required to comply with terms of supervised probation, which can include reporting to a probation officer as directed, complying with a curfew, submitting to random drug testing, no new arrests, maintaining employment, no weapons' possession, no association with known criminals or felons, and possibly treatment such as counseling.


Slide 4: House Arrest

House arrest is an alternative available to some offenders, which allows the offender to serve a jail or prison sentence living at home with electronic monitoring. The most common form of house arrest involves the defendant wearing a monitoring device on his ankle known as an “ankle bracelet.” The device is connected wirelessly to a monitoring center and is programmed to alert if the defendant goes outside of a permissible range. This range usually includes the defendant’s home and a small area outside of the home (the driveway or the distance to the mail box). If the defendant is employed, the device can be programmed to allow him to be at his workplace between certain hours each day. Like probation, if a defendant violates the rules of house arrest, the court can revoke this sentencing alternative and require him to serve the remainder of his sentence in jail or prison.


Slide 5: Inpatient Rehabilitation or Treatment Programs

Many courts will allow defendants with drug, alcohol or psychiatric problems – including sex offenders – to serve a portion or all of their jail or prison sentences in rehabilitation or treatment programs. The programs most likely to be approved by a court or prosecutor as a sentencing alternative are residential and long term, such as six months or even one or two years. These programs vary from halfway houses sponsored by churches to state-funded intensive treatment programs. The participants usually are required to live on site, participate in counseling, and look for employment or enroll in school if they are permitted to leave the facility. The level of supervision varies from program to program. As with probation, the defendant must stay in the program and comply with its requirements. If a defendant leaves the program or does not comply with its conditions and rules, the judge can revoke the alternative sentence and send the defendant to jail or prison.


Slide 6: Work Release

Even a defendant sentenced to serve time in jail may have some options. A judge can order work release, which will allow the defendant to leave the jail to go to work and return after work hours. Defendants often request this alternative in order to avoid losing a job while serving a jail sentence. This alternative will most likely be available to offenders with minimal criminal records who are not considered a flight risk.


Slide 7: Restorative Justice 

Restorative Justice is a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused by criminal behavior. It is best accomplished through cooperative processes that allow all willing stakeholders to meet, although other approaches are available when that is impossible. This can lead to transformation of people, relationships and communities.

The foundational principles of restorative justice have been summarized as follows:

  1. Crime causes harm and justice should focus on repairing that harm.

  2. The people most affected by the crime should be able to participate in its resolution.

  3. The responsibility of the government is to maintain order and of the community to build peace.

If restorative justice were a building, it would have four corner posts:

  1. Inclusion of all parties

  2. Encountering the other side

  3. Making amends for the harm

  4. Reintegration of the parties into their communities


Activity: Sentencing for Justice

Timeframe: 50 minutes

Materials: Case studies provided, internet research, computer or pen/paper, books 

Overview: Students will have the opportunity to delve into three real case studies and examine the sentence that the defendant received. They will apply the knowledge they have learned about mass incarceration and the criminal justice system as well as alternative forms of justice to try sentencing the defendant themselves. 

Instructions: Split students up into small groups. Give each group roughly 30 minutes to work together to decide a fair punishment for each defendant using research and class materials on criminal justice, prisoner re-entry, and recidivism. 


Handout for Students 

Instructions: For each case study, work with your group to assign a “sentence” or punishment to the individual based on options that you learned in lecture and your own creative solutions rooted in restorative justice principles. For each individual, you are not limited to one outcome; for example, a person who committed a drug offense might have to do community service and seek treatment. You are encouraged to be creative and think critically about what will best serve the community and the individual. 



  1. If the crime had a victim, what implications will your sentence/consequence have on the victim? 

  2. What consequence will best serve the individual in the goal of helping the individual become a productive, rule-following, and contributing member to society? 

  3. How can we minimize danger and harm to the community while maximizing rehabilitation and education? 

  4. How will the consequence impact and shape this person’s life? 

  5. What role should the person's intentions play in your consideration of the consequence? Should we prioritize the outcome or the intentions, especially when it comes to violent crimes? 

  6. What are you hoping the defendant will be getting out of their consequence? What will the victim and the community get out of the consequence? 

Case Study 1: Sharanda Jones

Sharanda Jones grew up in Terrell Texas with her paraplegic mother, and several siblings that she had to take care of from a young age. In an effort to overcome the hardships of poverty, Jones began dealing drugs to support her family. Jones was a first-time non-violent offender when she was arrested for seven counts of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and convicted for only one. (In 1999 she was sentenced to mandatory life in prison, and incarcerated. Jones was a recipient of clemency by the Obama administration and was released in 2015). (Read More) 

Case Study 2: Herbert Richardson 

Herbert Richard was a Vietnam War veteran who was honorably discharged due to psychiatric illness he developed from his service. Richardson dealt with trauma, PTSD, childhood abuse, and severe mental illness. In a bad mindset, after a woman broke up with him, Richardson devised a plan to plant a bomb in front of her house and then save her from it so that she would take him back. Unfortunately, a young girl came outside, shook the package, and the bomb exploded, killing her and her friend. (Richardson was convicted of murder in 1978 and in 1989, he became one of 66 people executed by the death penalty). (Read More


Case Study 3: Cyntoia Brown 

Cyntoia Brown was 14 when she was charged as an adult and given a life sentence for the murder and robbery of a 43-year-old real estate agent, Johnny Allen. The night of his murder, he had picked up Brown at a drive-in intending to have sex with her. Brown said she feared for her life while at the victim's house, so she shot him in an act of self defense. She ran away with his money, guns and a car. (After her case received national attention, Brown was released in 2019. During her time in prison, Brown got a GED and bachelor’s degree and mentored at-risk youth). (Read More)


Presentation: Give each group a few minutes to present on one of the three case studies that they feel the most confident about. Have them explain their solution, what they hope it will accomplish, and how they believe it will serve the victim(if there is a victim), the community, and individual. Provide other students with the opportunity to question or challenge points raised by the presenting group.  

Homework 7: No homework before last class 

Class 7: Where We Go From Here 


Discussion: Mass Incarceration: What Now?  

Timeframe: 60 Minutes 

Materials: Books/online alternative 

Overview: In the final class, students will wrap up the unit through an open discussion in which they will be prompted to connect themes from the class, highlight take-aways, and think critically about how they can become a part of the solution. 


Instructions: Print out and cut up the discussion questions below if in person, or write them on a virtual white board if virtual. Have students work in pairs and have each group pick one of the pieces of paper out of a box if in person, or assign discussion questions if conducting the class virtually. 

5 Minutes: Students work in pairs to answer the question they selected/were assigned 

25 Minutes: Each group shares out on the question that they received. After they speak on the question, the discussion opens up to all students, who may share their thoughts on the question. Time is flexible for this activity so allow students time to build off one another, ask questions, challenge thoughts, and relate the question to other concepts or themes. 


Discussion Questions 

  1. Do you agree with Michelle Alexander that that colorblindness is part of the problem? If so, how can this be addressed? 

  2. Why does Alexander believe that when building a movement the focus should shift from Civil Rights to Human Rights? 

  3. What kinds of strategies can be effective in including all, especially poor whites in a movement? 

  4. What is the purpose/role of affirmative action in American society? Does it succeed in this goal? What is the relationship between a history of racial injustice and affirmative action? Do you agree with Alexander that we should end our pursuit of affirmative action? 

  5. How do we engage people in promoting change whose interests are not so immediately involved in dismantling the system of mass incarceration?


Open Discussion on Overall Themes of the Book and the Unit (30 Minutes): 

Use these guiding questions(pick and choose questions) to lead a discussion that wraps up the unit and moves students towards change. 


Guiding Questions(Analysis and Summary Questions) 

  1. What political, legal, and social change would we have to take to end the War on Drugs? What would it take for our elected officials and our society to desire and move towards this change? 

  2. Economic, cultural, and social rights have encountered resistance in receiving the same level of recognition in the United States as other fundamental rights, such as freedom of religion, nondiscrimination, and legal access. How does the book demonstrate the interconnectedness of rights, and how might a robust affirmation of these rights improve the situation for African Americans?

  3. The author addresses voter disenfranchisement as another form of social exile of African Americans. She also highlights the following ironic effect; “The Census Bureau counts imprisoned individuals as residents of the jurisdiction in which they are incarcerated. Because most new prison construction occurs in predominantly white, rural areas, white communities benefit from inflated population totals at the expense of the urban, overwhelmingly minority communities from which the prisoners come. This has enormous consequences for the redistricting process. White rural communities that house prisons wind up with more people in state legislatures representing them, while poor communities of color lose representatives because it appears their population has declined” (p. 193). What should be done to ensure the right to vote and be represented in government?

  4. Should we abolish for-profit prisons? What role should they play in the criminal justice system, if any? Are for-profit prisons effective? Are they ethical? 

  5. What factors regarding the United States’ social climate, political and legal systems, and history enabled or created the current system of mass incarceration that we have? Why does the US overwhelmingly have the highest incarceration rate? What about our nations’ principles, values, and systems could have led to the state that we are in today? What can be done about it if it is ingrained in our culture and society? 

  6. What surprised you most about what you learned in this unit? What did not surprise you? What was your biggest takeaway? 

  7. Now that you’ve learned about the issue of mass incarceration, what can you do to address the issue? What are some concrete actions that you can take? What can other students like you do to effect change on the issue? What are the limits to your involvement and work? 

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