What are some court cases and laws mentioned in The New Jim Crow?
In The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander looks at several laws and court cases to analyze the ways in which the United States legal system disadvantages African Americans. Alexander identifies mandatory minimums and three-strikes laws as major contributors to the mass incarceration epidemic. Mandatory minimums are laws that attach mandatory prison sentences to certain kinds of offenses. These laws are controversial among judges, who tend to feel that they reduce judicial discretion and prevent them from handing down proportionate sentences. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court has often ruled in favor of mandatory minimum sentencing laws. For example, in the case Harmelin v. Michigan, a first-time offender was sentenced to life in prison for attempting to sell 672 grams of crack cocaine. The Supreme Court did not find this sentence to be “cruel and unusual” and ruled that it was proportionate to the crime. Three-strikes laws (which many states have implemented) are another form of mandatory minimum law. Under most three-strikes laws, after a third offense is committed, the defendant is given a mandatory harsh sentence—usually ranging from 25 years to life—regardless of nature or context of the three offenses. Alexander discusses the famous three-strikes Supreme Court case Lockyer v. Andrade. In this case, two defendants were attempting to challenge California’s controversial and severe three-strikes law. Under this law, one of the defendants received a sentence of 25 years without parole for stealing three golf clubs while the other defendant received 50 years without parole for stealing some children’s videotapes from Kmart. The Supreme Court ruled that while these sentences were harsh, they were not unconstitutional.