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Two-Tiered Justice: Race, Class, and Crime Policy

January 13, 2010
The Integration Debate (Routledge, 2009) explores both long-standing and emerging controversies over the nation's ongoing struggles with discrimination and segregation. The Sentencing Project's Executive Director Marc Mauer authored a chapter exploring the relationships between race, class, and criminal justice policy.

For more than a half century since the promise of an integrated society occasioned by the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision (1954), opportunities for people of color have expanded significantly.

Since 1954, a thriving black middle class has emerged, along with growing numbers of Latinos and other groups who are reaping the rewards of a multicultural society. And, of course, the ascent of the nation’s first black President only accentuates the achievements of many African American professionals in recent decades.

Lurking not far below the surface, though, is the grim reality of a society that in many respects is as segregated as ever, and arguably one with declining opportunities for those left behind in the changing economic climate. In many of the nation’s urban areas, large numbers of the generation that grew up after the Civil Rights Movement now toil in low-wage or underground economies, with only distant connections to the national, let alone global, economy. And in the most profound betrayal of the promise of integration and opportunity, the United States has created a world-record prison population, fueled by policies that have exposed substantial portions of African Americans to the life-changing consequences of the criminal justice system.

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