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Race, Crime, and Incarceration in the United States


Black Children on Chain Gang, ca. 1900.
Race, crime, and incarceration have long been linked in the United States. This page explores its various manifestations including African American participation in organized crime and especially the rise of gangs and gang violence.  It also addresses African Americans and the prison system including its impact on black life, and the people and organizations engaged in challenging and changing that system. As with our pages on Black Lives Matter, Lynching in the United States, and Racial Violence in the United States, we are constantly updating this page and invite you to make suggestions on other examples that should be included. Please send them to suggestions [at] blackpast [dot] org. We especially invite you to write entries for this page.



Gangsters and Gangs, Old and New:

Casper Holstein

Stephanie St. Clair

Ellsworth “Bumpy” Johnson

Leroy “Nicky” Barnes

Frank “Black Caesar” Matthews

David Barksdale

Larry Hoover

Raymond Lee Washington

Stanley “Tookie” Williams III

Wayne Felix Mitchell

The Blackstone Rangers

Freeway Rick Ross

Rayful Edmond III

The Crips

The Bloods

Watts, California

Compton, California


Incarceration and Post Civil War Enslavement:

George Jackson (The Soledad Brothers)

Attica Prison Riot, 1971

Mumia Abu Jamal

Central Park Five, 1989



Challenging the Carceral State

Elaine Brown

Rubin "The Hurricane" Carter

Angela Davis

Aaron Dixon

Huey P. Newton

Geronimo Pratt

Bobby Seale

The Black Panther Party

National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives

The Innocence Project: A Short History Since 1983

The Prison Abolition Movement (1985- )



We at believe that every black life matters including those that are lost through urban violence. Chicago today is the epicenter for that violence especially involving black men. We are linking below to the Chicago Sun Times “Homicide Watch Chicago” which shows photos of nearly every homicide victim in the city between 2013 and 2017

Homicide Watch Chicago

Counted: An Oakland Story


Bibliography: Major Works on Race, Crime, and the Carceral State

Tera Eva Agyepong, The Criminalization of Black Children: Race, Gender, and Delinquency in Chicago's Juvenile Justice System, 1899-1945 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018)

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New York: The New Press, 2010)

Paul Butler, Chokehold: Policing Black Men (New York: The New Press, 2017)

Angela Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2003)

James Foreman Jr., Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2017)

Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Oppositon in Globalizing California (Berkeley: University of California PRess, 2007)

Sarah Haley, No Mercy Here: Gender, Punishment, and the Making of Jim Crow Modernity (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016)

Kelly Lytle Hernandez, City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles, 1771-1965 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017)

Elizabeth Hinton, From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2017)

George Jackson, Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson (New York: Bantam Books, 1970)

Amy E. Lerman & Vesla M. Weaver, Arresting Citizenship: The Democratic Consequences of American Crime Control (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014)

Glenn C. Loury, Race, Incarceration, and American Values (Cambridge: Boston Review Books, 2008)

Naomi Murakawa, The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014)

Judah Schept, Progressive Punishment: Job Loss, Jail Growth, and the Neoliberal Logic of Carceral Expansion (New York: New York University Press, 2015)

Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2015)

Heather Ann Thompson, Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy (New York: Pantheon, 2016)

Bert Unseem and Anne Morrison Piehl, Prison State: The Challenge of Mass Incarceration (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008)

Related Pages:

Black Lives Matter

Lynchings in the United States Since 1865

Racial Violence in the United States Since 1860

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