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History Exposed: From Convict Leasing to Mass Incarceration (12/3/20)

According to the ACLU, the U.S. makes up about 5% of the global population but nearly 25% of the world’s prison population. As of 2015, there are over 2.3 million people who are incarcerated—a whopping 700% increase from the 1970s. 1 out of every 3 Black boys born today is expected to be incarcerated during his life, as can 1 of every 6 Latino boys, compared to 1 of every 17 white boys.

Why is the U.S. criminal justice system out of step with the rest of the world? What are the historical forces that have shaped today’s deeply punitive and racialized institution? Does convict leasing—a unique penal system in the postbellum South where prison labor was leased for private profit—have anything to do with contemporary mass incarceration?

Join Texas Criminal Justice Coalition (TCJC) and the Convict Leasing and Labor Project (CLLP) as we reveal the history of oppression within the criminal justice system in Texas and beyond.

Our guest today is Dr. Alex Lichtenstein. Dr. Lichtenstein is a professor of history at Indiana University where he teaches U.S. and South African history as well as an editor for the American Historical Review. His work centers on the intersection of labor history and the struggle for racial justice in societies shaped by white supremacy in the U.S. and South Africa. Additionally, he has authored several works about race relations in the US, early Civil Rights struggles such as Marked, Unmarked, Remembered: A Geography of American Memory and Twice the Work of Free Labor. Today Dr. Lichtenstein will be discussing the lasting impressions that convict leasing left on our criminal system.

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