Here at the Dylan Ratigan Show, we’ve been thinking a lot about the wide-ranging issue of “two sets of rules” in America — rules that are inherently beneficial to one part of the populace over another, picking “winners” and “losers” before the rest of us even get a chance to get on the field.

You already know how preferential treatment works in our tax system, our banking system, and our healthcare system.  But perhaps the most troubling example of “two sets of rules” exists in the U.S. prison system with our systemic incarceration of young, black males — not to mention the devastating effects these statistics have on real lives and families in black communities around the country.

Right now, one in 100 Americans are behind bars.  Nearly 1/3 of black men will spend time in prison in their lifetime. It is statistics like these that have led law professor and civil rights advocate Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” to a bold conclusion: that the so-called “War on Drugs” is comparable to slavery and Jim Crow laws in its effect on the black community.  The stats we first pointed out in January are so important, we’re reposting them:

– Since 1971, there have been more than 40 million arrests for drug-related offenses.
– Even though blacks and whites have similar levels of drug use, blacks are ten times as likely to be incarcerated for drug crimes.
– “There are more blacks under correctional control today — in prison or jail, on probation or parole — than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began.”
– “As of 2004, more African American men were disenfranchised (due to felon disenfranchisement laws) than in 1870, the year the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified prohibiting laws that explicitly deny the right to vote on the basis of race.”
– In 2005, 4 out of 5 drug arrests were for possession not trafficking, and 80% of the increase in drug arrests in the 1990s was for marijuana.
– There are 50,000 arrests for low-level pot possession a year in New York City, representing one out of every seven cases that turn up in criminal courts.  Most of these arrested are black and hispanic men.

Another significant institutional incentive to our prison system as well, of course, is profit, and as always, the associated business, lobbying and political apparatus. A couple disturbing trends: prisoners now manufacture and assemble products for Microsoft, Starbucks, Victoria’s Secret, Boeing, as well as body armor for soldiers and handcuff cases for law enforcement officers.  In 2007, taxpayers spent $74 billion on prisons, with the largest percentage increase of prisoners going to for-profit prison companies.

And these private prison companies make sure to give back to the community — the community of think tanks, lobbyists and candidates.  According to the Justice Policy Institute, these companies “have contributed $835,514 to federal candidates and over $6 million to state politicians. They have also spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on direct lobbying efforts.”

They are large donors to state-based think tanks like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a “corporate front group” that markets harsh immigration, drug laws, and prison privatization laws to state level politicians around the country.  (You can learn more about what ALEC does here, at

Professor Michelle Alexander joined the show to discuss her excellent new book, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.” Here’s her full interview:

The day after Michelle’s interview, Toure discussed “The New Jim Crow” in his Daily Rant. Here’s the segment:

VIDEO: Ending the Stranglehold of the Prison Industrial Complex on America with criminologist David Kennedy and Dr. Ben Chavis (Feb 2012)
OP-ED: Occupy the Dream – The Mathematics of Racism by Dylan Ratigan and Russell Simmons (Jan 2012)
VIDEO: Russell Simmons and Dr. Ben Chavis on Occupy the Dream (Jan 2012)

Meg Robertson is a digital producer for