Courtesy of Student Life and Senior Sports Editor Alex Leichenger

America’s criminal justice system is racially and socially oppressive, legal scholar Michelle Alexander argued in her recent speech on campus.

Addressing a crowd of undergraduates, law students, adults from the community, and local middle and high school students, Alexander, author of the 2010 bestselling book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” said most Americans believe their justice system only requires minor tinkering.

But, Alexander said, the facts that prison corporations are listed on the New York Stock Exchange and many rural communities are economically reliant on prisons has led her to believe that more fundamental social movement is required to reform the system.

“If you’re not directly impacted by this system, you can easily go your whole life without having any idea of what is going on,” Alexander said.

The Bryan Cave Moot Courtroom in Anheuser-Busch Hall was packed to capacity for Alexander’s speech, and extra chairs were needed even in the overflow room. It was the keynote address at the conference, which celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Washington University School of Law’s Clinical Education Program.

Alexander talked about how Americans can turn on their televisions and see symbols of African-American social progress like President Barack Obama and the first family but that those examples are not fully representative.

“But then you drive less than a mile from the White House, and you find the other America,” Alexander said.

“Today, millions of children in America grow up believing that one day, they too will go to jail,” she added. “In our poorest, most segregated communities, young people are shuttled from our decrepit, under-funded schools to brand-new, high-tech prisons.”

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