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Mass Incarceration48:43
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 (Angela Hsieh)
(Angela Hsieh)

The United States imprisons more people than any other country in the world, and a disproportionate number of those prisoners are Black. What are the origins of the U.S. criminal justice system and how did racism shape it? From the creation of the first penitentiaries in the 1800s, to the "tough-on-crime" prosecutors of the 1990s, how America created a culture of mass incarceration.


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Photos: MI

Illustration by Angela Hsieh. (Angela Hsieh)
Eastern State Penitentiary opened in Philadelphia in 1829 and stayed open as a functioning prison until 1971. It was part of the movement that laid the foundation for America's penitentiary system. (Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site)
An aerial view of Eastern State Penitentiary. When it was first built, it was the largest public building in the U.S. The building had indoor plumbing before the White House. (Bettmann/Bettmann Archive)
Black and white photograph of a group of Klansmen surrounding freedman "Gus" (played by white actor Walter Long in blackface) in a scene from D.W. Griffith's 1915 film, "The Birth of a Nation". (New York Public Library)
A picture of a chain gang in Thomasville, Georgia, taken in 1898. With the enactment of Jim Crow laws, black prison populations in southern states rose dramatically. (Buyenlarge/Getty Images)

Correction: August 15, 2019 12:00 am — In the original version of this episode an incorrect date was given for Earl Warren's vice presidential bid. It was in 1948, not 1944.

Copyright NPR 2022.

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