11.28.2008

"But prisons do not disappear problems, they disappear human beings."

When I lived in California--briefly, after high school--I was taken aback upon filling out applications for employment, as I found that each one contained the same statement: Have you been convicted of a crime?* and corresponding asterisk explanation: If conviction was marijuana related, check NO.

Now, I was never convicted of any crime, but the statement heightened my curiosity regarding the inefficacy of drug policy and the injustices of the prison system. Years later, I found Angela Davis' work and thoughts on the prison industrial complex, from which the title line is borrowed. Basically, Davis points out the disturbing practices of the United States governments--both federal and state-- whereby more individuals are locked behind bars here than any other country in the Western world. The management, so to speak, of the vast number of "criminals--"disproportionately people of color and those who are undereducated and/or living in poverty--is then outsourced to corporations, privatized. Prisoners and the prison system become commodities, then--a means to profit for shareholders. There is no regard for the need to develop solutions to social issues of injustice that extend beyond mere incarceration. Well how, TPNB, you say, could the money that goes into maintaining the prison industrial complex be better used? What types of interventions could ease some of our society's issues before individuals are caged for profit?
I will let the expert answer:

[The prison industrial complex] devours the social wealth that could be used to subsidize housing for the homeless, to ameliorate public education for poor and racially marginalized communities, to open free drug rehabilitation programs for people who wish to kick their habits, to create a national health care system, to expand programs to combat HIV, to eradicate domestic abuse -- and, in the process, to create well-paying jobs for the unemployed. . .


Mass incarceration is not a solution to unemployment, nor is it a solution to the vast array of social problems that are hidden away in a rapidly growing network of prisons and jails. However, the great majority of people have been tricked into believing in the efficacy of imprisonment, even though the historical record clearly demonstrates that prisons do not work. Racism has undermined our ability to create a popular critical discourse to contest the ideological trickery that posits imprisonment as key to public safety. The focus of state policy is rapidly shifting from social welfare to social control.


As I continued to investigate, I began to understand that the "War on Drugs" is simply another way in which officers in police departments around the country keep their pockets lined. In the wake of some sad news about an old friend, I was compelled to research exactly where my state stood in terms of incarceration of nonviolent offenders. Yeah, we came in 1st (ah location revealed). My state ranks "#1 among the fifty states in terms of the proportion of drug offenders as part of the overall prison population and in new prison admissions who are drug offenders" (DPA). How very sad. And how very fiscally irresponsible--with our state cutting budgets like nobody's business (including, but of course, higher ed-my alma mater lost MILLIONS in funding), and with each prisoner costing tax payers $46,880/year, doesn't it seem like now might be the perfect opportunity to reform drug sentencing laws?

Government, on all levels, is willing to continue to prize corporate contracts and lobbyist agendas over basic human dignity and amelioration of a host of social issues. The defeat of Prop 5 in California during the November elections is a perfect demonstration of this. But the fact that Prop 5 was proposed and voted on is a step in the right direction. Radical change is certainly needed in order to restructure our criminal justice system. You can visit DPA to see what you can do and to investigate where your own state stands--I'm quite sure it can't be any worse than mine.

5 comments:

Rastamick61 said...

Interesting that until recently the cornerstone of NY's drug laws were set up by Nelson Rockefeller who died in the company of a prostitute. He was all for throwing the book at come criminals, just not ones like him. Also famous for ordering the state troopers to kill pretty much everything that moved in the yard during the Attica riot including most of the guards who died. See how quickly this stuff turns to bullshit, you dont' even have to add water, just take a good look at it. I applaud your energies.

Rastamick61 said...

wow -- freudian slip ? SOME criminials not COME criminals !!! jeeez

Mrs. V said...

I think you would enjoy the book Heart and Hands. It discusses what communities should be doing to improve communities and how much of current legal processes/procedures are not really effective pieces to a solution. I read parts of the book this summer, but I still need to read the rest. Here are some comments that I mentioned on my blog about the book: http://mrsvsreviews.blogspot.com/search/label/Hearts%20and%20Hands

When I went to get the link to post I realized that you did comment on one of my posts about the book.

Rastamick61 said...

Hi K check this one out posted today :

http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2008/12/01/graner/

teach people not books said...

r/m (#1/2): it's always the biggest "sinners" (in their own eyes) ready to cast off the rest of us, into the depths of hell. so frustrating.

v: i did see that fantastic post! and i enjoyed it. i would love to read that book--i am going to add it to my amazon wishlist. current legal procedures are so far from rehabilitative in any fashion--strictly punitive. what's worse, people come out being expertly trained in the art of criminality, after, as the talented mr. crowley puts it, having to fight day to day struggles for their human dignity and basic safety.

r/m (#3): i'm running out of steam will look at it tomorrow. sleep. i think now, i will sleep.