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.