DERAILING THE PRISON INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX
By: M. Kita Williams
April 25, 2014 – Civilrightsagenda.com
The citizens and taxpayers of America are being duped into paying billions of dollars to support a broken criminal justice system.
What is Happening?
Taxpayers are forced to pay billions of tax dollars each year to support a criminal justice system which targets and incarcerates certain people disparately, at a whopping cost of approximately $40,000 per year, per inmate. This budget line-item only scratches the surface of costs which taxpayers are forced to shoulder. More costs resulting from the Prison Industrial Complex will be described further in this article.
Keep in mind as we take a look at this, people of color comprise over 70 % of the state and federal prison populations, yet only account for approximately 35% of the total American population.
Regardless if you are Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islander, Native Alaskan or Hawaiian, or any other racial classification …. if you live in America, the derailment of the Prison Industrial Complex is of critical importance to you as:
A) a taxpayer and
B) a potential victim to this ruthless machine which is designed to make money from warehousing living human beings.
Like David and Goliath, the enormously powerful engines which fuel the PIC are likened to a seemingly unconquerable giant that cannot be taken down. However, history has proven that when people unite their collective voices with the force of doing that which is right, the result of that union takes on a force which unleashes the most powerful and limitless forces that exists in the Universe.
Therefore, there is nothing to fear.
By understanding the cowardly and selfish fuel which burns at the core of this unjust trapping machine – that we, the American taxpayers are unconsciously footing the bill for, we are given an enlightened confidence that WE, THE AMERICAN PEOPLE CAN & MUST BRING THIS “GOLIATH” CALLED THE PRISON INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX TO ITS KNEES…AND WE WILL SUCCEED!
Why Has This Happened?
Before describing the weapons which Americans are already armed with to derail the PIC, the inner workings of the Prison Industrial Complex must be revealed for what it is – and more importantly, what it’s composed of, in order to more clearly target where and how our weapons must be applied.
The Prison Industrial Complex is an institutional machine at work within the federal and state criminal justice systems in the United States. Its beginnings stem from the Jim Crow era, and more recently the “war on crime”, particularly touted by the Reagan Administration of the 1980’s.
We have to get caught up with a very brief history lesson to get a good grasp on this issue. The Prison Industrial Complex is now known as “The New Jim Crow” (Alexander, 2012)
What is Jim Crow?
Let’s take a look….Following the Civil War and the emancipation of African slaves in America, federal military troops were deployed to states of the Confederacy to create order and protect freed slaves from the brutal terrorism practiced by the Ku Klux Klan. Emancipated slaves and their descendants posed a threat to the status quo. The sheer numbers of Blacks in southern states such as Georgia and South Carolina represented majorities of their respective populations.
By 1868 six hundred Black Republicans joined state legislatures, fourteen went to the U.S. House of Representatives, and two went to the U.S. Senate. Six became lieutenant governors, and thousands more took lesser offices including those as judges and sheriffs. In this period it was not uncommon to have Black judges hear cases involving Black tenants and white landlords—and decide in favor of the Black to the shock of the whites. The reconstructed state became a tool for Blacks and poor whites to exercise some control over their own lives, whereas the previous state had mainly been used as a means of controlling Black labor (http://www.isreview.org/issues/57/feat-reconstruction.shtml).
When troops were withdrawn in 1875, the Jim Crow era launched in full swing. States enacted laws to blatantly disenfranchise and terrorize African-Americans. The right to vote or participate in society as citizens/human beings were revoked. Acts of murder, rape, assault and torture were made perfectly legal to afflict on Blacks. Public lynchings of Black men were particularly popular during this period.
This blatant and legal Jim Crow Era remained in effect for nearly 100 years until The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950′s and 1960′s challenged its legality successfully. Although the laws changed, the attitudes of Jim Crow supporters did not, and in some cases worsened. The membership of Ku Klux Klan, which is dominated by White men, skyrocketed. Under their robes and masks, many of these KKK members were regarded as “models of White society”. Many served in public office and law enforcement. The KKK declared war on the Black race and promoted the belief that White people were superior. This fear-based hate group was used to organize Whites who feared losing their status in society. The KKK also inducted White women and children into their organizations – as well as their sick ideology. We all know that the KKK and other hate groups are still alive and growing in this country. This link will take you to the most recent “hate map” developed by the Southern Law Poverty Center which outlines state by state, where hate groups are currently active.
Back to the War on Crime
Declarations of war have been the political access slogan of elected officials for over the last 50 years, and the “war on crime” was designed to implement what is now considered the “New Jim Crow” (Alexander, 2010, 2012) era in the United States.
By governmental adoption of “wars on crime”, which particularly targets the most pervasive petty drug and violent crimes in impoverished minority areas, certain powers-that-be in our White male dominated society have systemically enforced barriers to people of color, while reinforcing aspects of White male dominated control. This sanctioning of defacto apartheid (Better, 2008, p. 117), has by design added a buffer between Blacks / people of color and Whites. Don’t think for one minute that the criminal justice system is a fair and balanced one. The numbers that you will see in a minute will completely convince you of that. To the contrary,people who seek to dominate and control the American economy, and even the mindsets of Americans via the media , support this unfair system of disenfranchising people of color.
How do they benefit? With a playing field which is not leveled, the benefit to those on the raised side of the field comes in the form of less competition to access of the economic and social privileges enjoyed historically by White Americans by the “elimination of the competition”. This disparity of economic opportunity and wealth seen between Whites and people of color has been historically promoted by maintaining institutional mechanisms which create barriers for people of color.
Who is Profiting From the Prison Industrial Complex?
The term “war” in America means big profits to those who are in the “war servicing business”. The term servicing includes, but is not limited to the design, development, construction and management of facilities and structures, the demolition of others, as well as the management of such and required personnel.
For example, Halliburton is a mammoth, politically fueled, corporation which has received billions of dollars in federal contracts for servicing wars dating back to the Johnson Administration. It is estimated that Halliburton was paid over $39.5 billion for servicing the Iraq war alone.
It should come to no surprise that Halliburton’s subsidiary, Kellogg, Brown, and Root is also in the business of servicing prisons. “In 1965, a year after Johnson stepped up America’s participation in Vietnam, Brown & Root joined three other construction and project management behemoths, Raymond International, Morris-Knudsen, and J.A. Jones to form one of the largest civilian-based military construction conglomerates in history….(This team known as RMK-BRJ)…literally changed the face of Vietnam, clearing out wide swaths of jungle for airplane landing strips, dredging channels for ships, and building American bases from Da Nang to Saigon.” (Briody, p. 164) “KBR, as a member of this joint conglomerate, was also contracted to build new prison cells in Vietnam, replacing the “horribly inhumane prison cells built by the French government 75 years earlier to hold prisoners.” (Briody, p. 167)
One should keep in mind that Halliburton’s CEO from 1995 to 1999 was former Secretary of Defense to President George Bush Sr., and U.S. Vice President to George Bush II, Dick Cheney. Chris Matthews who is now the ranking anchor of Hard Ball with Chris Matthews on MSNBC, stated on The David Letterman Show in May of 2010, “When he got to be vice president, when he was signed for vice president, the …company gave him a $34 million signing bonus to become vice president of the United States.”
The rest is history. Bush and Cheney ran the White House from 2000 to 2008, and coincidentally involved this nation in wars against Afghanistan and Iraq, to name only the major ones which most Americans are familiar.
This brings us now to the stem which branches from the root of the Prison Industrial Complex: By warehousing vast numbers of people, and in America that is dominated by the mass incarceration of people of color, the prison profiteers ARE MAKING BILLIONS FROM OUR HARD EARNED TAXPAYER DOLLARS. It may not come as a surprise that these private, corporate prison profiteering companies happen to be led by White males whom are the true beneficiaries of these billions. Unscrupulous politicians which are also represented by a majority of White males are benefiting from the PIC too. The PRISON PROFITEERS PAY MILLIONS OF DOLLARS IN CAMPAIGN SUPPORT, which leads to legislative support of the PIC, and of course lucrative financial deals, i.e. Dick Cheney.
While on the flip side, the consequences of those who bear criminal records are negatively affected in every important facet of survival. Having a criminal record automatically creates barriers to prior offenders to gaining employment, housing, and access to participate in the democratic process because their right to vote has been revoked. Thus the PIC is now referred to as, “The New Jim Crow” (Alexander, 2010, 2012).
Show Me the Numbers
As of 2007, approximately two-thirds of the state prison population in the United States was composed of Black or Hispanic inmates (Lynch, 2007, p. 158). Studies performed as early as 1998 reflect the lopsided incarceration rate of Blacks and Hispanics versus Whites for crimes of drug use. (Lynch, 2007, pp. 162-163) The table below reflects a portion of this report detailing drug users, including drug type and race of respondents in a population adjusted to reflect usage per 100 U.S. Citizens.
|Cocaine (all forms)||8||1|
|SUBSEQUENT INCARCERATION OF ARRESTS ABOVE||33%||51%|
Incarceration statistics of drug offenders reflective of this study however show that while 33% of white defendants convicted of drug violations in state courts were sent to prison in 1998, 51% or Black defendants were sentenced to prison. This trend has escalated to ridiculous proportions.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice “Prisoners in 2012: Trends in Admissions and Releases” report, of all males sentenced to state and federal prison in 2012, the following racial composition is behind bars.
2012 Composition of Males Sentenced to State and Federal Prisons
*Includes American Indians, Alaska Natives, Asians, Native Hawaiians, other Pacific Islanders, and persons identifying two or more races.
With this clear picture of those sitting behind bars and how things really work from the top down in this country, it would be both an act of ignorance and negligence of any concerned citizen and taxpayer in this nation to not make it priority “number 1” to adamantly investigate, reveal, and oppose this institutionalization of prison profiteering by uniting and organizing to do so.
All Right, That’s It! What Do We Do About This?
Our weapons are advocacy and mobilization.
Some may feel that an attempt to derail the Prison Industrial Complex and this form of institutionalized racism would be like throwing small pebbles against a mountain. It’s natural for one to say, “Yeah…David slayed Goliath, but that was Biblical and I’m just one person” or …. “I want to help, but I don’t know which organizations are reputable at really doing something about this stuff.”
First let me say that I think these feelings are understandable, because they derive from human nature. It’s the type of human discomfort one experiences when thinking about facing something that they feel is more powerful than they. It can create a feeling of powerless. However this fear causes people to underestimate his or her true power.
The scientifically proven fact of what 1+1 expands to in the realm of democratic social change can be visualized by someone who simply rewinds the tape to the election of the United States’ 44th President, Barack Obama. During both the 2008 and 2012 campaigns, people of all socioeconomic, racial, ethnic, religious and political backgrounds galvanized their strength in the form of numbers, into an unstoppable force. UNITED, these individuals collectively kept their eyes on the prize and showed the entire world what “grassroots” efforts can do bring a CHANGE to this country.
For those who fear being labeled anti-mainstream or “color lovers” (aka nigger lovers), and being ostracized by their friends and establishments, this too in an understandable reaction of human nature. I’m no fool and know what backlash is. Those who may fear this type of rejection, which in some cases may be a severe penalty financially and socially, the question to ask yourself is, “Do I tell everyone what my greatest fears, mistakes, or achievements in life are?” This is a rhetorical question I ask indeed. This is America…therefore, one doesn’t have to tell anyone who he or she voted for, ate for dinner last night, or what their battles are…. however, DO take action – Privately if need be. Align yourself with and join powerful, reputable Civil and Human Rights organizations with track records of success in discriminatory legal battles. To name a few there are the NAACP, The National Urban League, and The National Action Network. YOUR private support counts!
If you are not concerned about backlash or peer pressure, participate openly and fully with such organizations as mentioned above. Show up! Stand up! Speak Out! Show Out!
There are added social benefits to joining organizations which promote the right thing. Sometimes a true friend comes in the forms of a new friend. People often make new friends by joining organizations and attending events. Not to mention, new friends are often made when they realize that they are not alone or “nuts” for feeling the way that they do about certain issues. Plus, they will already be aligned with your views.
What’s In It For Me? Why Should I Get Involved in Something That Doesn’t Involve Me That Much?
Let’s talk money first.
The billions of tax dollars which Americans are already required to pay for this backwards system is a forced collective action. We are being forced to pay for someone else’s insecurities and cowardice to do simply do the right thing. We the taxpayers have to pay for this broken prison industry which builds unnecessary prisons out in the boondocks of our states. Then we are forced to pay billions more to maintain prisoners at an approximate cost of $40,000 per prisoner / per year.
We never see people standing in line cheering to pay taxes do we? But until now, when we thought about prisons, we only reflected on the shock therapies the media shoots us with everyday about crimes committed primarily by people of color. However, the startling reality is that the true statistics on crime reveal that the majority of arrests for violent and drug crimes are those committed by Whites, yet the majority of those sentenced to prison for such crimes are people of color.
Now, by simply using your email, pen, or voice collectively with the wise guidance and lobbying efforts of reputable, proven advocacy organizations that have successfully dismantled discriminatory practices in this country, this broken federal and state criminal justice system will be revamped to one which is sensible. A common sense criminal justice system punishes criminals equitably and according to the extent of their offenses. Not this mandatory minimum nonsense which is often times sentenced at the discretion of a Judge for petty drug offenses, such as possession of $20 of crack cocaine. Anyone who has seen the destructive effects on the health and lives of crack addicts knows without a doubt that these addicts needs rehabilitative help, not imprisonment.
Back to the money. The extra billions of dollars saved from NOT warehousing petty criminals for extended sentences can be used for economic development in America’s home bases.
How many new businesses, jobs, loans, grants, and scholarships could be created in your state if the criminal justice system was fair and not based on profit? How many historic districts could be beautified in American’s respective home towns? How many of the best ranked teachers could be added to needed school districts with the saved prison money?
All as a result of the basic social change formula: 1+1= results for the right thing.
How Is This Going To Work Again?
The outcome of this mass opposition by us, the American people, via our collective voices channeled through powerful Civil and Human Rights organizations will demand new legislation supporting rehabilitative programs, alternatives to incarceration, as well as reintroduction programs for past offenders which are based on meritocracy and democracy, as opposed to disenfranchisement.
The derailment process causes a win-win for all involved.
As mass opposition and successful legislation will cause profit losses to the PIC structure, prison profiteers will be forced to reinvent themselves – for they will surely not want to leave any money on the table if there is some left.
Speaking of meritocracy! Advise our lawmakers to make the prison profiteers earn a portion of what they can prove that they have saved the taxpayers of this country by recreating themselves into positive, rehabilitative complexes which lead to self sufficiency and expungement of criminal records for petty crimes.
- Thus the people succeed in placing the profiteers on the merit system.
- The taxpayer wins relief in the form of a smaller tax bill.
- America’s economic development flourishes, creating new jobs, grants, scholarships, better schools, and programs.
- Past offenders are given the opportunity to become contributing members of society based on the merit of reinventing themselves through rehabilitation and reintroduction programs, with the reward of expungement of petty criminal records so that they can get jobs, buy houses, and add to the economic stability of this country.
In closing, during his historic televised farewell address on January 17, 1961, President Dwight Eisenhower warned, “Americans in the counsels of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence whether sought or unsought by the (Military) Industrial Complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense, with our peaceful methods and goals…so lest security and liberty may prosper together.”
If you would like to learn more about reputable, progressive organizations with proven track records of results in not only the area of criminal justice, but also human rights issues such as poverty, health care, education, and much more, visit www.civilrightsagenda.com.