Thursday, May 20, 2010

Unmasking the Prison Industrial Complex Part 1: The High Profits of Prison Labor

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. - 13th Amendment: US Constitution





Our country has its share of problems. There are many aspects of this democracy, which are in serious need of reform. Yet we believe that no matter how bad things get in America, that her cause is ultimately a just cause and that America is generally concerned with its citizens being the best that they can be in every facet of society. We believe that each citizen is entitled to the PURSUIT of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but at what cost? What happens when your confidence in this concept is shattered? When the foundation of our belief in this country is broken by statistics and horrifying stories that show an unjust cause and malicious intent? During the course of the next few weeks, we are taking a close look at what has been dubbed the Prison Industrial Complex in America. We will unravel and expose some of the mysteries that have been centered around this controversial topic. Our goal is to first enlighten ourselves, through research, personal experience and even third party experiences and to then use that information to enlighten you. Please tune in over the next few weeks and show us your support as we take a stab at Unmasking the Prison Industrial Complex.


The Big Problem

The Prison Industrial Complex refers to the interweaving of private business and government interests. Its twofold purpose is profit and social control. Its public rationale is the fight against crime. Using the same fear tactic that the right tends to use to justify their attempts at violating the constitution, the prison industrial complex is justified because we are told over and over how dangerous our society is and how unsafe we are in our own neighborhoods. We can then feel comfortable about locking up any and everyone who intimidates us.

Across the nation, thousands of new prisons are being built, as crime rates fluctuate from state to state. In the last 20 years, the state of California alone has constructed 21 new prisons while in the same amount of time, it has built only one new university. Another 5 new prisons are under construction and plans are in the works to build another 10. The question to ask though, since it is clear that prisons do not lower crime rates or deter crime in any way, is why are so many prisons being built? Why are they using today’s 3rd grade test scores to determine the number of future inmates that will exist? The reason is that prison is huge business in the United States. Throughout this three part series we will be taking a look at a number key components, which essentially fuels the Prison Industrial Complex in America. Social control, economics and globalization are the main factors that go into the creation of this epidemic, which disproportionately affects people of color.

The research that went into this post revealed harsh realities about the state of our country and it's deeply rooted capitalist mentality. Story after story, it was clear that real Americans were suffering in ways that simply did not have to be. It was obvious that the prison industrial complex was created and perpetuated in a way that is unprecedented. Stories such as, US Technologies, an Austin, Texas based company, who closed their doors and laid off hundreds of employees only to ship their jobs, not overseas, but to the nearest Austin, Texas Prison, where inmates work for cents a day. Many companies have begun using prison labor, such as Chevron, IBM, Motorola, Compaq, Texas Instruments, Honeywell, Microsoft, Victoria’s Secret and Boeing. You may have had firsthand experience dealing with the hardest of criminals if you have ever called TWA to book a flight. That’s right folks; TWA uses prison inmates to book flights. Even federal prisons have gotten a piece of the action, a company under the trade name Unicor uses prisoners to make everything from lawn furniture to congressional desks. Their web site proudly displays “where the government shops first.” For private corporations, prison labor is pure gold. With prison labor there are no unions, no strikes, no insurance benefits, and no rights! This is even backed up by the 13th Amendment of the United States Constitution. State Corrections agencies are even advertising their prisoners to corporations by asking them questions such as: “Are you experiencing high employee turnover? Worried about the cost of employee benefits? Getting hit by overseas competition? Then the Washington State Department of Corrections Private Sector Partnerships is for you.”

An American worker, who once upon a time made $8/hour, loses his job when the company relocates overseas where workers are paid only $2/day. Unemployed, and alienated from society indifferent to his plight, he becomes involved in the drug economy or some other outlawed means of survival. He is arrested, put in prison, and put to work. His new salary: 22 cents/hour. This fictional story, unfortunately is true of many Americans, that have not been given many options. Prison is quickly becoming the new form of slavery, as the laws against crime disproportionately affect the African American Community.

Set Up To Fail

By law, any individual convicted of a drug felony in this country is prohibited from obtaining financial aid. So if you are an ex drug addict or a drug dealer who wants to get his life in order, and you've been convicted of a drug felony you will have a very difficult time funding your education, unless you were smart enough to stash some of those drug profits. On the flip side, however, if you are convicted of a violent felony, meaning if you've murdered someone, or raped a person, you're convicted and are later released and decide to attend a college or university, America will gladly pay for you to attend an institution of higher learning. But not to worry, because guess where you can attend school for free? Give up?? Prison!!!

The black community has always been the target of drug culture. For decades our neighborhoods have been flooded with heroine, cocaine and crack cocaine. It is no secret that under the leadership of J. Edgar Hoover and his cointelpro program, the black power structure in America was neutralized by turning the people into drug addicts and drug dealers. This phenomenon swept across the country and completely changed the landscape of urban America forever. Although statistically just as many whites suffer from drug addiction as do blacks, blacks are incarcerated from drug related crimes up to 3 times more than whites. This is no mistake.

The media would have you believe that the status quo should remain as it is, because if you do the crime then you should do the time. They say the monsters that commit these heinous crimes that we read about in the newspapers and see reenacted on CSI, should be punished to the fullest extent and that our streets are safer because the criminal justice system punishes the individuals that make us feel unsafe. Much like the cold war and America's obsession with its disdain for everything Communist, it has now shifted that fear and hate to domestic crime and violence and that fear is fueled by what we see on television and what we are told to believe by the media. The fact of the matter is that out of the 2 million people currently incarcerated in the US 150,000 are armed robbers, 125,000 are murderers and 100,000 are sex offenders. Prisons are certainly not filled with corporate criminals who make up only 1 percent of our nation's prisons. Violence occurs in less than 14 percent of all reported crime, and injuries occur in just 3 percent. In California for example, the top three charges for those entering prisons are: possession of a controlled substance, possession of a controlled substance for sale, and robbery. Violent crimes like murder, rape, manslaughter and kidnapping don't even make up the top 10. Prisons are being filled largely with the poor, the mentally ill, people of color, drug addicts and many different combinations of these particular attributes. They are not reserved for violent people who are extremely dangerous to society. In many of the instances surrounding these less serious crimes, there was an alternative to incarceration, which could have served to punish, while also presenting an opportunity for reform. This country has severely ignored man's basic capacity to change. Its primary focus is to benefit from the disparity of the poor, for the purposes of obtaining wealth. This is displayed by America's general refusal to initiate more alternatives to incarceration.

Prison Is Not Necessarily the Answer

In New York City for example, there is a Rikers Island based program called, The Fresh Start Program. The purpose is just that, to provide inmates with a Fresh Start on life, by presenting them with what I like to call "another window." You are given the option to follow two career tracks in this 5 month program, Computer Journalism, or Culinary Arts. Following the Computer Journalism track you are taught the basics of computer hardware and software repair as well as journalism, creative writing and poetry. Each student, in this program develops a written piece to be published in the quarterly Rikers Review. After the Computer Journalism student is released, within a month they are able to take the A+ certification, which in many US cities, will almost guarantee you an entry level job somewhere. Taking the Culinary Arts track, you are given extensive training and upon release are prepared to take the test for the NY State food handlers license. For the typical Rikers Island inmate, obtaining one of these two skills in many cases is the difference between a life free from incarceration or falling into the 80% recidivism rate within the first year.

Based on the statistics, it is clear that most incarcerated individuals commit crimes for one of three reasons, disparity, lack of opportunity, or simply because it is the proverbial path of least resistance. In many instances, it may only take exposing an individual to a viable alternative to criminal activity, in order to accomplish true rehabilitation. Unfortunately however, America does not seem to be interested in true rehabilitation, because this path does not produce profits.

The Prison Industrial Complex, although rooted in greed and centered around prison labor and corporate interests, is a tri-fold issue that covers many other areas, which is why this discussion had to be three parts. We hope that you will stay tuned for the next installment. In the interim, this portion of our series will close with a few questions.

Why is America dumping so much money into the prison industry?

What will it take to reverse the course that America is taking, which has and continues to damage so many lives, legislation, revolution, etc?

What will it take to raise the consciousness of our people who continue to fall into the traps that are set before them?
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