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(en) Daybreak #3 - Raze the Prisons: An intro to the Prison-Industrial System

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>(http://free.freespeech.org/mn/daybreak!/article7.html)
Date Tue, 19 Nov 2002 03:53:47 -0500 (EST)

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

There are so many ways to approach the subject of prisons. We
could talk about the inherently vicious nature of them, how they
dehumanize people and devastate communities. We could talk
about how theyıre a method to keep poor people out of the way of
the powerful and in fact how theyıre becoming a means, through
legal slavery, of making corporations and the Rich richer, at a cost
of less then 25 cents an hour. We could talk about the connections
between politicians, prison corporations, and the government and
how they all benefit from continuing to lock more people up (2
million now). We could talk about the way that politicians and the
media's racist manipulation of the publicıs fears in order to make
us scared of one another, clamoring to jail our neighbors even as
the crime rate falls. There are so many ways we could begin that it
becomes hard to make any sense of the subject and our protest
against these fucked up institutions is reduced to helpless static
against the tragic reality. The reality that at a time when crime
rates have dropped or stayed the same the US prison population
has soared to over two million, doubling since the start of the mid
90ıs. The reality is that billions of dollars are being made in all
levels of the Prison system. The reality is that governments are
using prisons as holding pens for ?undesirablesı, locking up poor,
young, people of color who might be dangerous to their authority.
The sad truth is that corporations, in collusion with government
are locking millions of people up in pens of metal and concrete,
wasting lives away in a cruel, senseless, and cynical exercise of

Prisons, contrary to what some might have you believe, donıt
exist solely to punish crime. Theyıve evolved into an institution
that serves multiple purposes from the all-important making of
money, to providing a focus for the fear we feel in a depressed
alienated angry society. They stand at the center of a tangle of
different interested parties who all benefit from the inhumane act
of imprisoning a human life in prisons of concrete and steel.

The media and politicians are forever blathering about serial
killers, missing children, and "random violence". This feeds our
fear as they try to justify the necessity of so many prisons. In
reality, however, most of the "criminals" in prison are poor people
who commit nonviolent crimes out of economic need. More then
2/3 of American inmates are jailed for non-violent crimes.
Violence occurs in less than 14% of all reported crime, and
injuries occur in just 3%. Fear of crime serves the purpose of
frightening us into justifying the social and economic cost for the
repression and incarceration of a growing percentage of our

Prison has become a big business. Like any industry, the prison
economy needs raw materials. In this case the raw materials are
prisoners. The prison industrial complex can grow only if more
and more people are incarcerated?even if crime rates drop. "Three
Strikes" and mandatory minimums (harsh, fixed sentences
without parole) are two examples of the legal superstructure
quickly being put in place to guarantee that the prison population
will grow and grow and grow.

The most prolific player is undoubtedly multi-national
corporations. They are involved in every aspect from lobbying
politicians to build more prisons, to fanning media hysteria about
crime, to running prison industries, and often, the same
corporations have a hand in every stage of the industry.
Investment houses, construction companies, architects, and
support services such as food, medical, transportation and
furniture, all stand to profit by prison expansion.

One of the fastest growing sectors of the prison industrial complex
is private corrections companies. American Express and General
Electric have invested in private prison construction in Oklahoma
and Tennessee. Under contract by government to run jails and
prisons, these corporations are paid a fixed sum per prisoner, the
profit motive mandates that these firms operate as cheaply and
efficiently as possible. Prison owners are raking in billions by
cutting corners bringing harm to prisoners. Substandard diets,
extreme overcrowding, and abuses by poorly trained personnel
have all been documented and can be expected in these
institutions which are unabashedly about making money.

The most shocking feature of the Prison Industrial System is
undoubtedly the growth of literal slave labor. Contrary to what
most Americans may believe, slavery was not abolished under the
13th amendment; it remains legal to force prisoners to slave away
for symbolic sums of between 22-90 cents/hour. Typically, if
prisoners refuse to work, they are punished with a loss of
privileges, denied access to the phone or mail, placed in solitary
confinement, etc. The captive labor force of low-wage,
non-unionized workers without healthcare or retirement benefits,
the absence of safety and health standards, e.g. for handling
hazardous materials, an unlimited workday, no strikes, actions, or
pressure for better wages or working conditions, and a workforce
that is never late is a dream come true for Corporate America.
TWA, McDonald's, Starbucks, IBM, Motorola, Victoria's Secret,
and Toys 'R Us are just a few of the corporations exploiting prison
labor. As an example of the size and range of prison industries, in
the year 2000 alone prison labor made over 9 billion dollars in
shareholder profits. No wonder they want to build more prisons!

Another aspect of the Prison system is the criminalization of
undesirables. Itıs essentially a way to control people who might
otherwise get pissed about the fact theyıre being fucked with and
revolt. If you put all the underclass into little cells theyıre much
easier to watch then if theyıre roaming the street. Programs like
Minneapolis Code 4 follow this logic to the T. They pass
legislation that makes it okay for cops to legally harass (and jail)
anyone they want to in certain poor neighborhoods, this reality is
also reflected by the actions of the judicial and political systems
who are more then happy to cooperate in putting black, youth, and
poor people in jail. Theyıve passed batch after batch of legislation
that sends petty and juvenile offenders to prison under tough laws
like the famous 3 strikes rule. As a result we have people serving
life sentences for possession with relatively small amounts of

The proliferation of prisons in the United States is one piece of a
puzzle called the globalization of capital. The number of people in
U.S. prisons has more than tripled in the past 17 years?from
500,000 in 1980 to more then 2,000,000 today. More than five
million people are behind bars, on parole, probation, or under
other supervision by the criminal justice system. Poor and people
of color are being locked up in grossly disproportionate numbers,
primarily for non-violent crimes. But Americans are not feeling

As "criminals" become scapegoats for our floundering economy
and our deteriorating social structure, even the guise of
rehabilitation is quickly disappearing from our penal philosophy.
After all: rehabilitate for what? To go back into an economy which
has no jobs? To go back into a community which has no hope? As
education and other prison programs are cut back, or in most
cases eliminated altogether, prisons are becoming vast,
over-crowded, holding tanks. Or worse: factories behind bars.

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