From the May-June 2016 issue of News & Letters
by Robert Taliaferro
Extortion. Assault. Price gouging. Manipulation. Lies. Theft. Misappropriation of funds. Substandard medical care. Xenophobia. Racism. Slavery. Murder.
These are some of the attributes of one of the largest criminal organizations in the world. It is multi-tiered, multinational and generates billions of dollars in revenue each year.
The mainstream media reports sparingly about its operations, if at all, and though this enterprise affects the lives of tens of millions of people, it is only investigated when an egregious act is committed by one of its patrons—or one of its wards. There is so little accountability that when Federal agencies attempt to regulate the industry, a plethora of lawsuits is sure to be filed.
The most negative aspect of this criminal enterprise—and we are talking about the Prison Industrial Complex as it is aligned with the Criminal (in)Justice System—is that it is government-sponsored and funded and designed to be self-perpetuating.
The human warehouses that we call prisons are the crowning achievement of that enterprise: a game of monopolized human trafficking in the guise of law.
The game begins in cities and towns where the disenfranchised (people of color, the poor, etc.) are imperiled by the lack of proper political representation, housing and standards of life.
It continues as radically conservative attorneys general, district attorneys, judges and politicians often abuse their authority to secure some obtusely partisan political gain. We see so-called “states’ rights” attempting to usurp gains regarding federal laws and decisions which are designed to allow social parity to all U.S. citizens regardless of their social, economic, cultural or religious affiliations. These “states’ rights” reflect the views of a few well-placed far-right radical politicians who, by virtue of their position in government, become despotic harbingers of vicious standards based upon skewed concepts of morality.
DEADLY SOCIAL VOLCANO
This social volcano has always existed. It gained impetus with the “War on Drugs” during the Reagan administration, highlighted by targeting Black communities and eroding their already tentative foundations.
It bubbled with the magma of Presidential and Congressional machinations during the Clinton presidency with the enactment of the Prison Litigation Reform Act and the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act which guaranteed that the poor and disenfranchised would have an easy road to prison, regardless of their guilt or innocence, and with less legal means available to them to protect rights they maintained.
The Prison Industrial Complex erupted with help from the media—which hovered like vultures to embrace the carrion of fear invoked by power-hungry politicians in order to criminalize the poor, or a person of color.
Crime should not be excused or ignored and criminal conduct should not go unpunished. That is not the argument being addressed. The issue is that criminalization of a particular segment of society for political or capital gain is, in and of itself, a criminal action which amounts to social genocide
FAMILIES OF PRISONERS ARE CRIMINALIZED
The exploitation of families and friends of prisoners whose only “criminal” act is to support those prisoners is also criminal.
When prisoners are assaulted, racially profiled, enslaved, murdered or mistreated by the state, these too are criminal acts, and they are rarely reported or prosecuted.
When a volcano erupts in the natural world, it destroys, but it also carries with it the promise of new growth. When the volcano which is the Prison Industrial Complex erupted, it was a catastrophic force that will continue to destroy in perpetuity.
Its politically charged magma not only touches the lives of those directly involved; it touches the life of every single member of the community as well. It touches grade schools and high schools that won’t get new funding for educational materials or infrastructure; colleges whose budgets are cut to pave the way for funding new monuments to a culture’s failure; and future generations of children, some of whom are tagged at birth by stigmas to be future wards of the Prison Industrial Complex. This nation spends billions of dollars on prisons and the Criminal (in)Justice System, and only a fraction of that on social services or education.
“Distrust all,” Nietzsche wrote, “in whom the impulse to punish is powerful.” Only politicians have a vested interest in that solution and only they find ways to brag about that national embarrassment, especially when they are losing an election.
A society cannot base its present or future on incarcerating its way out of social problems. That is an irresponsible and impossible process and it is time for us to find another way.