thought I would share. very much related to the current outrage at the AZ bill.
if only if i knew how to link it, this would be so much more cool :)
thought I would share. very much related to the current outrage at the AZ bill.
if only if i knew how to link it, this would be so much more cool :)
group members: Chloe, Mary, Sara, Jeffrey
points of contention:
production of criminals: human monsters; social waste (deviants)
production of citizens
justifying prosecuting power
-- (as Dean Spade says, targets of the system become reasons for the system)
"Safety" and fear
The Prison Industrial Complex immediately sparked our groups attention as a feminist, and all around human issue. Coming from a psychological schooling background, I found the phenomenon of caging criminals up together in hopes of later rehabilitating them into society fascinating. In Wally Lamb's book, "Couldn't Keep it to Myself", life in prison was discussed, examined, and then published. It was a first hand account of how women ended up in prison, and what it was like during and sometimes after. Our group leaned towards restorative justice, because of a personal impact it had on one of us. Rather than separating the victim, community, and offender, restorative justice engages them all in finding a plausible solution. Since forcing criminal offenders into cages like wild animals seemed unsatifying to us, we decided to research restorative justice.
According to Howard Zehr, one of the founders of the modern restorative justice movement, "restorative justice is an acknowledgement of the Western criminal justice system's "limits and failures" and is often part of the response to the belief that "the process of justice deepens societal wounds and conflicts rather than contributing to healing or peace" (3).
As part of a way to address some of the issues and frustrations that only seem perpetuated by the Western system of punishment and incarceration, there has been successful implementation of restorative justice principles locally and internationally. As Sarah pointed out in the local importance/impact post, the principles can be applied to a minor indiscretion, like underage drinking, or other larger crimes. In this instance, instead of being 'punished' for minor consumption, she was given the productive task of creating a transfer student club that served a larger purpose and community.
Taken to a much larger scale, New Zealand in 1989 "made restorative justice the hub of its entire juvenile justice system" and has done so successfully. Also, "building upon the experience of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, efforts are being made to apply a restorative justice framework to situations of mass violence" (4). The Prison Industrial Complex is a relatively new phenomenon, and has begun running an immense scale. However, entire nations are beginning to resist the PIC system and finding alternative methods of justice, which is promising for all.
• Crime is a violation of the law and the state vs. crime is a violation of people and relationships.
• Violations create guilt vs. violations create obligations.
• Justice requires the state to determine blame (guilt) and impose pain (punishment) vs. justice involves victims, offenders, and community members in an effort to put things right.
CENTRAL FOCUS: offenders getting what they deserve vs. victim needs and offender responsibility for repairing harm.
THREE DIFFERENT QUESTIONS:
Criminal Justice: What laws have been broken? Who did it? What do they deserve?
Restorative Justice: Who has been hurt? What are their needs? Whose obligations and responsibilities are these? Who has a stake in this situation? What is the process that can involve the stakeholders in finding a solution?
(All found on page 21 of Zehr's book)
Those alternative approaches to justice can and are found and implemented throughout the world. They serve to inspire us to imagine justice differently. Zehr cautions us that "true justice emerges from conversation and takes into account the local needs and traditions" and that we should be wary of a "top-down approach". Rather than having a system that relies on a higher power passing on judgment and punishment; there should be a system of collaboration between offenders, victims, and community. "Restorative justice requires us to change not jut our lenses, but our questions". Lastly, "above all, restorative justice is an invitation to join in conversation so that we may support and learn from each other. It is a reminder that all of us are indeed interconnected" (63).
Awareness of existing alternatives to modern PIC standard operations offers some hope, and perhaps one of the most radical accepted responses offered within the system. The United States has yet to implement wide spread initiative expanding restorative justice principles. Whether or not the perpetual cyclic criminalization largely of societal debris and people of poverty continues to make industry profits and how we respond as a society is up to us. Feminist? I think so... humanizing criminal bodies that have been/ are/ will be incarcerated is necessary for us to see the true inhumanity and deeper societal ills perpetuated by our modern PIC.
Is restorative justice a feminist oriented practice/philosophy? Can it be 'feminist' if it is about all criminals being afforded more humanity? Even possibly violent criminals, rapists, and murders? Where is the line for a 'feminist' response and articulation of restorative justice's efforts? Can its objectives actually counter feminist values?
Before conducting our research on this topic, the Prison Industrial Complex, we were already quite curious. After spending a couple weeks researching, and reading about the Prison Industrial Complex, our curiosity increased. Since reading the first articles it became apparent that there are so many elements of the Prison Industrial Complex that require thorough reflection and discussion by society. Many topics that we have discussed earlier in the class are relevant to this issue; therefore this was a fitting issue to research about toward the end of the class. While, many of the previous issues were reinforced and perpetuated by society or the media, whereas the Prison Industrial Complex is also perpetuated by our government, through its laws and methods of enforcement. The prison system reinforced by our government seeks to protect this nonexistent, ideal American citizen. This citizen, is white, a non-drug user and financially stable.
The largest source of this issue is capitalism. The prison system as it exists today is a business. Large profits are being made by private companies that have been awarded lucrative contracts from state and federal governments. With the political system structured as it is, money buys you a voice in Washington. With these profits, prison contractors are able to influence legislation that sends more people to prisons, because without criminals there can be no profits garnered from the prison system. The people most affected by the Prison Industrial Complex, are those who have the least amount of power, for they lack a voice in politics and the ability to effect change. It affects the minorities and the poor in disproportionate numbers, especially when it comes to the criminalization of drugs. It removes minorities and the poor from our communities, it ships them to prisons. It removes them from our mind; it "neatly" sweeps them away, where they can be easily forgotten. Therefore, with them swept away, there is no urgency for discussion on a national scale. With no discussion, the propagation of the prison system is allowed to increase unchecked.
When any system is driven solely by capitalism, something is lost. What is lost is empathy and altruism. Reforming people and rehabilitating does not lead to large profits. It is a long and arduous process that does not lead to profits. Like any capitalist enterprise, profits are the goal. When there is no concern for rehabilitation, prisoners when released, are likely to reenter the system. There is no incentive to take preventive measures, educating and improving societies for all.
This process has only shown us how much further research and education on the issue are needed. There are many issues within the Prison Industrial Complex that need to be deconstructed and made available to society. The implementation of our current system was done in an anti-democratic matter; to reform it appropriately will require the participation of our entire society. However, as nearly every other issue discussed thus far, progress is being stalled not by implausibility, but by unwillingness to go against capitalist ideas.
There is a series of books about Restorative Justice called 'The Little Books of Justice and Peace Building'. I chose to focus on two, but they are all pretty amazing. Very short and concise, they offer case studies and practical information that anyone can integrate into their conceptions of the world.
ACADEMIC SOURCE #1
Zehr, Howard. The Little Book of Restorative Justice. Good Books, Intercouse, PA. 2002.
This book is described by the author as the 'cliff notes' version of restorative justice. While there are mentions of programs and practices, this book generally outlines the principles or philosophy of restorative justice. According to Zehr:
"Most restorative justice advocates agree that crime has both a public dimension and a private dimension. I believe it would be more accurate to say that crime has a societal dimension, as well as a more local and personal dimension. The legal system focuses on the public dimensions; that is, on society's interests and obligations as represented by the state. However, this emphasis downplays or ignores the personal and interpersonal aspects of crime. By putting a spotlight on and elevating the private dimensions of crime, restorative justices seeks to provide a better balance in how we experience justice." (12).
ACADEMIC SOURCE # 2
Toews, Barb. Restorative Justice for People in Prison: Rebuilding the Web of Relationships. Good Books, Intercourse, PA. 2006.
This books draws on insights from incarcerated men and women who have been involved with restorative justice processes. Using this perspective, the author states the problem with gaining 'prisoner perspective':
"At times, I use labels like "prisoner," "offender," and "victim." I want to acknowledge, though, that these labels have the potential to dehumanize and lock people into one single identity. As humans, we have the potential to both hurt and to be hurt, to be both victim and offender. So these labels have pitfalls. Still, when they are used to identify only part of a person or a particular act, they do have some value. They provide a way to identify those with a "stake" in a situation of wrongdoing, for example. Moreover, to admit that one is an "offender" is a step toward accountability. So I use these labels, aware of their limitations and dangers." (10)
According to the Minnesota department of corrections, restorative justice (RJ) is a way to help engage victims/community members and offenders to fix the damage the crime caused. I know first hand that the Marcy-Holmes community uses this type of system for people who are given 'minor consumption' violations. I myself participated in this program, and through it was given a chance to give back to the university campus by creating a group for transfer students. By creating the group I was able to provide a way to make friends on campus without including alcohol--therefore restoring justice.
In the broader Minnesota region, this is also being implemented. According to the MDOC, restorative justice has been used since the early 1990s and we were the first state in the U.S. to start a full time restorative justice planner, within the department of corrections. Also restorative justice is being used in several workplaces to deal with work conflicts.
According to the MDOC, as it stands now in the typical criminal justice system, people who commit crimes are not given an active role and are not held accountable for making better the situation they created. For example, if someone robs a store and they are thrown in jail they are being given a passive role, and are doing nothing to make right what they did wrong. If instead the restorative justice system was used, they would have to give back to the community, apologize to all people affected by their actions, and they would have to meet their victims face to face. In that scenario, the criminal act is more humanized (rather than throwing a person into a cell, they are actively able to undo their harm). So not only do the offenders get a chance to bring good out of a bad situation, they are also held personally responsible by their victims.
MDOC states that in order for this to work the victims and offenders must use Victim Offender Diologe (VOD). When people engage in RJ, the victim and offender meet in a safe and structured area. Trained facilitators are always present, and preparation for face-to-face meetings can take months. There is also an option to speak through a video chat or phone conversation, or simply hand written dialogue.
Examples of Restorative Justice Activites: (2007) from Minnesota Department of Corrections
· Over $406,000 in restitution was collected from offenders in DOC facilities
· Close to $250,000 was collected from inmates for Aid to Victims of Crime.
· Inmates at Stillwater raised over $4,000, with proceeds donated to the Minnesota Correctional Education Foundation, the Tubman Family Alliance, meals for the homeless and other programs
· Fairbault offenders built a playhouse that raised $5,000 in a raffle The proceeds were donated to Healthfinders to provide health care to uninsured families.
· A fund was established throught the Minnesota Restorative Services Coalition to assist victims with costs associated with participating in RJ programs. In 2007, offenders contributed over $4,000 to this fund.
The Prison Industrial Complex is a very interesting and somewhat obscure issue that I was fascinated with from the very first time I did a Google search. There are no doubt those we as taxpayers spend an enormous amount of money on our prison systems. The benefits of these institutions are debatable with the wide variance of treatment facilities and segregation of prisoners. Due to the absolutely enormous population of incarcerated individuals, I wanted to focus on what makes a 'deviant' in our society. I wanted to understand how a person goes from a very young child and into our super-max prisons. The more I dug, the more I found that there are a lot of environmental factors proven to have direct correlations with criminal behavior. The idea that we help 'create the criminal' is a very true idea indeed and I believe that that is a widely dismissed idea. Our government spends so much money trying to prevent criminal behavior by funding the Prison Industrial Complex, when in actuality we are just putting more people in prison. Research proves that factors such as; low income, minority ethnicity, noninvolved parenting, and young age all increase the likely hood of criminal behavior in a person. Social may benefit a lot of people, but we are clearly uneven with our benefits. People who are unable to have their basic needs provided for are more likely to throw off social conformity and rules. If we want to expect social conformity by those committing 'criminal behavior' we need to give them a reason to buy into society. We can't allow social laws to perpetuate white capitalistic ideologies any longer. If we continue to segregate social benefits, we will continue to see our crime rates increase exponentially. Our first and foremost focus to reduce crime in America should be our children. We must ensure, as a Nation, that our children are safe and able to be educated equally. We are currently teaching some of our children criminal tendencies by denying them basic human necessities and relationships. Our Prison Industrial Complex focuses on building a lot of things and one of its most critical oversights is its lack of building community...
I found this interesting article on a Moose Lake center for our states sex offender treatment program. I was stunned by the sheer cost of the whole institution! MN taxpayers are investing 45.7 million for just and expansion of the facility and that is so it can just keep up with the number of people needing treatment for sex crimes. I was also stunned that the 400 people in the facility cost the state over 328 dollars a day. From what I've read this seems to be a very good institution that focuses on intensive therapy for the inmates for long periods of time. I also thought it was great the counselors working within the facility view the people not as inmates, but as patients. Another shocking thing was that the facility is only estimated to be able to keep pace with the growing population of sex offenders for just two years after the expansion project is completed.
In the Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency Benjamin Steiner an John Wooldrege examine the qualities of deviance by women in prison within the article; Individual and Environmental Effects on Assaults and Nonviolent Rule Breaking by Women in prison. The purpose of this article is to understand why women break rules while in prison through both violent and non-violent means. These researchers found that inmates who often choose to reject social controls within prison have fewer connections to people outside of the prison. Also they found that individuals who were younger were more likely to commit misconduct due to a lower level of social commitment and studies showed that these individuals were "less invested in more conformist activities such as education or work" (439). There is also a strong connection between an inmate's ethnicity and socioeconomic status and their respect for the rules in prison. Inmates with a lower socioeconomic status were found to "question the legitimacy of rules" within the prisons. This questioning of rules brings to question why inmates question the rules in prisons and choose to break them instead of follow them. Deviance within prisons is created by social systems outside of prisons and those managing our prison systems often overlook this connection. This article even states, although from a very mathematical perspective, how relationships and jobs affect the level of deviance within prisons; "employment prior to incarceration, higher levels of education, and having children might constitute informal controls over an individual." These informal controls are found to govern those in prison and reduce the likely hood of these individuals acting out.
This article reinforces the idea that the problem with prisoner's nonconformity is not due solely to factors in prisons. There is a clear connection between the socioeconomic history of an inmate and their respect of social rules. If people are subject to poverty and oppression within society, then their respect for the rules of society is little to nonexistent. We cannot look to rule enforcement within prisons to 'rehabilitate' people for society when they are given no reason to respect social rules in the first place. In order to reconnect the 'rule breakers' of society we need to give them a reason to buy into social modes of conduct. If a society does not provide adequately the ability for people to gain the most basic necessities for life, then there is little preventing them from following social rules.
One of the critical things to examine in regards to the prison industrial complex is to understand what influences 'create' the criminal characteristics within an individual. The theory is that society interjects certain factors on an individual making them more likely to break social modes of conduct. John MacDonald, Amelia Haviland, and Andrew Morral examined violence within adolescent offenders. Their article states that there are "different developmental pathways to problematic behaviors in which some of the causes of overt/violent behaviors . . . can lead to serious offending " (556). Researchers have found consistent connections between environmental factors and the likelihood for young adults to commit crimes. This understanding shows the serious importance of the environment and crime. One current cultural ideology within America is the idea that criminals choose to their criminal lifestyle. This mentality isolates people from society and further enacts oppression on people who have committed crimes at one point in their lives.
In a similar study done by the Journal of research in crime and delinquency found a pattern among age the likely hood for someone to commit a crime. It was discovered that "of all groups of high-risk offenders reveals a high conviction rate with age". Two of the main influencing factors that increase the potential for an individual to commit a crime are age and socioeconomic status. This may not seem like a break through to many, but it leaves a big question to know why more money isn't being put into addressing the potential symptoms of crimes.
One of the most important factors that influence a person's life is parentage. Our family and especially our parents dictate a great deal as to our success in life. After discovering that age and socioeconomic status had key roles in 'creating' the criminal in our society. I wanted to examine how social factors play into the childhood of a social 'rule breaker'. In Parenting and Adult Criminality: An Examination of Direct and Indirect Effects by Race the author Ryan Schroeder and his associates reveal the link between parents and the potentiality of criminal behavior in their children. It was found that "poor parenting practices such as hostility and rejection, inattentive monitoring, inconsistent discipline, and weak parent/child bonds have been consistent predictors of juvenile delinquency". The importance of good parenting within a child's life is crucial to their healthy involvement in society later in life. The state needs to focus more efforts at supporting parents and encourage healthy child rearing. Schroeder found that " uninvolved parenting is associated with significantly higher levels of both adult anger and depression". The importance of a healthy parent- child connection is crucial to a person's future in society. The current ideology of prison is that a person commits a crime and is placed in a cell that supposedly rehabilitates them back into society, but this mentality focuses only on the symptoms of criminality. A better perspective for our justice system would be to focus more at assisting parents and children in underprivileged situations. These efforts would clearly affect the conditions of our prisons today.
Erica Meiners studies the history and oppression of our prisons in Never Innocent: Feminist Trouble with Sex Offender Registries and Protection in a Prison Nation. Currently 2,319,258 adults are held in U.S. prisons or jails. This shocking number means that for every 99.1 people in the United States there is one prisoner. If a person includes those who are on parole or probation or in immigrant detention centers/ prisons outside U.S. boundaries the number goes up to eight million. One particular important factor within the title of the Prison Industrial Complex is the total profit that the industry seeks to have. With this large industry it is crucial to understand how we 'produce' these people we consider criminals. Our nation has given little to no attention to this huge complex even though "a growing body of scholarship critically engages with our nation's over-reliance on incarceration". One particular push within legislation in the 1980's sought to protect women and children from male partners. This legislation and government 'crack-down' "do not make our communities or children and women any safer. Criminalizing men who assault their intimate partners has led to a rise in the incarceration and deportation of poor men of color, not a decline in the number of women who are assaulted".
Our social systems in the United States focuses a great deal of attention on the "criminal" and not nearly as much on what creates the criminal we so very much fear. One example of this stark focus on criminalization to the extreme is when a six year old girl was take to the police station and charged with a felony.
in Florida in 2007, six-year-old
Desre'e Watson had a tantrum in her kindergarten class. After twenty
minutes of "uncontrollable behavior" in the kindergarten class, the school
called the police. The police report reads, "black female. Six years old. Thin
build. Dark complexion," and she was handcuffed, taken to the police
station, photographed, and charged with battery on a school official,
which is a felony, and two misdemeanors: disruption of a school function
and resisting a law enforcement officer (Herbert 2007).
In my study of the PIC I will seek to understand what 'creates' a criminal in our society and how we might better focus tax payer money from prisons to communities and beneficial systems.
African American youth are detained at 4.5 times the rate of White
youth. Latino youth are detained at 2.3 times the rate of White youth.
African American youth are 16% of youth in the general population but
58% of youth admitted to state adult prison. African American youth are
more likely than White youth to be formally charged in juvenile court
and to be sentenced to out-of-home placement, even when referred for
the same offense, and according to the latest available data, three out of
four of the 4,100 new admissions of youth to adult prisons were youth of
color. (Krisberg 2007, i)
Our justice system is supposed to be fair and impartial, looking at all bodies as equal under the eyes of law. This, clearly, is not the case.
The statistics show the truth:
U.S. incarceration rates by race, June 30, 2006:
* Whites: 409 per 100,000
* Latinos: 1,038 per 100,000
* Blacks: 2,468 per 100,000
Gender is an important "filter" on the who goes to prison or jail, June 30, 2006:
* Females: 134 per 100,000
* Males: 1,384 per 100,000
Look at just the males by race, and the incarceration rates become even more frightening, June 30, 2006:
* White males: 736 per 100,000
* Latino males: 1,862 per 100,000
* Black males: 4,789 per 100,000
If you look at males aged 25-29 and by race, you can see what is going on even clearer, June 30, 2006:
* For White males ages 25-29: 1,685 per 100,000.
* For Latino males ages 25-29: 3,912 per 100,000.
* For Black males ages 25-29: 11,695 per 100,000. (That's 11.7% of Black men in their late 20s.)
Or you can make some international comparisons:
South Africa under Apartheid was internationally condemned as a racist society.
* South Africa under apartheid (1993), Black males: 851 per 100,000
* U.S. under George Bush (2006), Black males: 4,789 per 100,000
[all statistics taken from Prison Sucks.com]
How has it come to this? Why does our judicial system so blatantly target black and Latino bodies?
Angela Davis suggests that we have learned to forget about it. We don't know how to talk about it. We don't teach about the prison system. She says that, our society, rather than recognizing certain people as needing help, especially in terms of non-violent drug charges, we simply get rid of them. We don't have to think about them, or the problems they have. By doing this, we don't have to talk about the systems that perpetuate the need to hide these people. And because of the way the criminal is constructed and represented, we are made to be afraid to acknowledge community members who are in prison. Davis also says that we ignore other forms of crime, such as corporate crime, or crimes against the environment which generations to come.
Contact needs to be raised between the "inside" and the "outside". We have the ability to move around where as those inside don't. Davis says that the prison holds "obvious vestiges" of slavery. Prison systems reproduce the problems for which people are sent there in the first place. Prisoners are human beings, and should be treated as such.
Questions raised (but not necessarily answered):
Does power operate on or through criminalized subjects?
What are the spatial/temporal implications or material realities of the prison?
How has fear managed to increasingly permeate the ideological structure of our society?
By what/whose terms or understandings of acceptability is the propagation of fear predicated?
How are we to understand crime, violence, obedience, or docility as implemented and produced by the Prison Industrial Complex?
Perhaps you were not aware (or perhaps some of you participated), but yesterday was April 20th, or 4/20, an underground holiday devoted to the enjoyment and promotion of marijuana. Every year people around the United States celebrate by smoking their favorite plant, in their homes and in some cases, right out in the open. Yesterday, around 100 students calmly took out their pipes, joints, liters and sat in the Mall (located in the East Bank) began to smoke. You may ask why students would feel comfortable with such an apparent brazen disregard for the law, but the answer lies in Minnesota's partial decriminalization of marijuana. Currently, carrying 1.5 ounces of marijuana or less carries a fine of $200 and no jail time. Minnesota has often been at the forefront of progressive lawmaking in the United States and it once again is in the topic of drug reform. Minnesota is one of eleven states that have initiated the decriminalization of marijuana. As students of the University of Minnesota, this has a direct effect on all of us, not just marijuana users. With police officers freed from hunting down marijuana users it saves both time and enables them to focus protecting the students at the University (which is clearly needed given the increase in on and off campus crimes).
(2) MN Daily
Prisons in the United States are increasingly becoming more of a business. Currently in the United States there are over 260 privately owned and operated prisons, which equates to over five private prisons per state, though they are more heavily concentrated in the southwest. Clearly, this is no small business. In addition to being large, it is also a lucrative endeavor. Recently, Shara Tibken, of the Wall Street Journal, reported that the Correction Corps won a contract to build four new prisons in Florida. In all the four three-year contracts will net Correction Corps over $250 million. Tibken goes on to note that during the current recession cash strapped states are turning to private contractors to alleviate their prison dilemma. There are several important question that arise when considering prison privatization, two of the most asked and crucial are as follow: What are the cost comparisons between private and public prisons? Is one cheaper than the other? Should cost even be considered? Is there more incentive to imprison than to rehabilitate inmates? Several scholars have begun to question and research private prisons. For the first question, no strong conclusion has been drawn, despite several studies being conducted on the issue of cost. Dina Perrone of Rutgers University and Travis C. Pratt of Washington State University, in a 2003 paper discuss previous studies conducted on public and private costs. They include a table of data that seems to suggest that private prisons are more cost efficient, on average saving more than $3.40 a prisoner. However, Pratt and Perrone go on to assert that the data amongst these studies either failed to include all variables, such as programs provided or quality of confinement, or that collection of data was done inconsistently among between the varying studies, noting that only two studies employ reliable statistical data. Therefore, the cost argument remains inconclusive. A large risk of privatization is the concern merely for profits. As a society, I think we must agree upon the fact that some issue cannot be viewed only in dollars and cents. If rehabilitating criminals is more expensive than imprisoning them, should we not still prefer rehabilitation? The largest fear for most is that there is more incentive financially to imprison than rehabilitate. To fill prisons, requires that we have criminals to fill them. As discussed in our other tracking issues topics, since the inception of the War on Drugs, incarceration rates have skyrocketed. As private prisons earn more income, they earn the ability to apply political pressure on legislation and creation of private prisons.
As an aside, personally, as someone who believes in many tenets of capitalism, I believe certain industries that are better suited to be run solely by the government, and the prison system is one of them.
(1) Tibken, Shara Wall Street Journal, April 13, 2010 "http://online.wsj.com/article/BT-CO-20100413-713054.html
(2) Pratt, Travis C. and Perrone, Dina "Comparing the Quality of Confinement and Cost-Effectiveness of Public Versus Private Prisons: What We Know, Why We Do Not Know More, and Where to Go from Here
In our capitalistic society, everything comes down to the dollar. Looking at marijuana without a moral lens of "good vs bad", we can examine the possibilities and consequences of legalization.
In the event of decriminalization, the following would likely happen:
- A savings of $5.3 billion at the state/local level and an additional $2.4 billion federally, annually
- An additional $6.2 billion annually if marijuana was taxed comparably to tobacco and alcohol
- Destroy major source of revenue for cartels and gangs
- An enhancement in the effectiveness of our court and police systems (where current annual marijuana arrests are over 700,000 annually)
- A separation between marijuana and far more dangerous illegal drugs, cutting the "gateway" to drug dealers we currently have
- An increase in effectiveness and credibility in drug education
- An end to our over-flowing prisons, which ultimately do more damage and harm than the drug itself
- A revival of research for medical/scientific use
In these tight economic times, one could be sold on legalizing marijuana simply by the first two points alone. All points considered, however, there is a very compelling arguement to legalize and control the substance.
As feminists, we must actively support the freedoms and liberties of ALL people, including those who CHOOSE to participate in recreational marijuana consumption. It is not the place of government to choose for us what we can and cannot do to our bodies. By demystifying the drug through education, we can end the hypocrisy that surrounds this issue to the benefit of all.
More information on the topic can be found at here.
The infamous "War on Drugs" was first declared by President Richard Nixon in 1971, two years after calling for the creation of a national drug policy, identifying drug abuse as "public enemy No. 1". Regulation of the drug cannabis began in the early 1900s at state levels, and finally became a federally unified venture in 1973 as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Below is a graph comparing the number of American cannabis related arrests between 1965 and 2008. This image can be compared to the one directly below it, showing the total number of incarcerated Americans.
It is interesting to compare the two images above and see how many prison cells are being filled by people who's only crime committed was handling marijuana. In 1997, about 60% of both state and federal prison cells where occupied by drug law offenders, including cannabis. This number was much higher than in previous years, and is likely even higher in 2010.
What makes these statistics even more interesting is when you consider the number of African-Americans in the prison system relative to the actual population. Black bodies are disproportionally represented in our prisons, making up 46% in 1997 (where this is only higher today).
Why is cannabis illegal in the first place?
Who benefits from this policy?
What would our prison system, or our society in general, look like if cannabis was federally decriminalized?
These are all questions that the aforementioned statistics brings up, and in further tracking issues we will look at these questions and how feminism relates to them.
The direction of my research about the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC from now on) took many different paths. I began by reviewing an old standard in academic theory: Michelle Foucault's Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. With no clear idea of where I wanted to go with this, I went on to read about women and the transgendered and crime, the War on Drugs, and exploited prison labor. It was when I began to read some of Angela Y.
Davis's work on the PIC that I discovered the Critical Resistance
Collective (CRC), the only organization in the US that works to eradicate the PIC and its various arms: incriminating legislation, police, surveillance, etc. While reading their collective work, Abolition Now! Ten Years of Strategy and Struggle Against the Prison Industrial Complex, I was struck by how many of their arguments threw a wrench into Foucault's thesis. Clearly, this old academic standard that I've read in so many of my classes needs quite a bit more criticism than I have ever heard it given. Hence, conversation and criticism between Foucault's Birth of the Prison and the CRC's Abolition Now! has become the focus and culmination of my research. In the following paragraphs, I plan to discuss in what ways the arguments of the CRC complicate those of Foucault. I will end with questions raised by the CRC through their struggles and the material reality of their movement.
Before I begin, it is important that I summarize the ideas that my arguments are based off of and the terminology I will use to articulate my points.
My entire engagement with the PIC rests on the idea that what is a crime and who are criminals is not always self-evident, that people (especially poor, young, non-white, immigrant, and queer people) are intentionally criminalized and pathologized by the state and its various fascist arms. This is done in order to create populations of caged people which can be profited off of through the supply of cheap labor and the production of damaged humans, which in turn will maintain and expand the flow of prison workers. The PIC and its brutality are justified through giving people the illusion that disappearing human beings into prisons solves social problems, such as gang violence and domestic violence (well, at least they're off the street!), and with the belief that prisons reform rather than damage people. Indeed, most never question the legitimacy of the PIC, because for a person to be in prison, "they must have done something wrong." Therefore, all arguments I put forth will be made with the conviction that the PIC is a tool of slavery, racism, patriarchy, and colonialism and must not be simply "reformed," but done away with entirely.
Some important terms:
panoptacism: a method of surveillance which motivates surveyed subjects to self-police. For example, the camera on the street corner - any person walking past cannot be sure whether the camera is real or not, or whether or not there is someone watching them through it. Thus, the subject regulates their own behavior.
materiality: having to do with the tangible, the "real;" material realities are people's lived experiences; material complexity can express many things about bodies and objects (for example, the massive immigration of micro organisms); the material and feasible reality of dismantling the PIC
biopower: the interest of the state and capitol to evaluate, measure, catalogue, survey, manipulate, and influence mass or specific populations of people
necropower: the power to decide life or death
the docile body: the target and object of power; easily recognizable; easy to categorize; the "working unit" that helps run the "well oiled machine;" subjected, practiced, and disciplined bodies (people)
Critical Resistance Collective, Abolition Now! Ten Years of Strategy and
Struggle Against the Prison Industrial Complex. New York, NY. The CR10
Publications Collective. 2008.
Foucault, Michelle. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Vintage.
New York, NY. 1979.
Michelle Foucault's thesis in The Birth of the Prison is that in the 18th century, disciplinary power used by the state to accomplish its ends and regulate its subjects went through a transformation. Through an admittedly sloppy historical illustration, he argues that disciplinary power went from being a brutal public display of the state's power in which transgressors were horrendously punished in front of on-looking spectators to a muted and professionalized business in which the object was reform, not punishment, and the public face of the state became the glossiness of the courtroom and the detention center. Thus, the state's disciplinary power moved from focusing on the bodies of criminals to the souls of criminals; from branding criminals with white hot irons to having them participate in "productive" yard and industrial labor, educational and religious programs. In the new order, Foucault argues, the kind of brute force exerted on bodies that had been used before was not necessary due to the increased sophistication of methods of surveillance and containment facilities and the confessional, of which panopticism is one; things like necropower became less under the jurisdiction of the executioner and more under the auspices of the judge. This new order dedicated to saving the souls of the damned and the delinquent was motivated by the development of biopower, in which the state came to take a supposed interest in the welfare, safety, and, most importantly, the productivity of its citizens. The further development of biopower paralleled the development of the docile body and its accompanying tenants: the uniform which marks the worker, the specialization of knowledge and labor, the rhetoric of partitioning (a place for everyone, everyone in their place) and the organizing of small things (the will of individuals) to perform for the greater things (the will of god and the state).
There are many things that are missing from Foucault's analysis of disciplinary power, not least of which is his failure to address the rise of violent military imperialism at the same time the birth of the prison as a reforming institution in Europe was happening and the new formation of the criminal directly tied to race and status in colonization. Foucault may make apt observations as to the development of biopower, panoptacism, and the docile body. However, the linear understanding of historical "progression" by which he presents these observations, his claim that the state no longer has a stake in overt brutality and that violence is no longer spectative are complicated by arguments presented by members of the CRC. In her essay COPS and the Visual Economy of Punishment, Ofelia Cuevas reviews the revitalization and explosive expansion of racial punishment as entertainment. Speaking of shows like COPS and police brutality and murders, she writes:
"Every evening on television, in news and dramatic programming, policed and punished Black and Brown bodies are part of the popular landscape of state-sanctioned domination and violence. So common and accepted, so significantly mundane is the brutality of the police against raced communities that the reality in which they are displayed before us becomes a social hallucination. The 'racist disposition of the visible, which will prepare and achieve its own inverted perceptions under the rubric of what is seen,' according to Judith Butler can turn a clear vision of police brutality into a myth of 'police vulnerability.' Thus the violence enacted upon Rodney King, who was clearly beaten by police, becomes not a case of state brutality but a reality so twisted that it is seen as a case of police victimization . . . We no longer stand as witnesses to brutality, we gather in front of televisions (and computer screens) as public entertained by racial punishment," (pg. 42).
Thus, Foucault's assertion that power is no longer overt, but primarily covert, is dashed by the construction of the policed as violator, the state as violated, and the public as spectator in television crime dramas and the news. Indeed, this harkens to the construction of entertained and policed bodies and the state in the "lynch mobs of yore." It would seem that Foucault's analysis of state power is decidedly unmarked by race, class, or gender, and, furthermore, that it is based upon a dismissively selective review of historic European documents. The linear progression of history that Foucault presents, in which persecution of "criminals" moves from being solidly about brutality and elimination to cleverly "making use" of undesirables can be complicated merely by a review of European vagrancy laws. In his essay, Safer Cities Unplugged, Peter White writes,
"Vagrancy laws - which happen to be the original name for today's quality-of-life policing strategy - have roots that extend as far back as 14th century England. The original purpose was to create a substitute form of serfdom [slavery] by legislatively tying workers to the master's land. By the middle of the 17th century, and up until the 19th century, the number of 'masterless' men and families that crowded the streets led to a change of emphasis in vagrancy laws. The new thrust was to create methods of control and ways to banish those that were undesirable, financial burdens, nuisances, and potential criminals," (pg. 72).
As we have seen, observations and arguments put forth by Cuevas and White complicate Foucault's thesis that modern expression of state power is covert and focused only on the soul, and furthermore, that the PIC's investment in organized slavery is a new development. Rather, state brutality has ascended to the level of mass media entertainment, and the creation and exploitation of criminals in prison complexes is part of an on-going system spanning at least hundreds of years.
For the CRC, and for many others, the abolition of the PIC and the possibility for a new way of life is not a pipedream characterized by impractical idealism. Rather, it is an urgently pressing matter; a matter that involves revolutionary action as the only way to make an end of an endless cycle of capitalistic and imperial violence that has always victimized the underbelly of the empire. Indeed, the structures of capitalism and colonization that produce marginalized and impoverished groups, and thus, produce criminals, give critical emphasis to the realization that "working with what we already have," doesn't work. The material existence, resistance, and reality of the movements of people in the CRC and their affiliates should serve as an example of the practicality of revolutionary politics. Rather than approaching massive obstacles to human well-being with diminished expectations for social transformation, the CR10 Publications Collective writes,
". . . as many organizers have demonstrated, we are not only struggling to tear down the cages of the PIC, but also to abolish the actions of policing, surveillance, and imprisonment that give the PIC its power. We are also reminded that abolition is the creation of possibilities for our dreams and demands for health and happiness - for what we want, not what we think we can get," (pg. xii, emphasis added).
For the PIC, once one has come to a place in which it is reasonable to demand health and happiness that is integral to dismantling and rebuilding the established order, and when abolition is not only the goal, but the strategy as well, all that remains is possibility. I would like to close simply with a list of questions for consideration raised by members of the CRC in an interview. Hopefully, these questions will guide us in a direction where we think openly and proactively about possibility, and refuse to have our dreams dashed by the myth of what is "realistic."
• How do we question all violence (including state violence) in our daily lives?
• How might we form institutions that protect people from violence without relying on police, surveillance, and prisons?
• How might we form institutions that are not based on ideas of nation-state governance?
• At what points do structural and revolutionary organizing and everyday life meet?
• How can we establish space to express dissent without punishment?
• How can we establish accountability for all the violence we commit upon each other?
• How can we work on a "human level" without recreating romanticized ideas of "community?"
• How might we expand the ideas of abolition rather than the organization itself?
• How do we form coalitions?
• How can we think outside of colonial criminalization?
This is an interesting chart that I ran across. It show the number of people incarcerated over time.
This drastic increase of people incarcerated frightened me a lot because I don't know if we live in a completely safer state than the 80's. I also don't believe that my tax dollars are being used to their highest potential if they are being dedicated to sustaining a huge amount of people in prison. I am not saying that these members of society are or are not guilty. I am saying that regardless of their crime, we are paying for it as a society and it is costly. I find myself often forgetting about prisons like I do trash in the garbage. That is as terribly inhumane analogy, but it is true for me. I have a friend from high school that was convicted of two accounts of first degree murder without parole. What he did was heinous, but I have all but forgotten that he even existed. Truly I have treated him as a dead person, it was extremely sad what he did and what he has to pay for what he did, but that sadness is gone and I do not keep in touch with him. I see our justice system as being flawed for this lock-up and forget the key mentality. I do not have any resolution for my questions now, but that is why I am tracking this issue!
I've filed this post under both 'prison industrial complex' and under the question for this week, although it does not directly correspond to either. But I became very curious in reading through the selected articles for this week, as well as reading through essays pertaining to the PIC, and wanted to use the blog as a space to express my curiosity. I'm curious about language and its (mis)use; gender sleepwalking and gender-fucking; prescribed gender versus performed gender; blindness and invisibility; socially constructed norms; coercion versus choice; human v. non-human; and, finally, I'm curious about what happens when I bring all of these things I've been processing into conversation with one another -- what are the consequences or benefits of doing this?
Since I organize my thoughts in a really scattered way when processing multiple readings -- especially in conjunction with readings, etc., that are seemingly unrelated -- I'm going to risk confusing my readers and just throw my thoughts up here in the form of my favorite organizational facilitator:
Can the same social constructs that circumscribe and produce gender norms be contrasted or compared to how criminal bodies are produced?
How do the foreclosures and erasures of proper, legitimate gender demarcate and circumscribe the human? To what purpose are criminal bodies produced in order to be legitimately (lawfully) excluded from the category of human? What does gender transgression do for/to feminist discourses? How is the human framed and delimited through these discourses and where do non-humans (both abject bodies and non-human animals, etc.) fit in? What would the transvaluation of the non-human mean for feminist discourse? (I'm thinking of most of these questions in relation to my engagement with Davis and Foucault regarding criminalized bodies, racialized and gendered crime and criminalization, and the punishment industry - so if anyone has ideas about framing these questions more productively, that would be a great help.)