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Friday, March 8, 2013

Privatizing Hell

The Economic Motives for Incarcerating America

By Christopher Helali
Dissident Voice
March 08, 2013

In a society driven by “bottom line” economics, Americans are
more apt to commodify everything from their bodies and their
relationships to nature in its totality.

The incessant need to bring the market into daily life and our base
existence has culminated in a transformation of social relations
between the people and their institutions.

The drive for economic wealth and prosperity has corrupted state
institutions originally meant to positively serve all citizens.

Since Capitalist mechanisms influence all facets of our existence,
the prison system, once a small institution in the United States,
took on a life of its own after the deindustrialization phase of the
1980s and has since expanded tremendously, at a great financial
return to private and governmental interests.

The incessant demand for capital, coupled with the collapse of
major industries in the United States and the decline of unions,
led to a predominately uneducated workforce, comprised primarily
of minorities, who were unemployed with marginal skills beyond
heavy industrial labor training.

This vacuum of highly skilled laborers and the demand for more
complex skills created a manufactured human surplus which
inevitably led to social instability, leading the state to
increase the prison population and begin privatizing the
prison system.

One cannot overlook the similarities between the Prison-Industrial
Complex and the Military-Industrial Complex.

In both systems, corporations lobby the government to be awarded
lucrative contracts to do work that the state should do for itself.

As a result, corporations ranging from AT&T to Nestle Food
Services all provide the equipment and services needed to
run prison facilities.

State run prisons have been privatized to the extent that they are a
source of profit for major corporations who supply these prisons with
everything from food to office supplies.

This drive for profit ultimately created the Prison-Industrial Complex,
where human beings are no longer given equal protection under the
law and are reduced to a state controlled labor force.

The modern nation state today has returned to slavery by perverting
the law and reconstituting the entire purpose of “crime and
punishment.”

Today, punishment is not about rehabilitation or the penalty for some
crime, but more often than not, it is a transaction of cheap labor
benefitting the market at reduced costs to corporations.

It is an established fact that the legal system in America favors a
small elite, upper class, comprised of mostly wealthy white citizens,
over the rest of the population.

Thus, at its core, the legal system in America is not only broken but
ultimately prejudiced against most citizens based on race, class and
sexual orientation amongst other factors.

The idea of punishment, engrained into the minds of Americans
through dramatic and reality television shows like COPS and Law &
Order and heavily publicized legal cases which create an illusion that
prisons are a necessary and integral part of society.

Counter-intuitively, many Americans believe crime is out of control
and prisons are necessary to counteract the pervasive evil in our
society.

This is contrary to the current data on crime and violence which
show a decrease in crime and an increasing incarceration rate.

In a 2004 New New York Times article entitled “Despite Drop in
Crime, an Increase in Inmates,” author Fox Butterfield points
to the latest DOJ statistics that showed an steady increase of
the prison population despite a 16% decrease in violent crime,
36% decrease in murder arrests and 25% decrease in arrests for
robbery from 1994 to 2003.

Thus, prisons are now a default punishment for crimes in general,
regardless of how small the offenses like possession of small amounts
of Marijuana or even carrying condoms.

This led The Sentencing Project, a Non-Profit focused on reforming
the justice system to conclude in their report “Incarceration and
Crime: A Complex Relationship” that “While incarceration is one
factor affecting crime rates, its impact is more modest than many
proponents suggest, and is increasingly subject to diminishing
returns.”

Director Michael Moore in his documentary “Capitalism:
A Love Story” spotlights a privatized for-profit juvenile
facility in Pennsylvania called PA Child Care.

This scheme between one of the owners of the facility, Robert Powell
and two local judges, Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan, created
a “kids for cash” system where the more incarcerated children were
sent to the facility, the more money they earned.

By the time the scheme was exposed and the perpetrators were
brought to justice, over 6,500 juveniles had been wrongly convicted
and sentenced for crimes that did not warrant incarceration.

This is capitalism taken to the end, whereby the logical conclusion
of the system is pure profit, no matter the human or environmental
cost.

In her famous book “Are Prisons Obsolete?” professor and activist
Angela Davis writes a chapter on the Prison-Industrial Complex
highlighting the economic motivations that have transformed the
legal system in America.

She states “The prison industrial complex is fueled by privatization
patterns that, it will be recalled, have also drastically transformed
health care, education and other areas of our lives.”

The racist structures that perpetuate the prison system coupled
with the supply of unemployed black males and centered in urban
areas leads to a reality where prisons become labor camps with a
large, exploitable labor force.

There is a devastating convergence between the ideologies of
racism and the capitalist motives of growth, expediency and
profit.

The exploitation of prison labor is clearly discernible with the
new prison systems that are factories as well as prisons.

In a Mother Jones article entitled “What do Prisoners Make for
Victoria’s Secret?” author Caroline Winter details the various
products inmates make.

The products range from lingerie for Victoria’s Secret and JC Penny
to military uniforms and parts for airplanes.

The wages prisoners receive range from 19 cents to minimum wage
for work that would earn a union worker $25 to $30 an hour.

This dangerous development is all too appealing for the corporate
interests eager to break the last vestiges of union demands and
exploit a cheap and abundant labor force.

According to the statistics of the Department of Justice, the total
prisoner population has gone from approximately 500,000 in the
early 1980s to over 2 million inmates today.

The United States now has the highest rate of incarceration in the
world, beating out the nations criticized for human rights violations.

It is completely justifiable to assert that the US incarceration system
is a violation of International Human Rights laws, for example
violating certain provisions in the International Convention on Civil
and Political Rights, which the US is a signatory of.

This dangerous trend constitutes a conflict of interests where
State interests collude with private market forces.

This dangerous allegiance, much like the Military Industrial
Complex, brings the nation closer to a police state where
laws disproportionately benefit the wealthy and powerful.

In the final analysis, it is fitting to counter the classic biblical phrase
“The kingdom of God is at hand” by crying out “The kingdom of hell
is here; the prisons!”

Hell actually exists in concrete structures where our comrades go to
rot in solitude.

America is a land of the imprisoned, where injustice is cast as
justice and the Devil wears black robes.

The Prison Industrial Complex is proof of the failure of the so called
“American Dream.”

Willie Williams, an inmate who wrote a poem for Struggle Magazine entitled “Slave to Inmate” writes, “Given names, Master, and a
shack with mud floors to live in; Given numbers, guards, and a brick
building with concrete floors and bars to live in.”

Williams testifies that racism is alive and well, simply mutated from
old style chattel slavery to the exploited victims in the dungeons of
capitalism.

Thus, it is fitting to end with the words of Minnesota hip hop artist
Brother Ali who says “Welcome to the United Snakes; Land of the
Thief, Home of the Slave.”



Christopher Helali is Adjunct Professor of History at MassBay
Community College and a member of the Communist Party USA.

http://dissidentvoice.org/2013/03/privatizing-hell-the-economic-
motives-for-incarcerating-america/

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