Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Final perspectives and views on the PIC

  A link that Prisonsucks.com has to offer is “Nine Perspectives for Prison Abolitionists.” This was a helpful handbook for me because it solidified my views as a prison abolitionist, which is an extremely leftist approach to the Prison Industrial complex. The main points that led me to become a prison abolitionist were:

1.     The multibillion-dollar industry of prisons and using prison labor feeds off of the powerless and voiceless of our country in order to financially benefit.

2.      Rehabilitation has become non-existent part of the criminal justice system. Instead, the goal of prisons has become more about obedience and punishment.

3.     The atmosphere of prisons has become hopeless, and the inmates have become a number, they are no longer human once they are incarcerated.


So, the main issue with these three points is that they explain how the prison system has violated human rights and civil rights. These are a problem for the larger community and society as a whole because if these prisoners are not being rehabilitated at all, they are going to fall into the same pattern when they are released. Prisoners are not going to automatically have the resources to become law-abiding citizens when they are released if they are not given them while they are incarcerated. Examples of this “rehabilitation” might be, education, social responsibility training, job training, learning about their individual skills and what they have to offer society. Everyone has something positive to offer this world and many prisoners have become so hopeless because of the oppression that they feel on the outside and inside, they do not know this about themselves. Therefore, helping prisoners to realize what they can give to the world and what their purpose is, becomes a huge part of rehabilitation and recognizing that these inmates are actually humans that deserve the same things that everyone does. The simple fact that someone makes a mistake in their life weather it be selling drugs or commiting murder does not mean that they are worthless. But, this is the message that they are being told by our current criminal justice system and so this is why I am so committed to changing this system. Prisonsucks.com gives these nine vies to begin this movement for change in the prison industrial complex:

Perspective 1: Imprisonment is morally reprehensible and indefensible and must be abolished. In an enlightened free society, prison cannot endure or it will prevail. Abolition is a long range goal; an ideal. The eradication of any oppressive system is not an easy task. But it is realizable, like the abolition of slavery or any liberation, so long as there is the will to engage in the struggle.

Perspective 2: The message of abolition requires "honest" language and new definitions. Language is related to power. We do not permit those in power to control our vocabulary. Using "system language" to call prisoners "inmates" or punishment "treatment," denies prisoners the reality of their experience and makes us captives of the old system. Our own language and definitions empower us to define the prison realistically.

Perspective 3: Abolitionists believe reconciliation, not punishment, is a proper response to criminal acts. The present criminal (in)justice systems focus on someone to punish, caring little about the criminal's need or the victim's loss. The abolitionist response seeks to restore both the criminal and the victim to full humanity, to lives of integrity and dignity in the community. Abolitionists advocate the least amount of coercion and intervention in an individual's life and the maximum amount of care and services to all people in the society.

Perspective 4: Abolitionists work with prisoners but always remain "nonmembers" of the established prison system. Abolitionists learn how to walk the narrow line between relating to prisoners inside the system and remaining independent and "outside" that system. We resist the compelling psychological pressures to be "accepted" by people in the prison system. We are willing to risk pressing for changes that are beneficial to and desired by prisoners. In relating to those in power, we differentiate between the personhood of system managers (which we respect) and their role in perpetuating an oppressive system.

Perspective 5: Abolitionists are "allies" of prisoners rather than traditional "helpers." We have forged a new definition of what is trulyhelpful to the caged, keeping in mind both the prisoner's perspective and the requirements of abolition. New insights into old, culture-laden views of the "helping relationship" strengthen our roles as allies of prisoners.

Perspective 6: Abolitionists realize that the empowerment of prisoners and ex-prisoners is crucial to prison system change. Most people have the potential to determine their own needs in terms of survival, resources and programs. We support self-determination of prisoners and programs which place more power in the hands of those directly affected by the prison experience.

Perspective 7: Abolitionists view power as available to each of us for challenging and abolishing the prison system. We believe that citizens are the source of institutional power. By giving support toÑor withholding support from-specific policies and practices, patterns of power can be altered.

Perspective 8: Abolitionists believe that crime is mainly a consequence of the structure of society. We devote ourselves to a community change approach. We would drastically limit the role of the criminal (in)justice systems. We advocate public solutions to public problems-greater resources and services for all people.

Perspective 9: Abolitionists believe that it is only in a caring community that corporate and individual redemption can take place. We view the dominant culture as more in need of "correction" than the prisoner. The caring communities have yet to he built.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Educational Funding in Prisons

Funding for educational programs in prisons has almost been completely demolished. According to an article by Gillian Granoff, “In 1994 the government issued a federal crime bill, which made inmates ineligible to receive Pell Grants that had provided scholarships for prisoners to earn a bachelors degree while incarcerated.” Furthermore, in terms of spending, “Funding for prison college programs were eliminated, leading to the closing of some 350 such programs nationwide. Many states, including New York, barred inmates from taking college extension courses. Even secondary education programs suffered.” My question is then, why are we cutting funding and making it nearly impossible for inmates to get an education when our justice system is supposed to be (at least somewhat) about rehabilitation? It does not seem as though these new policies are in correlation with the values that the judicial system was based upon.

Researchers have even found that keeping a prisoner in jail for one year instead of sending that person to college is ten times more costly. So, if it is not about the money then why not implement educational programs in prisons? My theory is that the judicial system is no longer concerned with rehabilitation or even with the rights or well being of inmates.

Because the judicial system is terrified of this image being spread, some people in defense of the system have come up with five ways in which universities and prisons will be linked to “improve the education of inmates.” These include book drives for inmates, GED tutoring program, and some actual college level courses. Although Gillian Granoff views these programs in an extremely positive light and as a huge accomplishment I would beg to differ. Yes these programs are probably great however; there are only five of them! We have over 1,200 prisons in the United States and Gillian Granoff can only come up with five higher learning programs for these approximately two million people? Something is wrong, this cannot be a good thing and I would highly suggest that she and the readers of this article think critically about the right to education.

Source: http://www.educationupdate.com/archives/2005/May/html/FEAT-BehindBars.html

Monday, December 8, 2008

Schools as Prisons

This article describes how in recent years, schools have been built that represent prisons. The main two ways the article describes this correlation was through structure and surveillance. Overall, this shows that the educational system has no faith in their youth. They do not trust or have any expectations for the students and when this happens, the youth will fulfill the expectations of the institutions and teachers but not surpass them.
This is simply another way for prisons to get more inmates and, as the number of private prisons is increasing, this is profitable for these institutions. Why would the government want to support these private companies if they are not directly profiting from them? Well, most private prisons donate large amounts of money to campaigns for elected officials. When these people are elected then, they look out for the interests of these private institutions. Therefore, nobody will question the growth of prisons because the majority of the population see’s the crackdown on crime as beneficial to our society.
The intention behind building this school was that it would reduce violence in and around the school. This was not the case however because according to the article, “Repression hasn't halted growing violence outside the schools, and the schools ARE a microcosm of the world around them. Figures from the National School Safety Center show that during the 1993-1994 school year 46 students were killed on school grounds during the school day. Moreover, 3 million felonies and misdemeanors are committed at schools annually, and the severity of crimes has increased.” If these results have already been determined, why is this a model that many other states and school districts are looking at? In my opinion, I do not think that this type of school structure is conducive to youth growth and development both educationally and mentally. Instead we should have high expectations for our students and trust them. That is not to say that if they get caught doing something they should not be punished or talked to. In the beginning, they should be given trust and if they do something to take that trust away then they can be monitored but also given a chance to regain that trust.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Suggestions for Change in the PIC

The suggestion for the abolition of prisons is always an uncomfortable topic. We know many of the ways that prisons are hindering our society these are including but not limited to:

·Civil Rights violations

·Human Rights violations

·Disinterest in rehabilitation

·Criminalization of entire communities (mainly communities of color)

            So, now that we are able to identify the main problems, what do we do about them? Is there a way to change these things? What should we as a society be fighting for exactly? These are all good and viable questions and it is difficult to say that the system that we have right now can be reformed into a positive place for rehabilitation. So many people and organizations agree that it would be best to tear our whole prison systems down and rebuild with completely new ideals in mind. Some of the ideals I would suggest we should hold in mind when reorganizing would be:


·Individual rights

·Moving away from the objective to make money using prison labor

·Creating a cohesive community

            I am not suggesting that I have all of the answers, but our governmental structure is set up in a way where these things are not really possible. People are invested in the individualistic ideals and so it is very difficult for people to come together for a common good because, the people with the power are always going to be lifting themselves up while stepping on the “lesser” people to achieve their goals. In a perfect world and idealistic vacuum however, we could educate everyone on these issues and make them see that it is not always about tying to achieve the “American Dream” but that realistically we must work together to achieve a common goal for the most people rather than this individualistic outlook that realistically keeps the majority of people from achieving their goals. So, my suggestion for change then is to look at these ideals and others and move away from our learned way of thinking and towards a more reality based viewpoint on the prison industrial complex.  

Resource: http://www.criticalresistancegainesville.net/article.php?preview=1&cache=0&id=58

Monday, November 10, 2008

California's Proposition 5

Links: http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/suneditorials/la-oew-cooley-kreit31-2008oct31,0,4173671.story


            Proposition 5 was on the ballot for California this weeks election. Although it did not pass, this was a wonderful attempt at reducing the prison population. As the article outlines, the proposition would give more money to drug rehabilitation programs and crime prevention programs to hopefully rehabilitate rather than merely punish and incarcerate.

            This article presented both sides of issue however the argument against the proposition was at the end of the article and left a sour taste in the reader’s mouth. Also, the argument for the proposition was not as strong as the argument against in terms of how it was presented. This article was published in the Los Angeles Times, which is a huge news source for many people in California.

            The argument against the proposition is that it will actually increase crime rates. They say that this proposition would allow for the sate to be more lenient on crime and especially drug offenders who are “selling and distributing drugs to our children” they say that more people would become drug dealers because the state would not prosecute them as hard. However, this is not necessarily true and evidence for this has been supported and shown in the second article.  

            Finally, the group that was most invested in this proposition failing was the people and companies involved and invested in the California Prison Industrial Complex. “All the key players [in the California prison industrial complex] are insulated from any critical feedback and they are all feeding off each other, each getting more bloated with more power and money,” Nadelmann says. “In each case it is going to be citizens and tax payers who bear the brunt of the burden of government’s irresponsibility.” (thestranger.com)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

website analysis

Link: prisonindustrialcomplex.org

This website is a good start and attempt at addressing the issues presented in the Prison Industrial Complex. However, with this strong website name I would have expected it to go further in depth about what the PIC’s objectives are, what they are doing, who is affected, and why it is bad. Instead, in this website the creator (George H. Russell) speaks very strongly in opposition to the complex and calls for education and change but it is not a very informative website.

George H. Russell gives a list of companies that benefit from the imprisonment of others he says that some of these are:

1. Contractors who built prisons along with the hundreds of sub-contractors that make specialized prison beds, toilets, window bars, toilets, locks etc.

2. Food services that unload hundreds of tons of inferior food products on our prison population.

3. Clothing manufacturers who manufacture not only guard uniforms but prison uniforms as well, plus the silly garb that is given to convicts upon release.

4. Other profiteers include gun manufacturers, those who make the chemicals used to kill our citizens, casket makers for the dead ones, the medical profession tasked with keeping the condemned alive until they can be put to death, and even the P.R. operatives who lie to the press about the system and its abuses. 

            The problem with this list is that it does not include the companies that use prisoners to make and build or sell their products such as long distance telephone companies, GM, Chevron, IBM, Motorola, Compaq, Texas Instruments, Honeywell, Microsoft, Victoria's Secret and Boeing. Federal prisons operate under the trade name Unicor and use their prisoners to make everything from lawn furniture to congressional desks. This irony is sad and true simultaneously, prisoners are trapped in a system where they are subconsciously promoting their own oppression. 

video review: a corrupt criminal justice system

Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-wJ47wqZ0xE&feature=related

This video shows an aspect of the judicial system and specifically how the police departments conducted business in a less then ethical manor. It focuses on repossessing property and money for the profit of the individual police officers and the departments in general. This sort of corruption happens everywhere but the difference between the United States and other countries is that as a public, we are ignorant and naive to what goes on behind the scenes.

For example, when I studied abroad in Argentina last semester, I took an Argentina History class. This was different from any U.S History class I have ever taken and actually was more closely representative of a Comparative Ethnic Studies class. Even though they only have less than one percent native population left because of mass genocide, they still knew that this was wrong and explained what happened. Also, they were aware of the reasons and details behind their corrupt government. I personally even paid off an argentine policeman with one hundred pesos. I’m not saying that this is right but it is better when the public is aware of the corruption rather than ignorant like we are. 

Argentina also does not have a very high prison population. There were periods in time under different military rule when the incarceration rate climbed but it was not for the purpose of stimulating the economy through prison labor. We are one of the only countries that enslaves our prison population and in my opinion this is not by accident. I think that other countries have not adopted this aspect of systematic oppression because they know that it is wrong and because their people are well educated they will not stand for such injustices.