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Posts Tagged ‘Are Prisons Obsolete

Some stuff about prisons

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On the plane I read some of Angela Davis’ book Are Prisons Obsolete? Here’s some stuff I learned (some direct quotes, some summary): 


  • More than two million people out of a world total of nine million now inhabit U.S. prisons, jails, youth facilities, and immigrant detention centers. In the late 1960s there were close to 200,000 people in prison in the United States. In three decades, ten times as many people are now locked away in cages The U.S. population in general is less than 5% of the world’s total, whereas more than 20% of the world’s combined prison population can be claimed by the United States. Short of major wars, mass incarceration has been the most thoroughly implemented government social program of our time. 
  • In 2002, there were 157,979 people incarcerated in the state of California alone, including approximately 20,000 people whom the state holds for immigration violations. 
  • In 1990, a study of U.S. prison populations was published which concluded that 1 in 4 black men between the ages of 21-29 were in prison and jail and on parole or probation. Five years later, a second study revealed that this percentage had soared to almost 1 in 3. More than 1 in 10 Latino men of the same age were in jail or prison, or on probation or parole. The second study also revealed that the group experiencing the greatest increase was black women, whose imprisonment increased by 78%. 
  • “In the late nineteenth century, coal companies wished to keep their skilled prison laborers for as long as they could, leading to denials of ‘short time.’ Today, a slightly different economic incentive can lead to similar consequences. CCA [Corrections Corporation of America] is paid per prisoner. IF the supply dries up, or too many are released too early, their profits are affected… Longer prison terms mean greater profits, but the larger point is that the profit motive promotes the expansion of imprisonment.” 
  • “Racism surrpetitiously defines social and economic structures in ways that are difficult to identify and thus are much more damaging. In some states, for example, more than one third of black men have been labeled felons. In Alabama and FLorida, once a felon, always a felon, which entails the loss of status as a rights-bearing citizen.”
  • “The prison functions ideologically as an abstract site into which undesirables are deposited, relieving us of the responsibility of thinking about the real issues afflicting undersirables those communities from which prisoners are drawn in such disproportionate numbers. This is the ideological work that the prison performs–it relieves us of the responsibility of seriously engaging with the problems of our society, especially those produced by racism and, increasingly, global capitalism.” 
  • “Mass imprisonment generates profits as it devours social wealth, and thus it tends to reproduce the very conditions that lead people to prison.” 
  • “While public discourse has become more flexible, the emphasis is almost inevitably on generating the changes that will produce a better prison system…As important as some reforms may be–the elimination of sexual abuse and medical neglect in women’s prison, for example–frameworks that rely exclusively on reforms help to produce the stultifying idea that nothing lies beyond the prison.”
  • The penitentiary arose in late 18th century America, and was then considered to be a more humanitarian system of punishment. “In many ways the penitentiary was a vast improvement over the many forms of capital and corporal punishment inherited form the English. However, the contention that prisoners would refashion themselves if only given the opportunity to reflect and labor in solitude an silence disregarded the impact of authoritarian regimes of living and work.”
  • “There are aspects of our history that we need to interrogate and rethink, the recognition of which may help us to adopt more complicated, critical postures toward the present and the future.” 
  • “There is even more compelling evidence about the damage wrought by the expansion of the prison system in the schools located in poor communities of color that replicate the structures and regimes of the prison. When children attend schools that place a greater value on discipline and security than on knowledge and intellectual development, they are attending prep schools for prison.” 
  • “In the nineteenth century, antislavery activists insisted that as long as slavery continued, the future of democracy was bleak indeed. In the twenty-first century, antiprison activists insist that a fundamental requirement for the revitalization of democracy is the long-overdue abolition of the prison system.”