Let me say a few words about prison abolition … I know that the question many of you have is: what are you going to replace it with, right? You abolish the prison, what are you going to replace it with? I want to ask you to think about the same question in relation to slavery. If you abolish slavery, what are you going to replace it with? …I’m asking you to try to think about the abolition of the institution of the prison in a different way. And not to force your imagination to try to come up with a solution that fits the footprint of the prison. It makes no sense to think about another institution that is simply going to replace the prison. No sense.
As a matter of fact, the term prison industrial complex allows us to think about the project of abolition in much broader terms. The prison industrial complex is not the sum of all the prisons and jails in this country, and throughout the world. It is a sect of symbiotic relationships among correctional communities, transnational corporations, media conglomerates, guards unions, legislative and court agendas. Of the increasing transnational incarnation of the prison industrial complex, the most dramatic is the insinuation of US style anti-crime rhetoric into the new democracy of South Africa, and the erection of the U.S. Style super-maximum security prison, as well as the spread of private prisons in South Africa, private prisons owned and operated by corporations that are headquartered in the United States of America. And of course, the…largest private prison company, the largest transnational private prison country is Corrections Corporations of America, which got started in Nashville, Tennessee. And until recently, CCA owned and operated the largest women’s prison in the country of Australia.
Now, if we …accept the fact that the contemporary meaning of punishment is fashioned through these various relationships, then our abolitionist strategies will propose alternatives that try to pull these relationships apart. Does that make sense? What would it mean then, to imagine a system in which punishment is not allowed to become the source of corporate profit? How can we imagine a society in which race and class are not primary determinants of punishment, or one in which punishment itself is no longer the central concern in the making of justice?
Rather than try to imagine a single alternative to the existing system of incarceration, we might envision an array of alternatives. Education can be seen as the most compelling alternative to imprisonment….And so what we would have to do is de-militarize our schools….Revitalize education in all levels. Unless the current structures of violence are eliminated from schools, and impoverished communities of color, including the presence of armed guards - armed security guards and police. And unless schools become places that encourage the joy of learning, these schools will remain the major conduits to youth prisons, and then to adult prisons. Alternatives that fail to address racism, male dominance, homophobia, a class bias, and other structures of domination will not lead to decarceration, and will not advance the goal of abolition.
I want to conclude with a story. The story of Amy Biehl, and I am doing this in lieu of evoking the growing body of literature on reshaping systems of justice around strategies of reparation rather than retribution. In 1993 when South Africa was on the cusp of its transition, Amy Biehl was devoting a significant amount of her time as a foreign student to the work of rebuilding South Africa. Nelson Mandela had been freed in 1990, but he had not yet been elected President. On August 25th, 1993 Biehl was driving several black friends to their home in Guguletu. Biehl was a white student from New Port, California. Fullbright student. A crowd shouting anti-white slogans confronted her, and some of them stoned and stabbed her death. Four of the men- of course they were all black- participating in the attack were convicted of her murder, and were sentenced to 18 years in prison. In 1997, Amy’s mother and father, Peter and Linda Biehl, were persuaded finally to support the amnesty petition the men presented to …the Truth and Reconciliation …commission. They apologized to the Biehls and they were released from prison in 1998. But two of them…wanted to meet the parents of the young woman they killed. They said they wanted to say more about their own sorrow for killing the Biehls’ daughter than it had been possible [to say during] the Truth and Reconciliation hearings. ‘I know you lost a person you loved. I want you to forgive me, and take me as your child,’ [said Nofemela]. The Biehls had established the 'Amy Biehl Foundation’ in the aftermath of their daughter's death. So they asked the two men … to work at the [Foundation’s] Guguletu branch. Nofemela became an instructor in an after school sports program, and Peni became administrator. In June 2002, a little more than a year ago, the two men accompanied Linda Biehl to New York, where they all spoke before the American Family Therapy Academy on reconciliation and restorative justice. In a Boston Globe interview, Linda Biehl, when asked how she now feels about the men who killed her daughter, said: 'I have a lot of love for them.’ After Peter Biehl died in 2002 last year, she bought two plots of land for the two [men] in memory of her husband so that Nofemela and Peni can build their own homes.
A few days after the September 11 attacks, the Biehls had been asked to speak at the synagogue in New Port beach. According to Peter Biehl, and I am ending with this quote, 'we try to explain that sometimes it pays to shut up and listen to what other people have to say. To ask: "why do these terrible things happen" instead of simply reacting.'
Imprisoning a staggering number of our people is
wrong. The way our nation does it is even worse.
We must end mass incarceration, now.
If I’m walking down the street with a Black
or Latino friend, my friend is way more likely to be stopped by the police, questioned, and even arrested. Even if we’re doing the exact same thing—he or she is more likely to be convicted and sent to jail.
Unless we recognize the racism and abuse of our criminal justice system and tackle the dehumanizing stereotypes that underlie it, our nation – and our economy – will never be as strong as it could be.
Please take a
moment to watch the accompanying video, and please share it so others can understand what’s
at stake for so many Americans.
Here are the facts:
Today, the United States has 5
percent of the world’s population, but has 25 percent of its prisoners, and we spend more than $80 billion each year on prisons.
The major culprit is
the so-called War on Drugs. There were fewer than 200,000 Americans behind bars as recently as the mid-70’s. Then, a racially-tinged drug hysteria swept our nation, and we saw a wave of
increasingly militant policing that targeted communities of color and poorer
With “mandatory minimums” and “three strikes out” laws,
the number of Americans behind bars soon ballooned
to nearly 2.5 million today, despite widespread evidence that locking people up doesn’t make us
Unconscious bias and
cultural stereotypes lead to discriminatory enforcement of the laws – from who
gets pulled over to where police conduct drug sweeps.
Even though Blacks, whites, and Latinos use drugs at similar rates, people with black and brown skin are more likely to be pulled over, searched, arrested, charged with a crime, convicted, and sent to jails and prisons where they can be subject to some of the worst human rights abuses.
As a result, black people incarcerated at a rate five times that of whites,
and Latinos incarcerated at a rate double that of white Americans.
Even if you’ve “served your time,” you never escape the label.
A felony conviction can bar you from getting a student loan, putting a roof over your head, or even from voting. It might even disqualify you from getting a job which can make it impossible for people with felony convictions to pull themselves out of poverty. And many who end up in prison were living in chronic poverty to begin with.
All of this means a lot of potential human talent is going to waste. We’re spending a fortune locking people up who could fuel our economy and build strong communities, in some cases just to increase the profits of private prison corporations.
So what do we do?
First, enact smarter sentencing laws that end mandatory minimums and transform the way we treat people who enter the criminal justice system. Instead of prisons and jails, we need well-paying jobs, and to invest in proven and cost-effective alternatives to incarceration, like job training and mental health and drug treatment programs.
Second, stop the militarized policing and end discriminatory policing practices such as “stop and frisk” and “broken windows” that disproportionately target communities of color.
Third, stop building new jails, start closing some existing ones, and begin to invest in schools, public transit, and housing assistance or local jobs programs. States are spending more and more on prisons, while cutting funding for schools. That’s crazy.
Finally, “ban the box” – the box on job applications that asks whether you have ever been convicted of a felony on a job application. Already, dozens of states cities, and counties have passed bills requiring that employers consider what you can do in the future, not what you might have done in the past.
Instead of locking people up unjustly, and then locking them out of the economy for the rest of their lives, we need to stop wasting human talent and start opening doors of opportunity – to everyone.
By David James Hudson (Full transcription below the cut)
You have heard this poem before.
You have heard the unoriginal repetitious poetics of a shot –
of a shot –
of a shot singeing the night air – of
shell casings on concrete and cases of claims of
standard police procedure – of cases of batons that leave
bullets in brown bodies and
bullets in sleeping bodies and
bullets in running bodies and
bullets in bodies holding umbrellas or
holding pens or
holding other things that look like guns or
reaching for – he was
reaching for – they say she was
reaching for some expectation of dignity, service, and protection –
This is an unoriginal poem about police brutality.
You will hear the same sets of metaphors once more: white
security, verdicts of
innocence, inconsequential bodies of
evidence, ballistics and emergency lights,
repetitious, circling around and around like
circular stories like
unoriginal poems like
a red stream of consciousness flowing through senses punctured like
sentences punctuated with
bullet-like precision again and
There is really nothing new here.
This is as unoriginal as a mundane untouched sheet of white paper or
granddad’s white Klan sheets untouched in closets beside uniforms or
uniform otherwise spotless records –
You have heard these uniform stories before, I imagine.
Why write, then? Why
do pens and
lungs feel so heavy when
stories seem to repeat themselves?
Entertainment markets demand innovation.
The same story again and
again gets old, we are
told. We’d rather plug our ears and so
there is silence in
like the eerie stillness of
prisons and profits of
plantations and poverty churned out in
steady cycles of factory-like
production – call it run-of-the-mill:
not poetic, but prosaic
like the still persistence of
the largest private prison corporation traded
on the New York Stock Exchange like
the silence of stock ticker tapes circulating at the bottom
of TV screens – an economics of
morbidity – a market that demands
an endless supply of unremarkable names –
like Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr.
like Amadou Diallo
like Sammy Yatim
like Fredy Villanueva
like Kathryn Johnston
like John T. Williams
like Yvette Smith
like Jeffrey Reodica
like Sean Bell
like John Joseph Harper
like Oscar Grant
like Chavis Carter
like Jordan Baker
like LaTanya Haggerty
like Jean Charles de Menezes
like Rumain Brisbon
like Ramarley Graham
like Kajieme Powell
like Miriam Carey
like Husein Shehada
like Jonathan Ferrell
like Victor White III
like John Crawford III
like John Adams
like Tanesha Anderson
like Darrien Hunt
like Aiyana Stanley-Jones
like Jack Lamar Roberson
like Ezell Ford
like Matthew Dumas
like Michael Brown
like Eric Garner
like Tamar Rice
like Jermaine Carby
like Neil Stonechild
Are you tired yet?
Then set your aesthetics aside. There is no originality in these pages. The same old stories out there mean the same old stories here, so this will stop being cliché when that stops being cliché – when clichés are no longer scripted in blood stuttering like last breaths along sidewalks.
8,500 people were made slaves of the private prison system at 100,000 dollars each That won’t have to be paid by taxes next year to ruin their life. 9000 people possibly who will be saved from being institutionalized next year. The private prison corporations will loose over 900 million dollars a year! wait that can’t be right… they make almost a billion dollars from taxes for 8500 prisoners at $100,000 a year each?
Several groups in the United States have a vested interest in preventing the legalization of cannabis. As confirmed by an investigation by OpenSecrets last year, pharmaceutical companies, police unions, private prison corporations, and companies that produce alcoholic beverages have a lot of money to lose if marijuana floods the streets of your town.
California Beer & Beverage Distributors ponied up $10,000 to defeat marijuana legalization in California in 2010. Police unions spent hundreds of thousands of dollars defeating the same measure, fearing they would lose millions of dollars in funding meant for pursuing marijuana operations.