Saturday, January 7, 2017

Mass Incarceration is NOT the Problem

Hola mi gente,
Thought I’d wade in… LOL

A major challenge of this movement is to do the work that will create more humane, habitable environments for people in prison without bolstering the permanence of the prison system. How, then, do we accomplish this balancing act of passionately attending to the needs of prisoners… and at the same time call for alternatives to sentencing altogether, no more prison construction, and abolitionist strategies that question the place of prison in our future?
 -- Angela Y. Davis

Yes you read that right: mass incarceration isn’t the problem. You could close all the prisons you want. You could end mass incarceration right now and it would accomplish very little. In fact, saying you’re for ending mass incarceration is a nice thing to say, but it doesn’t do squat if you’re not addressing the root causes at the core of our society’s way of interacting with Black and Latinx people.

In order to better understand the criminal justice system, one can no longer differentiate between prisons and jails and the communities that serve as feeders for that particular form of racialized social control. In fact, marginalized communities -- mostly Black and Latinx -- act as open-air detention centers that differ from institutions of incarceration only in the degree of freedom of movement. Much of what transpires inside “the walls” of prisons or jails occur in inside the walls of housing projects and surrounding ghettoes, for example. Housing projects very much resemble prisons in the way they are designed and policed -- isolated and rigidly controlled.

The social control of people of color has had several permutations. First there was chattel slavery, which morphed into Jim Crow apartheid, which mutated into the ghetto, and now we have mass incarceration. It’s the spiral dynamics of racialized social control. Mass incarceration is like a cough -- a symptom of a deeper disease. You can address the cough, but if you don’t address the root cause, the disease will continue to destroy the body. Do away with mass incarceration (which will not be happening any time soon, by the way), and you’re still left with the virus that sits at the core of this nation’s soul.

Mass incarceration is symptomatic of the social psychosis of institutional racism. I am asserting that slavery and mass imprisonment are intrinsically linked and that we cannot understand the latter -- its timing, composition, and inception as well as the acceptance of its harmful effects on those it impacts -- without returning to the former as a starting point. In other words, from a historical perspective, the mass incarceration of mostly people of color in the United States is a direct offshoot of the roots of the institution of racism.

Doing terrible things in an organized and systematic way rests on “normalization.” This is the process whereby ugly, degrading, murderous, and even unspeakable acts become routine and are accepted as “the way things are done.” There is usually a division of labor in committing and rationalizing the unthinkable, with direct brutalization and killing done by one set of individuals; and another section of society keeping the machinery (e.g., sanitation, food supply, correction officers, judges, lawyers, etc.) in order; still others producing the implements of brutalization, or working on improving the technology (a better crematory gas, a longer burning and more adhesive napalm, a better prison or isolation cell). It is the function of intellectuals and other experts (many who call themselves social justice advocates), and the mainstream media, to normalize the unthinkable for the general public.

This is why it is incorrect to say that our criminal justice system is broken. It isn’t. It has been working exactly as it was meant to work for centuries.

The lack of a shared basis for moral judgment in a multicultural, multiethnic, multi-religious nation dooms the justification of punishment. The economic cost of our system of punishment stands at about 100 billion dollars per year. It destroys families and communities, and it deprives those caught in its maws their most basic liberties, sometimes for a lifetime. Vacuous references to “ending mass incarceration” or vague phrases are woefully inadequate as resistance to a system of justice predicated solely on race and punishment and do not serve as a foundation with which to challenge the prevailing paradigm of justice as punishment.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization… 

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