All Articles Tagged "incarceration"
(New York Times) — Randy Kearse, 45, went from hustling crack cocaine as head of a multistate crew, to federal prison, to author and urban self-help guru who not only writes books about his experiences but also mentors children, crooks, prisoners and their families on the perils of the criminal life. Or as one of his titles suggests, he has gone from “Incarceration to Incorporation.” With little or no marketing muscle behind him, Mr. Kearse said he had sold some 14,000 copies of his self-published books in the last three years, at $10 each, mostly through hand-to-hand sales. He has also sold about 4,000 copies of a 750-page, 10,000-entry dictionary of urban slang terms, “Street Talk,” through Barricade Books of Fort Lee, N.J., the publisher said.
One of the most disgusting things about the horrible three strikes law in the state of California is that its biggest sponsor is the California Prison Guards Union. If there were ever a sicker manifestation of America’s tendency toward mass incarceration, that might be it. Human Rights advocates from the United Nations have cited the United States for the manner by which it leaves black and brown people incarcerated, unemployed and uneducated.
The data says that Black Americans are more dramatically affected by mass incarceration than whites. Black men have a seven times greater likelihood of going to prison than whites, and the U.S. actually incarcerates 5.8 times more black men now than South Africa did during the height of Apartheid.
Fortunately, there is at least one reason for black families to feel good about the recent recession. California, a state with a $26 billion budget gap to fill, has decided to release 27,000 of its non-violent offenders early. Normally, I wouldn’t be fighting to see prison inmates released, but when a set of a laws have been so devastating to a community, it’s hard not to cheer.
“It’s unfair to describe it that way,” Matthew Cate, Prison Secretary for the State of California said, referring to early release. “It’s misleading. It makes it sound like we are opening the gates, and that’s just not the case.”
Instead, Cate is doing what should have been done all along: Helping potential inmates find alternatives to prison, like drug rehabilitation and other ways to keep them from being a part of the government payroll for crimes that are not that serious. Mass incarceration destroys families and societies because fathers are taken away from their children, leaving these kids vulnerable to the possibility that they will follow in their fathers’ footsteps.
Also, diseases like HIV/AIDs and other STDs are transmitted throughout the black community because the government has allowed the concept of prison rape to remain a funny joke instead of the serious problem that it is. The first thing a man does when he’s released from prison is find a woman to share his body with, no matter what infections he’s picked up along the way.
One threat to this progress is the idea of prison privatization. If corporations are able to find ways to reliably profit from mass incarceration, then we could be in serious trouble. Many corporations have already found that prison slaves make great cheap labor, and that there are benefits to living in a society that has decided that those who’ve been labeled as social deviants are not worthy of human or civil rights. One very telling aspect of all this is the fact that the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolishes slavery, actually says that slavery is NOT abolished for those who’ve been convicted of a crime. That, my friends, is the real crime in all of this.
I pray that one day our prison policies will be focused on making society better, rather than making it worse. It must start with each of us gaining the compassion to realize that it’s possible to be tough on crime, while still providing opportunity for families that are affected by incarceration.
If we focus on rehabilitating those who make mistakes, reuniting them with their families and giving them incentives to become productive members of society, we will have safer streets and a better version of America.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition and the initiator of the National Conversation on Race. He is also the author of the book, “Black American Money.” For more information, please visit BoyceWatkins.com.
(AP) – The Paterson administration has proposed reforming New York’s system for housing juvenile offenders with a new oversight office and tighter restrictions on who can be incarcerated. The proposals come as two investigations continue into allegations a dance last year at a Hudson Valley detention center turned into a sex party.
Capitalism, slavery and prison labor have been bedfellows since the 1800s. African American male labor was exploited then, and this exploitative coupling continues into this century. In 1860, there were 1,981,385 black male slaves in the Unites States—a figure computed from the Historical Demographics, Economic, and Social Data: U.S., 1790-1970, ICPSR. Once these slaves were manumitted and no longer a free workforce, Douglas A. Blackmon describes how their labor was recaptured in his book Slavery By Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II. Black male labor was recaptured, according to Blackmon, by charging Negroes with crimes such as vagrancy and other non-consequential acts, and this need for cheap labor paralleled an increased enforcement of these frivolous laws—i.e., harvesting time. As a result of this system, Blackmon describes this indentured servitude (debt slavery) as forced labor. As prison labor became a more necessary part of the capitalist system during Reconstruction, as a result of the devastation brought on by the Civil War, landowners exploited this peonage system and needed to build new prisons to house these former slaves and lease them to labor-hungry entrepreneurs.
These labor-hungry entrepreneurs decided to expand on this idea of convict leasing in the 1800s and created the first private prisons. States such as California, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas had privately operated prisons between 1850 and 1950. The industry of contracting out prison labor was extremely profitable up until 1950, but things became unglued with the discovery of rampant abuse in these private prisons. Private prisons reappeared in the 1980s as a result of the “war on drugs,” and the concomitant laws associated with this war such as California’s notorious three-strikes-and-you-are-out laws. These campaigns such as the “war on drugs” and “get tough on crime” have been a dismal failure and have afflicted non-violent African American offenders, especially males, with a permanent handicap—a lifetime of limited opportunities.
The collateral consequences of a felony conviction also play a role in the burgeoning African American male unemployment rate. African American male unemployment, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is 15.6%, which economists assert is a Depression-era level number. The U.S. economy, it has been widely reported, has not added jobs since December of 2007 and has shed 7.2 million jobs overall since then, according to reports. Even worse, it is accepted that many jobs will not return for several years. Of course, African American males will be the most affected by the structural and racial flaws in the economy.
In my book, Merchandizing Prisoners: Who Really Pays for Prison Privatization?, I show how the United States is returning to systems of prison labor exploitation. Over 2 million U.S. citizens are now incarcerated in the U.S., and half of them are African American males. This return to slavery has been facilitated by private prison corporations that lease factories in prisons and then lease the prisoners they house for the state out to these factories to perform work for companies such as Dell, Victoria’s Secret, and other multinational corporations and Fortune 500 companies. According to Yahoo Finance, Corrections Corporation of America has a 2.69 billion market cap.
There is a phenomenon eerily similar to what Blackmon describes regarding the nominal fees Black men were forced to pay to forestall forced labor. This is now happening to the formerly incarcerated who come out of prisons with crushing debt. These economic sanctions come in the form of probation fees, jail fees, special assessments, fines, and restitution. These fees are assessed on money deposited for prisoners by their family members. When ex-prisoners cannot pay these fees, they are returned to prison on a technical violation and are then forced into labor again.
Instead of states spending more money on corrections over education and building more prisons, they should embrace this idea of justice reinvestment to attack disproportionate minority contact with the criminal justice system, outsourcing and African American unemployment. Justice reinvestment strategies, according to Susan Tucker and Eric Cadora, contend that the billions of dollars spent on corrections should be redirected to build “human resources, physical infrastructure such as schools in those neighborhoods devastated by high levels of incarceration like the million dollar blocks in Brooklyn, NY.” A million dollars a year, according to Tucker and Cadora, is being spent to incarcerate people from one block in Brooklyn.
Redirecting money to create jobs in these high incarceration communities would go a long way towards improving education in these communities, improving employments prospects, and de-commodifying Black men so that their labor is not stolen by capitalists looking to exploit the captive labor the prisons provide them. Finally, states should follow New Jersey’s state legislature’s example of exploring laws which remove barriers that affect successful reintegration back into society by the formerly incarcerated, such as not being able to stay in public housing or receive welfare benefits, not being able to secure occupational licenses, and asking the question, “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?”
Dr. Byron E. Price is a professor of political science at Texas Southern University and is the author of Merchandising Prisoners: Who Really Pays for Prison Privatization.