Given the promise of increased criminalization, the promise of increased funding for the police state, and the threat of a heavy-duty deportation machine, it is now more important than ever to defund the prison-industrial complex.
If you haven’t read “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander or watched the documentary 13th, add it to your list.
I had the opportunity to hear Michelle Alexander speak at Carleton in my first or second year, it was life-changing.
Basically, post-slavery, the United States needed to find a new source of cheap (read free) labor. And so tada! Prison system began to really take off.
Thanks to a series of laws passed by both republicans and democrats (Nixon, Reagan, our would-have-been first spouse, Bill) and the call for “law and order”, we have a system of (in)justice in place that relies on and perpetuates the massive incarceration of people of color and especially impoverished people of color. In addition, the police force in this country has been militarized to continue this pipeline of free labor, petty misdemeanors have been criminalized, and neighborhoods of people of color are targeted disproportionately.
In other news of how everything is everything is everything. Meanwhile, the likelihood of a white rapist seeing even minimal jail time is negligible. Tell me again how this system is working to protect its people?
So this new executive piece-of-crap would provide funding for an already militarized police force. A force that also unfairly targets immigrant communities. P.S. it’s already started in SF.
Okay, so you may have already known all that. What practical steps can we take?
1. Invest in education.
Not only education about these practices, but also good-old-fashioned education in the United States. That means block Betsy Davos from being appointed to Secretary of Education. You’re probably already calling your reps a lot, but add to the list moving funding away from prisons and into schools.
2. Defund private prisons/ move funding for state prisons to localities.
Again, the root of the problem is capitalism. I should just buy a shirt that says that (ha, like, it was a joke… cuz… nevermind). There’s a giant evil conglomerate called the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and another called the GEO Group which is all the corporations with investment in private prisons. Once again you see the giant banks, Bank of America, JP Morgan and Chase, etc etc. So if you haven’t yet, please consider banking with a small credit union.
Additionally, as far as state prisons go, W. David Bell published a report that suggested moving the funding of prisons from the state level to the local level where the decisions are actually being made. So, now you can pester your reps on the state level, too, and tell them to follow those suggestions.
3. Join the abolitionist movement.
The above to suggestions are ways to help better a corrupt system. But really the best way would be to end the corrupt system altogether. So join the abolitionist movement.
If you needed more convincing, think about the fact that pregnant women in NYC are still being placed in solitary confinement. Roughly a third of prison fatalities are due to suicide (as of 2015 statistics).
This needs to be stopped. There are several organizations already in existence working towards this end.
Critical Resistance sprang from a 1998 conference and has several local chapters (the website is a little-outdated unfortunately). It has some good resources for education re: prison abolition.
Prison Activist Resource Center is a group based in Oakland that seeks to bring the injustice of the prison system to light.
Black and Pink is an organization working for solidarity with LGBTQ prisoners. It has a pen pal directory. Which leads me to:
4. Get to know prisoners.
It’s proven that the best way for ending stereotypes is by personal knowledge. So please, consider signing up to be a pen pal with someone in prison.
I started writing letters to my pen pal a few days after the election. I was nervous at first, unsure what to expect, full of these weird anxieties that I wouldn’t be good enough, that I couldn’t save this person, that he would want something from me that I couldn’t provide.
But I couldn’t have been more wrong. He’s just a really sweet human being in a really screwed up system. Despite all the horrific things he’s been through, my pen pal has one of the most upbeat and optimistic world-views. I am so inspired and motivated by him.
So, for your sake really, sign up to be a pen pal. Or find other ways of connecting personally with people in prison.
Again this is only a starting point. Let me know other practical steps to take. I have to run to work.