Nevertheless, the ideas of these reformers were combined to justify the expansion of penitentiaries across the United States. In , a significant shift in imprisonment occurred due to a riot at a federal prison in Marion, Illinois. It is thus important to grasp the fact that the prison as we know it today did not make its appearance on the historical stage as the superior form of punishment for all times. It was simply—though we should not underestimate the complexity of this process—what made most sense at a particular moment in history.
We should therefore question whether a system that was intimately related to a particular set of historical circumstances that prevailed during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries can lay absolute claim on the twenty-first century. Since incarceration started during the colonial era, it has maintained its function as a means to subjugate people of color.
Yet another, aspect of the continued growth of incarceration is the prison industrial complex.
This term refers to the interrelationship among ideology about imprisonment, the development of structures to facilitate imprisonment, and the profit gained from it. The same ideology that linked labor to imprisonment persists to justify the use of prison labor today. Students at various universities across the US have protested the relationship between their institutions and the private prison industry. While the origins of the prison industrial complex stem back to American and European reformers, the growth of the prison industry has expanded into the Global South as well.
This increasing militarization of law enforcement worldwide stands to benefit Western multinational corporations the most. Imprisonment came about as an alternative to torture. Mass incarceration came about as a profit motive became attached to the development of the penitentiary system. While antiprison abolitionists like Angela Davis have always existed, this particular movement grew in response to the rise of the prison industrial complex.
In her book, Davis proposes a number of alternatives: — The demilitarization of schools — The revitalization of accessible education for all age groups — The formation of free physical and mental healthcare for all — The development of a justice system based on reparation and reconciliation — Some places within the U. These programs make an effort to humanize offenders, providing reasonable solutions for rehabilitation other than hard labor.
For instance, inmates at the Maryland Correctional Training Center participated in a pets program.
Animals recovered across the region are taken to be trained by inmates so that they might later be adopted. Inmates are even able to adopt cats upon release. Begun in , this program takes a swift approach to reducing drug use and recidivism for substance abusers. Rather than allowing people to get caught in the system in the event of probation violation, this program keeps offenders on track with a community-based support system. People in this program were less likely to get arrested, skip probation meetings, use drugs or have their probation revoked according to a fact sheet by the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
The end of mass incarceration has to come about in one way or another. The programs described above reveal that the vision laid forth in Angela Davis book is attainable. Black feminisms is a blog centered on the intellectual and artistic labor of Black women in the African diaspora.
Written by Melissa. So I think that just this mindset in this conversation about punishment and trying to identify punishment in different places, even outside the specific institution of the prison, is really good.
Kim: I think that going off of what you just said. So this is part of what is happening here in the book. And I think that history is also an important part of the conversation and in other episodes we have, we plan to talk about different historical time periods and the implications of them for prison abolition and prison abolition work today. Historian Mary Ann Curtin has observed that many scholars who have acknowledged the deeply entrenched racism of the post civil war structures of punishment in the south, have failed to identify the extent to which racism, color, common sense understanding of the circumstances surrounding the wholesale criminalization of black communities.
Even anti-racist historians, she contends, do not go far enough in examining the ways in which black people were made into criminals. They point out, and this, she says, is indeed partially true: that in the aftermath of emancipation, large numbers of black people were forced by their new social situation to steal in order to survive. What Curtin suggests is that these charges of theft were frequently fabricated outright. After emancipation, the courtroom became the ideal place to exact racial retribution.
These things cannot be divorced, de-coupled, extracted from a contemporary analysis of carcerality in our society. She frames this as a question later on in the text, but take it to be rhetorical. I mean, come on! Just stop! Brian: Yeah, the other thing I was going to bring up too, and something you raised in the very beginning…She has a really great discussion in here about prisons and gender. But, it reads…. Since the end of the 18th century, when as we have seen, imprisonment began to emerge as the dominant form of punishment, convicted women have been represented as essentially different from their male counterparts.
It is true that men who commit the kind of transgressions that are regarded as punishable by the state, are labeled as social deviants. There has always been a tendency to regard those women who have been publicly punished by the state for their misbehaviors as significantly more abhorrent and far more threatening to society than their numerous male counterparts.
And this is something that we should also especially take into consideration because even though there are very small modest declines in the prison population on the federal level, women are the fastest growing segment of the population. And a lot of this has to do with breakdown in the economy, with the difficulty of providing for a family and raising children in this economy. But the discussion is also interesting because she goes into how we then treat men and women differently because of this perception and how it is imbued in the prison.
In seeking to understand this gendered difference in the perception of prisoners, it should be kept in mind that as the prison emerged and evolved as the major form of public punishment, women continued to be routinely subjected to forms of punishment that have not been acknowledged as such. For example, women have been incarcerated in psychiatric institutions in greater proportions than in prisons. Studies indicating that women have been even more likely to end up in mental facilities than men suggest that while jails and prisons have been dominant institutions for the control of men, mental institutions have served a similar purpose for women.
That is, deviant men have been constructed as criminal, while deviant women have been constructed as insane. I kind of glossed over a big and important chapter in the book, but does anything come to your mind? Kim : We can certainly go back, but I think that again, what are things that are jumping out to you, things that are jumping out to me.
We can walk and chew gum at the same time, so we can bounce around the text and not necessarily stick to a chronological order here. But the chapter on gender differences in prisons is an important one. And here it is.
Davis outlines the significant importance that incarceration has towards minorities in America. In the novel, “Are Prisons Obsolete” by Angela Davis, she emphasizes the underlining problems faced within modern day prisons. the books asked a question like Angela Davis’ book. Are Prisons Obsolete? By Angela Davis explores the present prison structure of the United States, indicating its flaws and the desperation About this essay.
So our behaviors get coded and read and treated differently within the criminal justice system. I think that this is a difficult chapter. It was a difficult chapter for me to read. She does discuss the kind of sexual abuse and sexual violence that women in prison experience. So they describe and… warning to folks who may be triggered by this conversation that this is really difficult and it can get graphic. So women are going to prison for often times non violent crimes, drug addiction, other petty crimes.
Women lose the right to their children. It was…. Not having access to things like feminine hygiene products, having to organize and ban together against some of the dehumanizing things that are taking place within the prison and how that was something that was really powerful for her. So there is no refusal. But in that analysis, we can do both of these things at the same time.
We can do both at the same time. We can attend to the problems that are happening with men and also talk about what is happening with women, because women are suffering even more as a result of incarceration. This is really the take-away from the book. And whose interests are being served by the existence of the prison industrial complex?
The prison population is enormous and growing, the pressure valve has been closed, and the clock is ticking. Davis, she argues for the abolition of the present prison system. Yet, in the case of all three examples, we can point to movements that assumed the radical stance of announcing the obsolescence of these institutions. Average Review. The brutal, exploitative dare one say lucrative?
And abolitionists are like, okay, we understand that there are short-term things that need to happen but this is a long-term goal. This is an ideal. To reiterate, rather than try to imagine one single alternative to the existing system of incarceration, we might envision an array of alternatives that will require radical transformations of many aspects of our society.
Alternatives that fail to address racism, male dominance, homophobia, class bias, and other structures of domination will not, in the final analysis, lead to decarceration and will not advance the goal of abolition. I wanted to read that quote to people because I think that is the important thing about why prisons are obsolete. But it also very nicely and succinctly gets at what the goals of abolition are and the things that need to be addressed. You have to attend to homophobia, you have to attend to misogyny, you have to attend to racism, you have to attend to male dominance.
Again, I think of this as an intellectual equivalent of walking and chewing gum at the same time. We can do both. And you have to do these things simultaneously, which is why an intersectional analysis again, something we raised in the first episode is important. We got time for that, we can do both at the same time. Women raising children in prison. But of all the options that you could have put out on the table, you looked at the range of options and possibilities, and you said, ok having women go home…. Kim: Nope, nope. So if a woman has an addiction problem, an addiction should not lead to a criminal conviction.
Brian: And then we force them to undergo drug treatment under like a court order without recognizing some of the difficulties about maybe getting to that drug treatment, adhering to that drug treatment, trying to get treatment in a room full of 30 people where you are coping. Brian: No, I know.
But we justify these things by pretending they are serious attempts, but they fall apart upon inspection very quickly. Kim: They do, and yet we keep giving money to these programs. But yet these are the kinds of things that judges have to work with. Davis talks about the idea of the prison and connecting prisons to safety and security was really sold to the American public in very simplistic terms. So when people imagine crime, criminality, or criminals, they have a particular picture in their head of who that is. What can we do to support these women?
Giving them not just job training for low-level, low-wage jobs, which Davis also touches upon, but really giving them a shot at life. Giant scare quotes, if other went away, your president would have nothing to talk about. Who would he beat up on? So if people did actually have equal opportunity, if people actually had access to not just good education, but decent healthcare, including mental health care, that the world would look very different than it currently does.
These are not some far-fetched ideas out there that are somehow going to undermine the fabric of America. If the fabric of America is what it is today, then that fabric needs to be torn up, burnt, trashed, whatever. The book takes you through so much of this history and it can be a difficult book to read. Brian: Meanwhile we act like the prison is up there with the sun and the moon. And it also gives you a good starting point if you are trying to develop an understanding around what the counter arguments are to reform.
Understanding how this entire system consumes people and how it sucks you in. There are things that we can expand upon later on, but I think that it gives you a place to think about and to settle on in terms of what are some abolitionist strategies and what you can do in the place of punishment. So punishment is not an inevitable thing. Can we imagine a way to address these kinds of problems that does not automatically, in a knee-jerk response kind of way, say, okay, go to prison?
If it is true that the contemporary meaning of punishment is fashioned through these relationships, then the most effective abolitionist strategies will contest these relationships and propose alternatives that pull them apart. What then would it mean 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.
These are questions that people need to start to think about. And these are questions that that are not attended to in the media, certainly not in the corporate media. And I think that you have to do this if you want to see something different.
The reform falls short and the reform movement can only get you more of the same stuff. Brian: I think that was great. I think that just really quickly a couple of final things that I would say is that to your last point, I would even go further and say that not only does reform fall short, but it actually is counter-productive in the sense that when you have these reform movements, they happen in cycles.
Kim: …transform anything. Brian: But the last thing that I wanted to say is that, as you were saying earlier, there are some parts of this book that are going to be really hard to read. They are going to make you feel uncomfortable. Because so much of this is wrapped up in our cultural identity in America, in our racial consciousness in America, or lack thereof. And so there are going to be times where I feel like some of our listeners are going to maybe feel challenged by these things.
Kim: Just very quickly to those points there… When I was alerting people or signaling that there was perhaps a trigger warning around sexual violence discussion, I was thinking more of people who had experienced that, who live with that kind of violence. The issue is hard, right. Going back over those notes is a difficult exercise for me. So, I was thinking in terms of that because one of the things that I also talk about a lot is self-care and self-care as an activist. So there are times when, as I was going through this in preparation for today, and I was just like, shit, I need to put this down.
And what I mean by that is that it brings up emotions, and makes it very difficult for you to perceive as if this is just some kind of like novel or something. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago on social media that my son had been strip searched twice in a hour period. If other folks who were untouched by this or feel as though their lives are so completely disconnected from prisons are made to feel a little uncomfortable…good! Too bad. I really enjoyed talking to you this week. This was great. Brian: Yeah, thank you, and keep an eye out for more episodes from us.