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Prison Reform: Over 150 years ago, the American Civil War ended, sparking a 150 plus year movement where Black Americans have been more or less on their own in their fight for freedom. This century and a half period has seen the constant demonization of Black people in America who have gone from slaves to sharecroppers to subjectively illiterate non-grandfathered voters to woman stealers to Jim Crows to enemies of the police to criminals and druggies. Of course, none of the disenfranchisement has left society, and after the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, the United States has engaged in its most innovative and regressive lawmaking in history to silence Black voices.
Today, slavery and indentured servitude continues, and it lives de jure due to the language in the thirteenth amendment (the one that freed the slaves). Section I of the amendment is short, stating, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
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Fifty years ago, those who sought to continue Black American disenfranchisement began to realize that the criminality of Black men was especially powerful even after Jim Crow laws and even after the Civil Rights Era. Racism remains in the collective unconscious of white America. If you can’t criminalize Black civil liberties, you can criminalize Black people’s activities, and further, you can demonize them. Black men face sky-high incarceration rates in the U.S. and prison populations show us how we need prison reform now.
“Tough on crime” is a mythical platform, playing on public fear.
The society we live in is one fixated on crime for racist reasons. We prefer candidates who are “tough on crime”, or as I would rather call it, “pro-crime.” These candidates are big on putting more people in prison. Politicians who thrive on crime get a two for one special. For one, when more criminals are put behind bars, their base is happier and feels safer. For another, privatized prisons who invest in the politician’s future grow happier and more generous when their populations increase. This leads us to conclude that politicians like this thrive on more criminal activity and more arrests, though logically, crime should decrease over time due to actions that are supposed to be “tough on crime.” Over the last fifty years, the prison population has grown 700%. The growth was nearly exponential until 1992, and again until sometime in the mid 2000s. This is enough evidence to establish motive, as politicians have far more to gain from creating a criminal than from preventing one. So, when I say pro-crime, I mean that those politicians firmly believe that the justice system is meant to create criminals for their political ambition.
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Furthermore, in practice, the disproportionate criminalization of Black men is unruly. Of those born today, estimates show that in the US, 1 in 3 Black children assigned male at birth will go to jail in their lifetime. This can be compared to 1 in 17 white children assigned male at birth. For further comparison, in 2016, the ratio of white American millionaire households to white American non-millionaire households was 1:7. For Black American households, the ratio is 1:50.
In cities, law enforcement is encouraged to target Black people
The racial divide is enormous, and many of the laws and policies in our justice system allow the divide and mass incarceration to continue. Cities like Austin, Los Angeles, Detroit, and Philadelphia use a version of statistical analysis to put pressure on law enforcement to catch criminals. CompStat is a program designed in New York City to tackle crime in a more organized way than haphazard cop placement. Approaching crime statistically makes sense, and it even cuts down on crime numbers. However, politicians like Rudy Giuliani and Mike Bloomberg have taken ideas behind cutting crime, and turned them into racist policies like stop-and-frisk to increase police activity. All the while, they are forcing crime rates to stay low by downplaying more serious crimes like sexual assault of prostitutes to “theft of service.”
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Through CompStat, law enforcement officers are pressured each week to issue a certain number of summons, or tickets, for specific petty crimes. The system directs these officers to areas where perceived criminals show up more, otherwise known as Black communities, and criminals are created by handing out summons for crimes they didn’t commit. When they ignore their summons, a warrant is issued for their arrest; this means that when residents of Black communities inevitably get processed for a summons again, they will be arrested and sent to jail for a crime they never committed.
These summons are handed out for simple acts like playing loud music, public drinking, jumping subway turnstiles, or blocking traffic. Of course, a summons is more of an accusation. The purpose of issuing summons is to intercept those with a warrant out for their arrest. The system’s flaws seem pretty clear – it’s a vicious circle. Affluent people can simply pay or use contacts to avoid dealing with the summons, but those who can’t afford to pay for crimes they didn’t do can either ignore it, or show up in court for the most predictable court proceeding ever. CompStat criminalizes Black communities and allows racial profiling to persist in city police departments.
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Prisons must be populous to be profitable, relying on no-cost labor – hence Prison Reform is a must
Pressure to create criminals also comes from spaces in all communities, not just city areas. Private prisons benefit from huge prison populations by building an economy around prisoners, with low (or no) wage prison labor as an engine. Companies like GEO Group, Inc., America’s second largest for-profit prison operator, have secured a place in our justice system and frequently collaborate with all the bad-guy names like ICE, ALEC, and Marco Rubio. Even in areas with sparse populations, private prisons make an impact on Black Americans.
In 2009 Black men living in Guadalupe County, NM were outnumbered severely by incarcerated Black men in the Guadalupe County Correctional Facility. At the time, the county’s population was around 4,200. The prison population, in its only 600-prisoner-capacity correctional facility, was 1,072 prisoners, according to the Vera Institute of Justice. The New Mexico prison is a for-profit facility run by GEO Group, and it seems to be advertised like some sort of eco-friendly retirement home. These prisons are no joke, seeing as GEO Group has come under fire for the inhumane treatment of its inmates and workers.
GEO Group, like its private prison friends, is mysterious about its inner workings. The insight we have about private prisons comes from the many lawsuits and reports from those who suffered from within. Pay per day for prison labor at some GEO facilities amounts to one dollar. We know that US and international corporations use prison labor for cheap manufacturing, though we aren’t totally sure which ones are using them currently. I cannot say for certain which evil corporations are currently using private prison slave labor, as the things that happen in a private correctional facility happen behind closed doors. All we have is the information released by the SEC and the information released to stockholders. GEO Group’s single greatest generator of revenue was the United States Federal Government.
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Not only are we allowing slave labor by law, not only is that labor disproportionately worked by Black Americans, but the American taxpayer provides 53% of the company’s revenue. GEO also provides language in its risk factors that dehumanizes prisoners. When the report states, “A decrease in occupancy levels could cause a decrease in revenues and profitability,” it means “A decrease in slave labor poses a threat to our business model.”
The prisons also deal with a vast number of vendors who provide food, linens, hygiene products, and everything else to meet the basic needs of survival for a prisoner. Though information in this regard is hard to come by, the following companies and groups are suspected of implementing prison labor for production based on accusations made against them: Whole Foods, Victoria’s Secret, J.C. Penny, Koch, Starbucks, Boeing, AT&T, Bloomberg Campaign, Wal-Mart, and McDonalds. There are likely hundreds of other recognizable corporations using prison labor.
The politicians who accept payment and support from private prisons need to be removed ASAP.
The way these private prisons operate seems illegal, but they’ve been lining the pockets of politicians who push their scheme. In the 2000s, a judge imposed harsh punishments on kids and sent them to for-profit prisons… for profit. GEO Group Political Action Committee alone has donated over $350,000 in contributions to PACs which financially support the following candidates on ballots in November:
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Sen. Cory Gardener (R-CO),
Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA 01), Sen. David Perdue (R-GA), Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA 23),
Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX 02), Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), Rep. Dan Bishop (R-NC 09),
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH 04), Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX 28), Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX),
Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS), Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA 09), Sen. Shelley Capito (R-WV),
Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL 04), Rep. Buddy Carter (R-GA 01), Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), and, of course, Donald Trump.
These politicians think it acceptable to accept money from slave labor in order to perpetuate slave labor. Sending people to jail for profit is exactly what these politicians are doing; they are pro-crime. We need to understand that the prison industrial complex as a whole should be illegal.
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The United States justice system still denies rights to Black people disproportionately through crime legislation.
Black men become further disenfranchised as prisoners. In many states, they lose the right to vote if they are in prison for a felony. Things that could constitute a felony in the United States: Possession of a Schedule I drug like marijuana or LSD, fleeing the scene of an accident, and disturbing the peace. Apart from the loss of the right to vote, any arrest record could lead to disenfranchisement. Those with an arrest record face a wide range of limiting issues like inability to appeal to employers, loss of driver’s licenses, inability to travel abroad, and increased insurance rates. Black people often have to stay in jail awaiting trial when bail is unaffordable for petty crimes. Beyond the already disproportionate incarceration of Black men, we see further disparity in pretrial incarceration. The United States has the largest prison population in the world, as well as the highest rate of incarceration.
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What we’re left with is this mangled system created by corporations and lawmakers to perpetuate criminality. Despite promises of prison labor to decrease recidivism, private prisons seem to have no effect on prisoner recidivism. The pro-crime nature of private prisons puts pressure on most released inmates, as they will inevitably be targeted by law enforcement again. While Black Americans take more than their fair share of incarceration, the only statistically significant factor in committing crime is gender. Men as a whole commit far more crimes than women do, and that leaves Black men in a uniquely vulnerable position with law enforcement. More money is funneled into law enforcement and prisons when pro-crime consumes public opinion. We need to challenge pro-crime beliefs, dismantle our justice system, and rework it to fit a diverse America. We will never truly have moved on from Jim Crow laws, Plessy v. Ferguson, literacy tests, poll taxes, the Three-Fifths Clause, or slavery until we abolish the prison industrial complex.
For Black Lives Matter to succeed, for police brutality to be eradicated. we must ban private prisons.
Click here to read Hollywood Insider’s CEO Pritan Ambroase’s love letter to Black Lives Matter, in which he tackles more than just police reform, press freedom and more – click here.
An excerpt from the love letter: Hollywood Insider’s CEO/editor-in-chief Pritan Ambroase affirms, “Hollywood Insider fully supports the much-needed Black Lives Matter movement. We are actively, physically and digitally a part of this global movement. We will continue reporting on this major issue of police brutality and legal murders of Black people to hold the system accountable. We will continue reporting on this major issue with kindness and respect to all Black people, as each and every one of them are seen and heard. Just a reminder, that the Black Lives Matter movement is about more than just police brutality and extends into banking, housing, education, medical, infrastructure, etc. We have the space and time for all your stories. We believe in peaceful/non-violent protests and I would like to request the rest of media to focus on 95% of the protests that are peaceful and working effectively with positive changes happening daily. Media has a responsibility to better the world and Hollywood Insider will continue to do so.”
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Dan Considine is a writer for Hollywood Insider, writing features on cultural phenomena as well as a constructive review here and there. Dan believes that the media and the world at large go hand in hand, and he asserts that entertainment never exists in a vacuum. His writing reflects his beliefs, drawing inspiration from all corners of the entertainment biosphere. There is no subject too niche and no issue too hard to discuss if it can help society reflect and learn. Low and high culture all have a say in the everlasting conversation of humanity. Every little nugget of pop-culture has meaning, and Dan’s goal is to find it. Dan believes in strong, progressive change. Hollywood Insider is the perfect place for him to provide situational analysis and create a positive impact.