WHAT REPLACES THE PRISONS?
June 24, 2020
[Read "What Replaces the Police?"]
[Read "WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO THE RICH WHO ARE REMOVED FROM POWER?" by scrolling down to that section in the article here]
The prisons in the United States should be abolished, for reasons discussed below. This does not mean that anti-social people who pose a threat to the safety and well-being of innocent people should remain free to harm others. Such dangerous people--e.g., serial killers, rapists, delusional people who think others are monsters or enemies they must kill, etc.--should be physically restrained from harming others. Whatever form this physical restraint takes, it will indeed be a physical restriction of the freedom of the restrained person and hence it may reasonably be called a "prison." If it is called a prison, however, it will be something the purpose of which is entirely different from the purpose of the current prisons in the United States.
The Purpose of Prisons Today in the United States
The supposed purpose of prisons in the United States has never been their actual purpose. The supposed purpose has sometimes been to make criminals be penitent for their crimes, hence the name "penitentiary." At other times the purpose of prisons has been to punish wrongdoing, on the theory that this will deter future wrongdoing when the prisoner is eventually released and, by that example, deter others from wrongdoing. Another supposed purpose has been to make society safer so people won't have to worry so much about being mugged or raped or robbed or murdered--"to get the criminals off the street." All of these supposed purposes have been used by the ruling class to get the public to accept the institution of the prisons as a morally good, even necessary, thing.
The actual purpose of prisons, however, has been none of the above supposed ones. The actual purpose of the prisons--for the ruling class that constructs and controls them--has always been to serve the needs of the ruling class, foremost of which is the need to enforce the class inequality that enables the ruling class to remain an upper class with enormous wealth, power and privilege at the expense of everybody else; upper classes must treat ordinary people like dirt, and prisons are one way they do it. Prisons are part of the ruling class's system of social control, of making ordinary people submit to the oppressive rule of the upper class by brute force.
After slavery was partially abolished at the end of the Civil War (which was indeed about slavery), the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was passed. It read:
"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."
The infamous phrase, "except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted," was inserted in order to allow slavery to continue in a different form, sometimes known as "peonage." Here is how Business Insider describes it:
"In his book “Slavery By Another Name,” Douglas A. Blackmon documents how very few of the 4 million slaves that existed at the end of the Civil War were actually allowed to realize their freedom until decades later. As the white middle class of the South grew from 1870-1950 (with the exception of some years encompassing the Great Depression), due in no small part to the success of Southern industry, the blacks were kept in their chains through various mechanisms, such as convict leasing and debt peonage, over and above the outright discrimination and violence that they also suffered.
"The Southern convict leasing systems were a means of extending slavery for African Americans well past the Civil War, Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th and 14th amendments. Southern laws were crafted to guarantee that the now “free” African Americans would be incarcerated at much higher rates than whites. Blacks were picked up, hauled off and locked up for ridiculous crimes such as “vagrancy” (being homeless or unemployed), loitering in public, speaking loudly in the company of white women or selling farm products after dark, to name only a few.
"Once these people were matriculated into the prison system, they had effectively become slave laborers again. The state allowed convicts to be leased out to private corporations for little more than a pittance - convict laborers were rented out at monthly rates that represented a 50-80% discount over the wages paid to free laborers. They were forced to work in some of the most dangerous environments at the time, laying railroad and mining coal, and a significant percentage developed severe illness/injuries and died in the course of such work."
The ruling class has also, obviously, used prisons to make people afraid of what will happen to them if they "break the law" that maintains class inequality. The true nature of these laws was remarked on in 1894 by Anatole France who wrote:
"In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread."
Laws today are designed to keep the haves rich and the have-nots poor, while obscuring that true purpose as much as possible, as I discuss here. Anything that truly threatens the power of the rich, anything that threatens to truly make society be more equal, anything that truly threatens to make society be based on mutual aid instead of divide-and-rule and dog-eat-dog competition, anything in other words that truly threatens to make our society more egalitarian is illegal.
For example, it is not illegal for workers during a strike to form an "informational" picket line that does not actually block scabs from crossing it; it is, however, illegal (after the company gets its routine court injunction) to form a true picket line that truly blocks scabs from crossing it and thereby makes the strike truly very effective. The prisons exist to hold scab-blocking pickets.
Likewise, it is perfectly legal to vote. Why? Because elections are used by the ruling class to control us, not to enable us to control the government, as I discuss here. But doing what is required to truly replace the dictatorship of the rich with genuine democracy--well, that, of course, is illegal. The prisons exist to hold people who do that.
The laws and legal system that feed the prisons are so geared to serving the rich and harming the poor that even the mainstream media has to talk about it now and then to maintain minimal credibility. Here are some of these online examples and discussions:
Prisons in the United States today are an integral part of the system of class inequality. Prisons are used by the upper ruling class to treat ordinary people like dirt to make us "know our place" at the bottom of an unequal society, and prisons are used to frighten people into submission to the class inequality. But this is not all that the prisons are used for today.
THE RACIST 'WAR ON DRUGS'
As I discuss in great detail here, the so-called 'War on Drugs' is a fundamentally racist scheme designed (admitted by its architects!) to implement the New Jim Crow of racist prison incarceration of blacks and Hispanics and Native Americans. The purpose was/is to a) dramatically increase the number of non-white prisoners so that the prison population will be disproportionately non-white and b) to present this new artificially created fact to the general public (in TV shows like Cops and by all the other means of the mass media) to make whites perceive non-whites (especially blacks) as a "criminal race" to be feared and even shot and killed "in self defense" whenever an unknown and totally innocent black person is "seen in the neighborhood."
The purpose of the New Jim Crow is divide-and-rule: to make whites fear and sometimes attack non-whites and make the latter in turn fear and be angry at the former; to destroy the solidarity between ordinary people of ALL races. This solidarity is the ONLY thing that enables ordinary people to successfully challenge the power of the upper class that oppresses ALL ordinary people.
The prisons in the United States today are thus a key element in the ruling class's strategy of divide-and-rule.
For Profit Private Prisons
The Sentencing Project reports:
"The United States has the world’s largest private prison population. Of the 1.5 million people in state and federal prisons in 2016, 8.5 percent, or 128,063, were incarcerated in private prisons.1) Another 26,249 people -73 percent of all people in immigration detention- were confined in privately-run facilities on a daily basis during fiscal year 2017.2)
"From 2000 to 2016 the number of people housed in private prisons increased five times faster than the total prison population. Over a similar timeframe, the proportion of people detained in private immigration facilities increased by 442 percent."
The owners of these private prisons make big money by getting the public to pay them. Corruption is enormous. A judge sent innocent youths to a private prison for a bribe of $2.6 million. There is nothing about such prisons that should be retained. Furthermore, prisoners in private as well as public prisons are used by all sorts of non-prison-owning household-name corporations as extremely cheap labor. The prisons make conditions harsher if the prisoner doesn't "volunteer" to work for wages like 74 cents a day. This is essentially the old peonage slave labor, and the prisoners are disproportionately people of color. Read about this in detail here.
ABOLISH U.S. PRISONS
U.S. prisons are nothing but instruments of oppression. Like the police departments that feed them, these prisons must be abolished. They, like the police departments, must be abolished because their purpose is immoral.
Because the purpose of U.S. prisons is immoral, the practices used by the prisons are also immoral. The purpose of these prisons is cruel, and hence the practices carried out in these prisons are cruel.
Amnesty USA reports:
More than 3,000 prisoners in California are held in high security isolation units known as Security Housing Units, where they are confined for at least 22 and a half hours a day in single or double cells, with no work or meaningful rehabilitation programs or group activities of any kind.
More than 500 prisoners had spent 10 or more years in the Pelican Bay SHU, with 78 in solitary more than 20 years.
No other US state is believed to have held so many prisoners for such long periods in indefinite isolation.
But California is not alone in using prolonged, indefinite solitary confinement. The U.S. has become a world leader in the practice, holding people in inhumane conditions of isolation from Arizona to Illinois to Louisiana to Guantánamo. Reportedly, the U.S. holds “at least 25,000 inmates in isolation in supermax prisons.”
What’s the impact?
While there may be instances where holding prisoners in isolation is appropriate and humane, the use of prolonged, indefinite solitary confinement is a violation of the prohibition against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment found in international human rights law. By violating this prohibition, U.S. authorities not only abuse the rights of prisoners, they undermine the human rights that protect all of us from abuse.
Human Rights Watch reports:
The sadistic abuse and sexual humiliation by American soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison has shocked most Americans—but not those of us familiar with U.S. jails and prisons. In American prisons today, wanton staff brutality and degrading treatment of inmates occur across the country with distressing frequency.
The Pentagon has said it wants to send more people to Iraq who have U.S. prison experience. But before it does, it should look closely at the human rights records of their prisons.
A federal judge in 1999 concluded that Texas prisons were pervaded by a “culture of sadistic and malicious violence.” In 1995, a federal judge found a stunning pattern of staff assaults, abusive use of electronic stun devices guns, beatings, and brutality at Pelican Bay Prison in California, and concluded the violence “appears to be open, acknowledged, tolerated and sometimes expressly approved” by high ranking corrections officials.
In recent years, U.S. prison inmates have been beaten with fists and batons, stomped on, kicked, shot, stunned with electronic devices, doused with chemical sprays, choked, and slammed face first onto concrete floors by the officers whose job it is to guard them. Inmates have ended up with broken jaws, smashed ribs, perforated eardrums, missing teeth, burn scars—not to mention psychological scars and emotional pain. Some have died.
Both men and women prisoners—but especially women—face staff rape and sexual abuse. Correctional officers will bribe, coerce, or violently force inmates into granting sexual favors, including oral sex or intercourse. Prison staff have laughed at and ignored the pleas of male prisoners seeking protection from rape by other inmates.
WHAT REPLACES THE PRISONS?
The prisons should be replaced by something the purpose of which is entirely different from the cruel and oppressive purpose of existing prisons in the United States. If we had an institution that was created for the purpose of protecting innocent people from those who, if unrestrained, would harm them, then that institution (whether people call it a "prison" or not) and the practices it used would be entirely different from today's prisons and the cruel practices they employ.
If we had laws that were written to shape society by egalitarian values (i.e., no-rich-and-no-poor equality and mutual aid) and to prevent anti-egalitarians from imposing class inequality, then egalitarians (meaning everyone who shares egalitarian values whether they've ever heard the word 'egalitarian' or not) would no doubt make reasonable, practical and humane decisions about how to deal with dangerous anti-egalitarians who broke these laws, whether to restrain them physically and, if so, how to treat them in that case.
Since the fundamental purpose of egalitarians is the opposite of the oppressive and cruel purpose of today's ruling class, the myriad decisions that egalitarians will make about prisons as well as everything else will be nothing like the decisions the ruling class is making today. If egalitarians create something they call a "prison," it will be NOTHING like the prisons that exist in the United States today, which should be abolished.
Egalitarians, unlike our ruling class today, have no need or desire to be cruel or oppressive. If egalitarians restrained people to prevent them from harming or oppressing others, they would still treat them with as much dignity and humanity as possible--why not? Egalitarians would do everything possible to persuade anti-egalitarians to change their ways and act in an egalitarian way. This would entail making it possible for anti-egalitarians--even for imprisoned anti-egalitarians--to behave in an egalitarian way for the benefit of others as well as themselves. This is the spirit in which egalitarians would deal with dangerous individuals. Today's prisons are based on the very opposite, oppressive and cruel, spirit.