The US justiciary has, for twenty-plus years in the “war on drugs”, selectively locked up far more black people than white people or Hispanic, and the US prison system is huge: the US has 2% of the world’s population but 25% of the world’s prisoners. America’s police are becoming more and more like soldiers making war on a conquered-but-not-subdued population. (via)
Police exist primarily to protect property arrangements. The war on drugs has paramilitarized police, with a heavy emphasis on overwhelming force. While police have always considered themselves above the common herd, and have always looked after themselves first and civilians second, it’s very clear that police today are much worse in this regard than they were 10 years ago, and 10 years before that, and 10 years before that. Police are well aware that they have near full immunity: they can beat people, kill people, plant evidence on people and they will, in most cases, get away with it. Even if caught on tape, the worst punishment is likely to be paid suspension.
Prisons are expensive to run? Yes, but prisoners can work long hours for a few pence per hour:
“The private contracting of prisoners for work fosters incentives to lock people up. Prisons depend on this income. Corporate stockholders who make money off prisoners’ work lobby for longer sentences, in order to expand their workforce. The system feeds itself,” says a study by the Progressive Labor Party, which accuses the prison industry of being “an imitation of Nazi Germany with respect to forced slave labor and concentration camps.”
The prison industry complex is one of the fastest-growing industries in the United States and its investors are on Wall Street. “This multimillion-dollar industry has its own trade exhibitions, conventions, websites, and mail-order/Internet catalogs. It also has direct advertising campaigns, architecture companies, construction companies, investment houses on Wall Street, plumbing supply companies, food supply companies, armed security, and padded cells in a large variety of colors.”
According to the Left Business Observer, the federal prison industry produces 100% of all military helmets, ammunition belts, bullet-proof vests, ID tags, shirts, pants, tents, bags, and canteens. Along with war supplies, prison workers supply 98% of the entire market for equipment assembly services; 93% of paints and paintbrushes; 92% of stove assembly; 46% of body armor; 36% of home appliances; 30% of headphones/microphones/speakers; and 21% of office furniture. Airplane parts, medical supplies, and much more: prisoners are even raising seeing-eye dogs for blind people.
The Fair Sentencing Act, signed into law by President Obama in August 2010, required judges to remove the racial disparity in sentencing. But prisoners sentenced under the old discriminatory procedure had no recourse: they remained in prison, working for a pittance.
On 17th May 2013, the US court of appeals for the sixth circuit ruled that since discriminatory laws were used to sentence prisoners to decades of jail, prisoners held under the old laws are entitled to ask federal judges to reduce their sentences to what the 2010 law says is fair.
Alec Karakatsanis, a US public defender and civil rights lawyer at the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia, writes:
My client thought he would be released from jail and home with his family after our first appearance in court. Instead, I told him, the tiny bag of crack cocaine that police had found in his car – less than half the size of a ping-pong ball – meant that he would likely spend the next five to 40 years in prison.
Last month, President Obama quietly did something that should shake every American to the core. Seeking to enforce federal crack cocaine laws that have since been repealed, the Obama administration asked a federal appeals court to ensure that thousands of human beings, mostly poor and mostly black, remain locked in prison – even though everyone agrees that there is no justification for them to be there
The Justice Department is now seeking to overturn that decision – which will be devastating news to many thousands like my original crack cocaine client. The Obama administration would surely condemn an oppressive foreign dictator’s regime for the singular cruelty of declaring to its population that thousands of its citizens must continue to sit in prison for no good reason. The fact that few have even heard of the stunning position taken by President Obama is a sad reflection on how incurious mainstream US public opinion is about what underpins our mass incarceration society.
Just as the British right-wing want to turn the NHS into the US’s profitable-for-a-few healthcare system, so does their favourite think-tank wants to create a US-style more profitable private prisons here. Along with cutting legal aid, the Tory/LibDem coalition plans to privatise the probation service (sign the petition).
In which QI guests lose their sense of humour faced with the facts of US prisons and sentencing
From the beginning of the abolition movement, its parliamentary supporters had been reassuring planters that emancipation would not affect their labour supply. The promise was held out that those emancipated would remain under some coercion. Vagrancy laws were proposed under which any former slave attempting to leave a plantation would be penalised, and land ownership beyond the range of garden plots would be illegal. There was also to be a period of ‘apprenticeship’ (in the Act’s final draft, a six-year term was agreed on) during which planters had the right to the continuing labour of their ex-slaves.
Under the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution all prisoners in America are considered slaves. We look at slavery like its a thing of the past, but you can go to any penitentiary in this nation and you will see slavery. That was the reason for the protests by prisoners in Georgia in 2010. They said they were tired of being treated like slaves. People need to know that when they sit on trial juries and sentence people to prison time that they are sentencing them to slavery.
If a prisoner refuses to work and be a slave, they will do their time in isolation as a punishment. You have thousands of people with a lot of prison time that have no choice but to make money for the government or live in isolation. The affects of prison isolation literally drive people crazy. Who can be isolated from human contact and not lose their mind? That was the reason California had an uproar last year behind Pelican Bay. 33,000 inmates across California protested refusing to work or refusing to eat on hunger-strikes because of those being tortured in isolation in Pelican Bay.