Having recently learned of the diatribe among erudite scholars challenging the premise of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, I found the entire matter self-serving from each side. Often it is the case that intellectuals debate the validity of their works and avoid taking the necessary step of testing their theories in real life — doing the work in the streets. Where Michelle’s work reached people who had not been aware of the conditions of mass incarceration, the debate serves to broaden the dialogue, possibly giving clarity to what actions need to be taken.
But let us not permit the hope of scholars to lead the way to disturb the potential to organize a mass and popular movement. In this regard, I would urge folk to re-read, or read if they have not already, my writings in 1994: The Cold War of the ’90s and The Criminalization of Poverty in Capitalist America. I believe that you will note that back in 1994, I was sounding the alarm about mass incarceration. What now? For those activists who are conscious, especially after years of Critical Resistance’s inability to substantiate a national determination, let’s consider forging a campaign of divestment.
Prison is big business in this country, and for one corporation it is big business around the world. Corrections Corporation of America owns most of the private prisons and sells its stock and shares on the New York Stock Exchange. Its major stockholder is the Paine Webber Group. The multi-billion dollar industry has the capacity to influence public policy to ensure laws are implemented that preserve their capacity to operate and profit. For example, in the Corrections Corporation of America, 2010 Annual Report, it stated:
“The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws. For instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigrants could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them.”
During the struggle to end South African apartheid, activists across the country and around the world initiated a divestment campaign. Since prisons are big business, and mass incarceration serves to ensure profits for prisons, the logical/rational deduction is to identify and expose investors in the PIC, and demand that they divest. In essence, the challenge is to take the profits out of the prison system. A divestment movement of the PIC addresses the issue of mass incarceration in pragmatic terms, changing the paradigm of incarceration as a public safety issue, when it is actually a profit-motivated institution.
When talking about public safety, it is extremely important to know that people are the motivating force in creating history. Therefore, public safety is not an issue of law enforcement and the judicial system leading to imprisonment. Public safety is a matter of the public taking responsibility for their behavior in a revolutionary context. Public safety is citizens patrolling their own communities; it is parents taking responsibility for their children; it is developing after-school programs and community centers; public safety is generating funds for better educational facilities as opposed to prisons; public safety is housing the homeless and feeding the disenfranchised; it is giving folks employment at living wages and forging revolutionary communities. Changing the paradigm of public safety removes the demand for repressive law enforcement and a racist judicial system. All of which must become part of principled dialogue and determination by the PIC divestment movement to take the profit out of prison to end mass incarceration. Let’s initiate a national divestment movement, a take the profit out of prisons campaign, first identifying corporations invested in private and public prisons and tying them to the horrors of the public policy that supports mass incarceration.
In fierce struggle,
Jalil A. Muntaqim,
Attica, February 14, 2013