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Under a False Sense of Normalcy, part two: The Prison-Industrial Complex

Last month we looked at the School-to-Prison Pipeline (STPP), the presence of racial profiling and counterproductive disciplinary action in schools. Now it is time to look at one of the main driving forces behind the STPP, the Prison-Industrial Complex.

The term Prison Industrial Complex (PIC), as explained by Julia Sudbury in the Feminist Review, refers to “the emergence and global expansion of an intricate web of relations between the state penal institutions, politicians and profit-driven prison corporations.” We have witnessed an accelerated expansion of the U.S. inmate population that has been largely driven by political agendas and that of their influencers, the private prison corporations that supply the goods and services to the governmental prison agencies. Now keep in mind prisoners are used for labor and are, on average, paid $4.73 a day, with the lowest figures coming from private prisons: $0.16 a day. In other words, prisoners signify profit, so corporate lobbyists and prison-worker unions are steering political processes to ensure that there is a constant supply of prisoners from which they can keep sustaining their livelihoods.

In an Counterpunch article, Kenneth Hartman mentions the conditions underlying the violence and instability perpetrated by individuals and used by authorities to justify the prison system. He indicates that lack of health care and mental health care, drug addiction therapy, education, and “the opportunity to look at themselves as human,” as a by-product and cause of racism and classism that sustains this system. Yet the most important point he makes is that thinking that punishment is the only way to manage these seemingly non-treatable social ills is “not a statement of fact; it is the declaration of an ideology.” This ideology holds that “punishment, for the sake of the infliction of pain, is the logical response to all misbehavior. It is also a convenient cover story behind which powerful special interest groups hide.”

It is under the logic of punishment that we fail to look at, for example, legislation criminalizing the use of marijuana through a scientific lens instead of an ideological one, ignoring the fact that Blacks are four times more likely than Whites to be arrested for possession of marijuana, despite nearly equal levels of consumption. And it is under the logic of profit that the multibillion dollar private prison industry, as well as police and prison guard unions, are among the top five special interest groups lobbying to keep marijuana illegal. 

Under what logic will people realize that our legal and judicial systems are corrupted by profiteers? Under what logic do we tell ourselves that technical definitions of slavery do not apply here? Even if technical definitions do not fully align, it is slavery nonetheless, and to not see it that way is a dismissal of the full severity of this issue. 

By: Felix Acuña


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