U.$. imperialist leaders and their labor aristocracy supporters like to criticize other countries for their tight control of the media and other avenues of speech. For instance, many have heard the myths about communist China forcing everyone to think and speak alike. In reality, these stories are a form of censorship of the truth in the United $tates. In China under Mao the government encouraged people to put up posters debating every aspect of political life, to criticize their leaders, and to engage in debate at work and at home. This was an important part of the Cultural Revolution in China. There are a number of books available that give a truthful account, but far more money is put into anti-communist propaganda. Here, free speech is reserved for those with money and power.
In prisons in particular we see so much censorship, especially targeting those who are politically conscious and fighting for their rights. Fighting for our First Amendment right to free speech is a battle that MIM(Prisons) and many of our subscribers waste a lot of time and money on. For us this is perhaps the most fundamental of requirements for our organizing work. There are prisoners, and some entire facilities (and sometimes entire states) that are denied all mail from MIM(Prisons). This means we can't send in our newsletter, or study materials, or even a guide to fighting censorship. Many prisons regularly censor ULK claiming that the news and information printed within is a "threat to security." For them, printing the truth about what goes on behind bars is dangerous. But if we had the resources to take these cases to court we believe we could win in many cases.
Denying prisoners mail is condemning some people to no contact with the outside world. To highlight this, and the ridiculous and illegal reasons that prisons use to justify this censorship, we will periodically print a summary of some recent censorship incidents in ULK.
We hope that lawyers, paralegals, and those with some legal knowledge will be inspired to get involved and help with these censorship battles, both behind bars and on the streets. For the full list of censorship incidents, along with copies of appeals and letters from the prison, check out our censorship reporting webpage.
Florida - Blackwater River Correctional Facility
ULK 56 was rejected because "It otherwise presents a threat to the security, good order, or discipline of the correctional system or the safety of any person."
Florida - New River Work Camp
ULK 59 was impounded because "It contains an advertisement promoting any of the following where the advertisement is the focus of, rather than being incidental to, the publication or the advertising is prominent or prevalent throughout the publication: (1) Three-way calling services; (2) Pen pal services; (3) The purchase of products or services with postage stamps; or (4) Conducting a business or profession while incarcerated.
"It otherwise presents a threat to the security, good order, or discipline of the correctional system or the safety of any person.
"PG2: stamp program advertisement"
Illinois - Pontiac Correctional Center
The publication review officer sent a long response to our appeal of censorship which noted that no reasons were given for the censorship:
Per the Publication Review Administrative Directive and the associated Department of Corrections Publication Review Determination and Course of Action form (DOC0212), any publication may be disapproved based on a number of criteria. In this case, the issue in question contains various articles that violate the following criteria:
- Advocate or encourage violence, hatred, or group disruption or it poses an intolerable risk of violence or disruption.
Below are specific articles and excerpts from those articles that are provided as evidence to the appropriateness of this determination. All examples are pulled from the above mention September/October 2017 issue 58 of Under Lock & Key.
1. Page 8 Article DPRK: White Supremacy's Global Agenda
- "The United States and all major countries of European descent have done everything in their collective power to keep these (nuclear) weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of nations, governments and people of color or hue."
Encourage Racial Division
-"These global white supremacists have done everything they could to destabilize nation's governments that they could not control by creating borders on foreign continents, setting up puppet governments (often dictators like Saddam Hussein and Benjamin Netanyahu who use war as a distraction of their individual greed)..." Encourages Racial Division
-"Yet the media is far more dangerous than any of the ones before mentioned, due to its ability to influence the minds of those not fully conscious of the reality of being controlled by the designers of the Global White Supremacy Agenda." Encourage Racial Division
Page 10 Article Organizing Requires Organization: Proposed Structures for Success
- Political workers to inform and agitate within the state by promoting and organizing protest, phone calls and correspondence to state law makers, DOC commissioners and prison wardens and superintendents about complaints, proposed laws and policies to be adopted by the state officials."Promotes Unauthorized Protests
2. Page 11 Article: Arbitrary Group Punishment
- "MIM(Prisons) adds: In July 2013 prisoners at MDF staged a hunger strike from Ad-Seg. We support these comrades just demands, which ally with ongoing campaigns to end long-term isolation as well as to provide proper avenues for having grievances heard."Promotes Unauthorized Protests
3. Page 12 Article: Defend LGBTQ from CO Attacks
- "It's hard to get 10 comrades to stand together as a whole so when a member from the LGBTQ community got jumped on and 30 comrades refused to leave the classrooms I was shocked."
- "MIM(Prisons) responds: This is a great example of people coming together behind bars." Promotes Unauthorized Protests
4. Page 13 Article: September 9 - Day of Peace and Solidarity Initial Reports
- "9 September 2017 marked the sixth annual Day of Peace and Solidarity in prisons across the United States. On this day we commemorate the anniversary of the Attica uprising, drawing attention to abuse of prisoners across the country through peaceful protests, unity events, and educational work."
Article contains further examples from 5 prisons in Arkansas, Texas, California, Nevada, and Arizona where prisoners initiated hunger strikes and unauthorized protests. Promotes Unauthorized Protests
I believe the articles mentioned above provide enough evidence to show that Issue 58 of Under Lock & Key "contains various articles promoting racial division and unauthorized protest," and therefore met the criteria for being disapproved.
Additionally, after reviewing the issue a second time, I found this article:
Page 14 article: A Contribution to Thoughts on Unity and Alliance
- "MIM(Prisons) espouses a valid conviction that here and now is not the proper moment for a popular uprising (armed struggle."
- "How do we succeed in armed confrontation?"
- "MIM(Prisons) responds: Of course we know that ultimately to overthrow imperialism armed struggle is necessary." Promotes Violent Uprising
MIM(Prisons) provides on page 3 of Issue 58 that they believe in "Peace: We organize to end needless conflicts and violence within the U.$. prison environment." However, the implication of the page 14 article is that MIM(Prisons) believes that eventually an armed struggle must be initiated to overthrow what they perceive as the imperialist colonial government running the country and world. This is provided as evidence that MIM(Prisons) has an ulterior motive in promoting unrest and eventual violent protest within the prison system, which is another example as to why this issue was disapproved.
C/O David Meredith, Publication Review Officer
Washington - Clallam Bay Correctional Facility
MIM(prisons) was sent rejection notifications for two prisoners denying ULK 59 because it "Contains articles and information on drugs in prisons and the cost comparison of inside and outside of prison as well as movement of drugs."
Victory in Washington - Stafford Creek Corrections Center
In response to our protest of the prison's censorship of ULK 59 we received the following response from Roy Gonzalez, Correctional Manager:
I'm in receipt of your two correspondences appealing the rejection of the above two notices for inmates XXX and YYY dated January 21, 2018.
Per Washington State DOC policy 450.100 all publications rejected by any DOC correctional facility will be reviewed by the Publication Review Committee at DOC Headquarters. Mail Rejection Notice number 18346 was reviewed on January 8, 2018 and was overturned by the committee. The publication issue has since been forwarded to each offender. A copy of the final decision notice should be forthcoming to you from Stafford Creek Correctional Center (SCCC).
I wrote this piece because I was being irked by brothers talking to one another. I made a copy and posted it inside the dormitory as I always do. I also posted "Incarcerated Minds" by a California prisoner (March 2016).
Backbiting is a disease that is tearing the fabric of our brotherly threads of unity. Let's keep it all the way 100. When one possesses commissary, tennis shoes, cigarettes, drugs, cell phones or just a swagger that another desires and has no means to obtain it or lack a hustler's ambition to go and get it, one will begin to spread a venom in the community. This venom begins to seep into the heart and mind of the speaker until he becomes tainted, corrupted and eventually a hater. He hates himself foremost but will try to contaminate thy neighbor as though you are the culprit in his wicked heart.
He will attempt to turn people against you! He will "shake salt" on your name. He will snitch on you, do anything within his will power to aid in the destruction of you. One must be mindful of their thoughts, because they will become your words and eventually your actions! Get up off your punk ass and be your own man! Do for yourself and just maybe that fortunate comrade will aid you in your journey to become successful. A grown man talking about another man is weak! And the one who listens to and condones this trash talk is no better for not operating on the heart of that brother and extracting this cancer out of him.
You are fake if you smile in a man's face and then when he leaves you call him lame or a pussy or whatever terminology used to describe your emotional hatred. This is the William Lynch theory in full effect 300 years later, just as he predicted. Planting dissent within our brotherhood. Our duty is to contradict that theory by uniting amongst one another and doing the total opposite.
I know that it is an extremely arduous task because I'm a proactive man of unity in peace, but when all of us are dead or in jail from this contagious disease that will cause us to rob, kill and destroy one another.
We represent Gangsters, Bloods, Crips, Lords, Pirus, Aryans, Goodfellas, Muslim, Brown pride, even Christians, but everyone of us suffer from the same struggles: incarceration, homelessness, poverty, police brutality, poor education, addiction, etc. Before we can come against each other we need to come together and overcome these struggles of capitalistic imperialism.
Peace to the revolutionary voices of insight. We will combat this capitalist devil through peace and unity. Through camaraderie and communism. The power is vested in the people; We are the people.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This essay really highlights one of the five points of the United Front for Peace in Prisons: Unity. And the writer is not only criticizing those who backbite and gossip, but ey is also doing something about it. Posting articles is a great way to try to get people thinking about something new. It can be less confrontational than attacking these folks directly to their faces. Though sometimes calling out behavior when it happens is also very effective. We want to hear more about the things people are doing like this to build peace and unity behind bars. Follow this comrade's example and send in your reports for the next issue of ULK.
On 15 March 2018, MIM(Prisons) received dozens of emails from corrlinks.com, a website used by some U.$. prison systems to provide email access to prisoners. All were from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and read in part:
"This message informs you that you have been blocked from communicating with the above-named federal prisoner because the Bureau has determined that such communication is detrimental to the security, good order, or discipline of the facility, or might facilitate criminal activity."
It has long been established that it is legal for staff to open and read mail sent into prisons, and to not allow such mail that might pose a threat to safety like communicating information on plans to hurt someone or commit a crime. Quite frequently, publications and even letters from MIM(Prisons) are censored by prison staff for being a threat to security. Legally, this must be based on the content of that mail or publication containing information that poses a direct threat. In practice it often is not, and sometimes we can fight those battles and win.
What the Federal Bureau of Prisons is trying to say here is that members of MIM(Prisons) are not allowed to communicate or associate with prisoners they hold captive, regardless of the content of those communications. This is of course a violation of U.$. law and founding principles. (for more background on related laws and court rulings see our censorship guide)
Such blanket bans have been attempted in the past. Sometimes openly like this one, or like the ban in California, which ended after an out-of-court settlement with Prison Legal News because, well, the CDCR knew what they were doing was illegal. MIM(Prisons) is submitting appeals to this and will update our readers. In the meantime our comrades in federal prisons should continue to contact us via postal mail and keep us updated on censorship on their end.
There have been some recent discussions around the use of electronic communications and devices within U.$. prisons and how comrades should approach them. While CorrLinks has been around for some time, more recently prisoners in many prisons can purchase tablet computers for persynal use. Just as we warn people in general about how they use these technologies, those warnings apply even more to prisoners. While the internet provides opportunities for anonymity and free flow of information, this is not really true for the services provided by the state to prisoners. So there is little benefit, and much risk in terms of surveillance and control over a persyn's communications from within prison when using these tools. Thanks to profiteering, we are not even aware of any email services for prisoners that don't charge ridiculous rates.
In general, technology does offer solutions, that are at times better than what we can achieve in real life interactions in terms of both security and thinking more scientifically. To look at some principles of communication that we can apply both online and off, we will look at Briar (briarproject.org). Briar is still in Alpha, and only currently available for Android OS, but has received promising security reviews so far. Briar is an interesting example, because it addresses decentralization, cryptography and anonymity.
One of the biggest problems with the internet today is the centralization that a handful of multinational corporations have made of the traffic on the internet by locking people into certain services. When it comes to email, prisoners have little choice but to use the CorrLinks, centralized service, and face potential bans like this one. On the internet, centralization of activity on certain platforms allows the corporations on those platforms to decide what a majority of the population is seeing, who they are communicating with and when they are no longer allowed to communicate. With Briar, in contrast, one does not even need an internet connection to set up a network of communication with your associates. And even with the internet, each client serves as a node on a decentralized network, so that there is no one powerful persyn who can decide to shut it down. This same principle is applied in real world organizing, where an organization is decentralized to avoid being paralyzed if an individual is removed or repressed.
On the internet, we also have a problem of information being available everywhere to almost anyone. It is only recently, with many hacks and data breeches, that people are beginning to realize that encryption is necessary to protect even peoples' basic information. Such information has been used to falsely imprison people, to steal identities, and to just target and harass people. In the real world, people know to talk quietly about certain things, or talk about plans for building peace when that C.O. who is always instigating fights isn't around, etc. On the internet there is the potential for all information to be available for an indefinite period of time, to potentially anyone. So suddenly everything needs to be said in a whisper, or in encrypted form as Briar and other software does.
Related to encryption is anonymity. Whenever one goes online, one must have an IP Address that tells the other machines on the network where you are so they can send you responses. This IP address (typically) is linked to a real world location and often to a specific machine. Previously we have talked about The Onion Router(Tor), which works to hide your IP Address. When on the internet, Briar operates through Tor, when connecting to others on the network. This provides for anonymity. Anonymity does not have as strong parallels in the real world, but might be like putting up fliers in the middle of the night or marching in a protest with a mask on. This is an advantage of the internet. If done properly, we can spread information anonymously, and without fear of reprisal. In addition, anonymity on the internet allows us to share information without the biases that we come across in real world interactions. The internet can be a tool for people to think more scientifically and judge ideas for their merit and not for who is saying them.
As the above example shows, we cannot trust the U.$. government to just obey its own laws and not repress people for their political beliefs. We must continue to stand up to such political repression, while building independent institutions of the oppressed that allow us to continue to organize for a better tomorrow.
In a recent MIM(Prisons) Re-Lease on Life newsletter there was an article on what it is like to be a communist and on probation. In September 2016 in a ULK there was an article about sex offenders and status within the prison. This article will complement both, talking about what my experience has been like over two years as a communist post-probation.
The current revolutionary communist party versus the party branch I have been loyal to and committed to during my 10 years on probation, jail, prison was reluctant of taking me back. The reason why I only was allowed as supporter/sympathizer status was a defense mechanism from the COINTELPRO and now 9/11 days, where the ruling class or reactionaries could use my case if they found out to discredit the party.
The idea of another "other" somehow possibly discrediting the party makes sense. Especially if it was front line news that a socialist party, that has already been attacked throughout its history for all sorts of untrue accusations, was now "exposed" as harboring sex deviants. This would possibly make other party members uncomfortable. And it would appear to other groups that the party was not being a radical feminist communist party.
But my situation became a non-issue, probably due to members forgetting. I joined the same branch I was part of in the past. For a year I jumped into environmental work, anti-war work, feminist work, and helping with a homeless bill of rights. I also jumped into the leadership of an ex-prisoners' organization, as well as with Samizdat Socialist Prisoners Project. Also working on a memoir of my thoughts as a thought-criminal.
When activists and revolutionaries of all stripes found out about me having a background, or of my crime, I did not shy away from acknowledging it. I told them I did not have a victim, that it was a sting by local cops. I am doing what I think communist sex deviants should do: work towards eliminating the capitalist state that creates schizophrenic and contradictory mores and norms in the first place. I was the guy that did prisoner liberation work in my area.
After a year, someone calling themselves a feminist found out what I had done and lambasted me on Facebook. As a white, male, sex offender, atheist, and communist I had to refrain from attacking a female feminist to avoid seeming like a white sexist and chauvinist. So I left the feminist group along with other feminist groups I was a part of.
But it did not stop there. There was nothing I could say to defend my actions or defuse the situation especially on social media. Only two or three people, who were hardly activists, were attacking me, questioning why someone like me should be in a feminist group. They found a paper I wrote about being in college as a sex offender, and did not interpret it correctly as I am no longer entitled, deviant, and uber-sexualized.
Throughout a week of turmoil, many comrades and friends defended me saying that I have never hid what I have done, and no opponent of me reached out to me to defend myself. My comrades pretty much asked if a sex offender's best place is in a feminist group attacking the chauvinism, sexism in the days of Trump, Weinstein, and Brock Turner. Currently after two months, I still have not participated in any feminist-related event.
These opponent feminists are a possible example of carceral feminism. The carceral feminists are people who believe the best punishment is a thrown-away prison key. They have allied with conservatives on this issue. If I had my chance to defend myself, I would say I am more committed than any of the carceral feminist armchair activists. I would tell them how most of my close female friends, sexual partners, and even my girlfriend have experienced rape, sexual assault, etc. and they accept me. The one to two years off of probation, jail, and prison have been very rocky and it is hard to figure out my voice and place in the revolutionary struggle. I hope many of the released do not return to a life imposed on them by the bourgeoisie, but partake in liberating a prison world.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This comrade's experience speaks to the universal struggle of former prisoners, and more specifically to the question of how revolutionaries should work (or not work) with people convicted of sex offenses. To clarify, ey is working with some organizations that we have significant disagreements with, but that doesn't change the relevance of what ey writes.
This is a case where someone who was convicted of a sex offense is not disputing the accusation. Instead, ey comes to the conclusion that the right thing for someone who committed gender crimes to do is to fight to end the system that creates a culture of gender oppression. This we very much agree with.
We did not see the social media debates with and against this persyn so we can't comment directly on what people said when arguing that ey should not be allowed into feminist organizations. But there are several problems we see with this incident. First, attacking someone on social media rather than taking criticisms directly to em and eir organization does not do justice to the seriousness of this political debate. Also, pushing someone out of an organization before hearing eir side and investigating the issue thoroughly just does the work of the government by dividing the movement.
As Maoists we believe that people are capable of change, and so when we learn about errors people have made we ask for self-criticism and an analysis of why those actions were taken. Those who not only make sincere self-criticism but also demonstrate through their actions that they have changed should be given the opportunity to contribute to the revolutionary movement.
Sex offenders are generally pariahs, both on the streets and behind bars. All people with a criminal record face extra scrutiny, criticism, and ostracization when they hit the streets. It's important that revolutionary organizations don't play into this. We shouldn't dismiss former captives who want to be activists. Instead we should set up structures to help them get involved and support their work. And for those who have committed crimes against the people in the past, we can help them better understand not only why these actions were wrong, but also to transform their thinking to best avoid hurting others in the future and how to build a society that doesn't foster those crimes in the first place.
by Soso of MIM(Prisons) March 2018 permalinkLocked In: the true causes of mass incarceration - and how to achieve real reform
by John F. Pfaff
2017 Basic Books
With over 2 million people behind bars, Amerikkka locks up more people per capita than any other nation in the world. But within this system of mass imprisonment there is an even more striking story of national oppression: New Afrikans locked up at 5 times the rate of whites, and [email protected] and First Nations also locked up at disproportionately high rates. We might hope that a book about the true causes of mass incarceration (and how to achieve real reform!) would address this discrepancy. But Pfaff, like all good bourgeois scholars, is focused on how to make capitalism work better. And so ey sweeps this whole issue under the rug in a book that offers some really good science and statistics on imprisonment. Here we will pull out the useful facts and frame them in a revolutionary context.
Overall Locked In does a good job of exposing some important facts and statistics often ignored by prison researchers. Pfaff attacks what ey calls the "Standard Story." This is the name ey gives to the common arguments anti-prison activists make, which ey believes are counter-productive to their (and eir own) goals of prison reform. Ey claims these arguments either over simplify, or are straight up wrong, about why we have so many prisoners in the United $tates, and as a result target the wrong solutions.
The big picture
Pfaff sometimes gets lost in the details and fails to look at the big picture. For instance, ey argues that "we are a nation of either 50 or 3,144 distinct criminal justice systems" talking about the big differences in how each state and even each county deals with prosecution, sentencing and prisons.(p. 16) While it is true there are significant differences, this thinking evades the importance of looking at the big picture that it's no coincidence that so many distinct counties/states have such high rates of imprisonment in this country. It's a good idea to examine state and county level differences, and learn lessons from this. But using this information in the interests of the oppressed requires an understanding of the underlying role of the Amerikkkan criminal injustice system in social control and national oppression, the topic Pfaff studiously avoids.
In one of eir rare references to the role that nation plays in the criminal injustice system in the United $tates, Pfaff bemoans that "Obviously, effecting 'cultural change' is a very difficult task."(p. 228) Ey entirely misses the fundamental national oppression going on in this country. To him it's just about attitudes and cultural change.
Pfaff does raise some good big picture questions that scientific capitalists and communists alike need to consider. Discussing the importance of balancing the cost of crime against the costs of enforcement Pfaff asks "what the optimal level of crime should be." "Why is crime control inherently more important than education or medical research or public health?" "What if a reduction in prison populations would allow 100,000 children with at least one parent in prison to now have both parents at home, but at a cost of a 5 percent rise in aggravated assaults (or even some number of additional murders) – is this a fair tradeoff, even assuming no other criminal justice benefits (like lower future offending rates among these children)?" But Pfaff notes that politicians in the United $tates are not able to talk about these things. Even Bernie Sanders's discussion of investing more in schools and less in prisons was in the context of reducing crime more efficiently. It's just not okay to say education should be prioritized over crime control.(p. 119) And so Pfaff concludes that we must work on reforms that can be implemented within this severely restricted political system. We see this as evidence that the system will never allow significant change.
Another place where Pfaff frames the larger context in useful and scientific ways is around the question of why people commit crimes. While ey dances around the social causes of crime, Pfaff offers some good analysis about how people age out of crime. And this analysis leads to eir position that we shouldn't be calling people "violent offenders" but instead just saying they have committed violent crimes. Data shows that most people commit crimes when young, and as they age they are far less likely to do so again.
Crime rates and imprisonment rates
Pfaff is a professor of law at Fordham University, and like people working within the capitalist system ey accepts the capitalist definitions of crime. This means ey ignores the biggest criminals: those conducting wars of aggression and plunder against other nations in the interests of profit. For the purposes of this review we will use the term crime as Pfaff does in eir book, to refer to bourgeois-defined crime.
Crime rates in the U.$. grew in the 1970s and early 1980s. Pfaff believes that "rising incarceration helped stem the rise in crime."(p. 10) Disappointingly ey doesn't put much work in to proving this thesis. But at least ey concedes that locking up more people may not have been the best response to rising crime.(p. 10) And ey goes on to note that crime rates continued to fall while prison populations also fell in later years: "Between 2010 and 2014, state prison populations dropped by 4 percent while crime rates declined by 10 percent – with crime falling in almost every state that scaled back incarceration."(p. 12) So even if locking up people in the 70s and 80s did curtail some crime, clearly there isn't a direct correlation between imprisonment rates and crime rates.
There was a drop in the number of prisoners in the United $tates between 2010 and 2014 (4%), but this was driven by California which made up 62% of the national decline. Outside of California, total prison populations fell by 1.9% during this same period. But at the same time total admissions rose by 1.1%. Pfaff cites this statistic in particular to point out a failure of prison reform efforts using the metric of total prison population. If the goal is to reduce the prison population overall, looking at the drop in people locked up will miss the fact that the total number of prisoners is actually rising!(p. 69) This is an important point as we know that prison has lasting effects on all who are locked up, as well as on their community, even if they are only serving short sentences.
War on Drugs is not driving prison growth
Disagreeing with the common argument that locking up low-level drug offenders is driving up the prison population, Pfaff points out that "only about 16 percent of state prisoners are serving time on drug charges — and very few of them, perhaps only around 5 or 6 percent of that group, are both low level and nonviolent. At the same time, more than half of all people in state prisons have been convicted of a violent crime."(p. 5) So ey argues that targeting non-violent drug offenders is focusing on too small a population to make a significant impact.
Pfaff offers extensive data analysis to demonstrate that the number of people serving time for drug convictions just aren't enough to be a major driver of state prison growth. Ey does concede that "the single biggest driver of the decline in prison populations since 2010 has been the decrease in the number of people in prison for drug crimes. But focusing on drugs will only work in the short run. That it is working now is certainly something to celebrate. But even setting every drug offender free would cut our prison population by only 16 percent."(p. 35)
From this analysis Pfaff concludes that it is essential that prison reformers not avoid talking about violent crime. "From 1990 to 2009... about 60 percent of all additional inmates had been convicted of a violent offense."(p. 187) "[T]here are almost as many people in prison today just for murder and manslaughter as the total state prison population in 1974: about 188,000 for murder or manslaughter today, versus a total of 196,000 prisoners overall in 1974."(p. 185) And due to length of sentence, "Violent offenders take up a majority of all prison beds, even if they do not represent a majority of all admissions."(p. 188) So those serious about cutting back prisons will need to cut back on locking people up for violent crimes.
Length of sentence
Pfaff concludes that longer sentences are not the cause of rising imprisonment rates. This is the opposite of the common anti-prison activist position: "despite the nearly automatic assumption by so many that prison growth is due to ever-longer sentences, the main driver of growth, at least recently, has been steadily rising admissions for fairly short terms."(p. 74) "[M]ost people serve short stints in prison, on the order of one to three years, and there's not a lot of evidence that the amount of time spent in prison has changed that much — not just over the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s, but quite possibly over almost the entire prison boom."(p. 6)
Pfaff does concede that official sentences, per statutes, have gotten longer, but ey claims time served has changed much less. At most average time served in state prisons increased by 36% between 1990 and 2009, which ey calls a small increase that can’t explain most of the prison growth over that time. (p. 58) Ey argues that tough sentencing laws are all about politics and legislator image, trying to look tough on crime. But they count on prosecutors not actually imposing the maximum punishments.
Private prisons vs public employees
We agree with Pfaff that private prisons don't play a very large role in the current Amerikan criminal injustice system. "Private spending and private lobbying ... are not the real financial and political engines behind prison growth. Public revenue and public-sector union lobbying are far more important."(p. 7) And ey correctly identifies "the real political powers behind prison growth are the public officials who benefit from large prisons: the politicians in districts with prisons, along with the prison guards who staff them and the public-sector unions who represent the guards."(p. 7)
Pfaff makes a compelling point: public prisons will act the same way private prisons act when facing the same contractual incentives. Ey goes on to argue that it might actually be better to expand private prisons but give them incentives for better performance, such as rewarding lack of recidivism.
It is public prison employees who are the strongest opponents of private prisons. This was seen in Florida where an attempt to privatize 27 prisons was killed after the public employees' union got a bunch of congresspeople to vote against the bill.(p. 87)
This strength of public prisons lobbying is also behind the fact that closing public prisons doesn't necessarily result in much savings because the unions will aggressively oppose any lost jobs. In Pennsylvania, the state closed two prisons in 2013 and laid off only three guards. In New York the prison population dropped by 25% since 1999 but they have not closed any prisons.(p. 88)
Pfaff concludes: "In other words, reformers should not really be concerned with the privateness of the PIC. They should worry that as prisons grow, the supporting bureaucracies — private and public alike — will grow as well, and they will fight against anything that jeopardizes their power and pay."(p. 91)
Pfaff is correct that private prisons are not driving incarceration rates. Actually, public employee wages are playing a much larger role. However, there are valid reasons to oppose privatization for reformers, or anyone who subscribes to a sense of humynism. In our bourgeois democracy, the law does provide for greater accountability of public institutions. Therefore, public prisons will generally allow less unnecessary suffering than private ones. Of course, neither privatization, nor the public sector can eliminate the oppression of the capitalist state that is meted out by the police and prisons. Yet, privatization of the state-sanctioned use of force only creates more problems for those working for progressive change.
Pfaff disagrees with the argument that a big driver behind the prison population is recidivism, specifically that lots of people are being sent back to prison for technical violations or small issues. Ey does find that in most states the number of parole conditions has gone up, from an average of 11 in 1982 to an average of 18 in 2008.(p. 62) But digging into recidivism more deeply, Pfaff cites a study that found that only about a third of people admitted to prison end up returning. And ey correctly notes that if the commonly cited Bureau of Justice Statistics claim of a 50% recidivism rate is wrong, this just means that even more people are ending up in prisons at some time in their lives. This is perhaps an even scarier story than the high recidivism rate because it means that even more lives are being ruined by prison.
States vs counties
Pfaff points out that the $50 billion that states spend on prisons is only about 3% of state spending. And as has been seen in examples above, the savings from decarceration are not that great if states can't actually close prisons or lay off guards. Also, releasing individual prisoners doesn't result in much savings because prisons work on an economy of scale. While we can calculate the average cost of incarceration per persyn, we can't translate that directly into savings when one persyn is released, because the entire infrastructure is still in place.(p. 99)
New York City actually did cut its prison population recently, along with a few other urban counties in New York. However, rural counties sent more people to prison so the overall impact was growth, not decreasing numbers of prisoners in New York.(p. 76) Similarly, higher crime rate areas like Los Angeles and San Francisco in California send relatively fewer people to prison compared to more rural counties which tend to be more conservative.(p. 77)
We touched on this urban vs. rural discrepancy in imprisonment rates in a recent article on national oppression in prison, suggesting that this could be the primary driver behind the (temporary?) drop in the discrepancy between incarceration rates of oppressed nations and whites. Since more whites are in the rural counties, statistically that's who is getting locked up if those counties are locking people up at a higher rate. Pfaff's data backs up our theory.
Prosecutors driving imprisonment
Pfaff argues compellingly that the primary driver behind the boom in prisoners in the past few decades is prosecutorial toughness: prosecutors are charging more people with more serious crimes. Prosecutors have a tremendous amount of latitude. They can determine the charges brought against people, which in turn drives the level of seriousness of the crime and potential sentences. They can also decide when to take a plea and what to offer in the plea.
To prove the impact of prosecutors, Pfaff cites data between 1991 and 2014 when crime rates were falling. During this period the arrest rates by police matched crime rates, which means that as violent and property crimes fell so did arrests for those offenses. In states Pfaff examined, arrests fell 10% between 1994 and 2008. But at the same time the number of felony cases rose steeply. Fewer people were entering the criminal injustice system but more were facing felony charges. Pfaff calculated a 40% increase in felony cases. Ey found this was the only thing that changed; felony charges resulted in imprisonment at the same rate as before. So Pfaff concludes: "In short, between 1994 and 2008, the number of people admitted to prison rose by about 40 percent, from 360,000 to 505,000, and almost all of that increase was due to prosecutors bringing more and more felony cases against a diminishing pool of arrestees."(p. 72) The probability that a prosecutor would file felony charges against an arrestee basically doubled during this time period.
Pfaff attributes this prosecutorial aggression to a few things. First, the number of prosecutors trying cases has increased significantly over the past forty years, unrelated to crime rates. Prosecutor discretion is not new, but they seem to be using it more and more aggressively in recent years. And it is the prosecutors who have complete control over which cases get filed and which get dismissed. Prosecutors also have a huge advantage over public defenders, whose budget is significantly less than prosecutors and who don't benefit from free investigative services from law enforcement.(p. 137)
Overall Pfaff finds very little data available on prosecutors and so finds it impossible to come to firm conclusions about why they are so aggressively increasing prosecution rates. Ey spends a lot of the book talking about potential prosecutoral reforms but also concludes that mandatory data collection around prosecution is essential to get a better handle on what's going on.
While this data on the role of prosecutors in driving imprisonment rates in recent years is interesting, revolutionaries have to ask how important this is to our understanding of the system. Whether it's more cops on the streets driving more arrests, or more aggressive prosecutors driving more sentences, the net result is the same. If we're looking to reform the system, Pfaff's data is critical to effectively targeting the most important part of the system. But for revolutionaries this information is most useful in exposing the injustice behind the curtain of the system. We want to know how it works but ultimately we know we need to dismantle the whole system to effect real and lasting change.
Even within eir general belief that prisons are necessary to stop crime, Pfaff makes some good points: "To argue that prison growth contributed to 25 percent of the drop in crime does not mean that it was an efficient use of resources: perhaps we could have achieved an equally large decline in a way that was less fiscally and socially costly."(p. 116) And ey goes on to note that studies suggest rehabilitation programs outside of prison do a much better job reducing crime.
Some of Pfaff's solutions are things we can get behind, like adequately funding public defenders. And most of them, if effective, would result in fewer prisoners and better programs to help prisoners both while locked up and once on the streets. But still these solutions are about relatively small reforms: giving prosecutors more guidance, expanding political oversight, expanding parole and providing more scientific structure to parole decisions, appointing prosecutors rather than electing them, setting up better contracts with private prisons paying based on how prisoners performed upon release.
All of these reforms make sense if you believe the Amerikan prison system has a primary goal of keeping society safe and reforming criminals. This is where we deviate from Pfaff because we can see that prisons are just a tool of a fundamentally corrupt system. And so reforms will only be implemented with sufficient belief from those in charge that the fundamental system won't be threatened. And certainly the Amerikan imperialists aren't looking to "improve" or reform the system; they will only react to significant social pressure, and only as much as they need to to take pressure off.
As a Hollywood movie based on a Marvel comic book, Black Panther stands out for overtly political themes and some honest discussion of national oppression. It features a Wakandan society of supremely advanced and peaceful Africans. A society that includes strong, empowered wimmin in roles of defense, science and serving the oppressed.
The Wakandan society is completely hidden from the world and led by a king, T'Challa, the movie's hero. Its isolation is based in a legit fear of the imperialist world which has a long history of oppression and exploitation in Africa. The Wakandan solution was to hide, and focus on building a strong and peaceful society internally. It was wildly successful, surpassing the rest of the world in all realms of science. And what's more, the movie suggests that Wakanda built, on the wealth of its natural resources, a society with no apparent exploitation or oppression. But this isolationism does have a growing opposition from within, from some who want to help the oppressed in the world.
We can compare Wakanda's isolationism to revolutionary movements that have taken power in one country, only to find themselves surrounded by enemies. In places like north Korea, Cuba, and Albania, isolation was a strategic move against outside interference, but ultimately was also a great difficulty for these nations. Wakanda does not face similar challenges due to its tremendous wealth of resources, but also because no one knows about its advanced society, so there's no severe drain of resources being spent on national self-defense. The world thinks Wakanda is just a Third World country full of farmers.
What we found most interesting about the movie was not the protagonists, but the antagonist, Eric Killmonger, who came up in Oakland in the 1990s. Killmonger's father (T'Challa's uncle) was serving as a Wakandan spy in Oakland when ey fell in love with the oppressed New Afrikan people ey was living among, and decided ey needed to take Wakandan resources to help liberate these people. For betraying Wakanda, Killmonger's father was killed by the king (eir own brother), which left Killmonger abandoned in Oakland. The king kept this betrayal, death, and Eric a secret all the way to the grave, so Killmonger's appearance came as a sudden surprise to those living an idyllic life in the capitol.
Eric Killmonger is a product of eir abandonment by Wakanda and eir upbringing on the streets of Oakland. Killmonger saw the desperate struggles of the New Afrikan nation in the United $tates and could not forgive Wakanda for not helping these people. Killmonger wasn't only seeking persynal revenge for eir father's death, ey was fighting to continue eir father's dream of helping the oppressed liberate themselves. Killmonger's education (at MIT) and training (in the U.$. military) was purposeful, focused on getting em into a position to control the Wakandan resources so that ey could use them to help the oppressed. Killmonger cultivated the passion and perseverance to bring em all the way to the hidden society of Wakanda and into a duel for the throne.
Killmonger doesn't hesitate to kill, even those ey seems to care about, to achieve eir goal. But this is war, and the lives of millions around the world are at stake. We respect Killmonger's drive and focus. Nicely asking the Wakandan king to hand over some weapons and technology to help the oppressed wasn't going to work. Even similar requests from influential people within Wakandan society were denied. So Killmonger reasonably believed that eir only option was to take what ey wanted by force.
There were many different reactions to this contradiction between peaceful isolationism vs. violent uprising, playing out in the battle for the throne. A faction of Wakandans (the civil defense force) enthusiastically joined Killmonger once ey explained eir plan to arm New Afrikans in the United $tates and Wakandan spies all over the world. Killmonger's proposal also included ensuring the sun never set on the Wakandan empire. Whether the civil defense force joined for altruistic or power-hungry reasons is up to the viewer to decide.
The royal defense force begrudgingly remained loyal to the throne when Killmonger took power, from an adherence to conservative traditionalism more than anything else. The royal defense quickly switched sides when a technical justification arose — the duel for the throne was not complete, because T'Challa was still alive. This faction of the military is made out to be heroes, but they were defending a king who upheld isolationism against a king who wanted to help free the world's oppressed.
Yet another angle is represented by T'Challa's love interest, Nakia, a spy who worked among refugees and victims of humyn trafficking. Ey stubbornly refused a chance to become queen, so ey could continue eir important work helping people outside of Wakanda. While ideologically Nakia had much in common with Killmonger, at least in opposing Wakanda's isolationism and wanting to liberate oppressed people globally, ey remained loyal to T'Challa. Nakia, like many other Wakandans, was primarily against Killmonger's strategy of sending weapons and firepower out all over the world, and persynal feelings for T'Challa were an influencing factor.
There were many strategic problems with Killmonger's solution to imperialist oppression, including the lack of leadership or liberation movements to take advantage of the military and technology resources ey was offering. It's hard to see how just delivering weapons to the oppressed would lead to liberation. In fact those weapons could easily have ended up in the hands of the imperialists, which — besides tradition and "it's not our way" — was a primary justification given by T'Challa and others for keeping Wakanda hidden from the world.
In the end, the conservative king wins, but ey learns that ey does have a duty to the world's people. A big part of T'Challa's change in perspective comes when the pedestal ey has built for tradition and blindly following eir father's path is torn down by the discovery of the family secret. The appearance of Killmonger is a huge turning point for T'Challa. T'Challa comes to see Killmonger as a monster who was created by eir own father's hands. T'Challa sees how an adherence to tradition and isolation actually alienates people, such as young Eric, who T'Challa feels should otherwise be included in the Wakandan umbrella of aid and help.
So T'Challa comes to finally agree with Nakia and Killmonger that Wakanda has a moral obligation to share its expertise. Unfortunately, in spite of all Wakanda's international spies, King T'Challa still fails to correctly assess the balance of forces, and the friends and enemies of the oppressed. The last scene of the movie shows T'Challa making a speech at the United Nations, announcing that Wakanda will begin sharing its technology and knowledge with the world. Ey also buys a few buildings in Oakland, California to open Wakanda's first youth outreach and education center.
If T'Challa really wanted to help the world's oppressed, ey could use Wakanda's technology of being able to stay hidden in plain sight, and its reputation as a nonthreatening farming nation, to build the strength of an underground army, to soon fight the oppressors for dual power, and then freedom, including an end of capitalism. Rather than going to the UN and announcing "Hey! We're organizing and doing cool shit that will threaten your power! Watch us closely!" ey could do this discretely and very successfully. It seems T'Challa moved from conservative to liberal, and didn't quite make the step to true revolutionary.
by a Texas prisoner February 2018 permalinkThe free, I see, living and existing, without me
They lock man away in a cage, while the birds fly free & away
In this kennel for days, awaiting my day to escape the chains
a long time coming, awaiting for change
deserted in a dry desert, awaiting the rain
to wash me away, back on my way, where the road is paved
This system can't feel my pain
This system can't understand my brain
My soul, my heart, nor my spirit, or mind for that matter
by a Texas prisoner February 2018 permalinkYesterday, I was a sleeping victim
victimized by class segregation
Yesterday, I was comatose, to
those who inflicted economic degradation
These Imperialist weapon of mass Destruction
is capitalism smoked screened by spiritual materialism
The irony is that of a materialist in prison
Yesterday, I was unconscious, to the drugs
and guns that they sponsored
Yesterday, I was out cold, to the bold
manipulation, out-of-control of my own
Yesterday, I dreamed the Amerikkkan dream
thinking living free, was greed
Today I have awoken, Eyes wide open
Betita, Corky, Che, Zapata, and Poncho have spoken
The spell is broken
In recent months we've seen a huge number of people come forward with accusations of sexual harassment or assault against men in the entertainment industry, in politics, and well-known business leaders. And in many cases the exposures have encouraged more people to come forward, and the ending of careers. This has been integrated with a #MeToo movement of wimmin stepping forward to say that these highly publicized cases are not just isolated incidents. The point of #MeToo is to show all wimmin experience unwanted sexual attention at some point in their lives, often repeatedly. This movement has progressive aspects, and here we will try to take readers to the logical conclusion of all this exposure of sexual assault.
The Aziz Ansari sexual assault allegations perhaps most clearly illustrate where the #MeToo movement must go if it is to really address the root of these problems. Ansari is a famous actor, comedian and filmmaker. In January, a womyn came forward anonymously with a detailed account of her sexual encounter with Ansari. The womyn "Grace" described a very awkward and unpleasant evening in which Ansari repeatedly made sexual advances while "Grace" attempted to indicate her discomfort with what she called "clear nonverbal cues." When she finally said "no" to one of his sexual propositions, Ansari backed off and suggested they dress and just hang out.
Ansari claims he thought the encounter was entirely consensual. Grace claims Ansari ignored all her attempts to put a stop to the sex. This case has led to a useful debate over where to draw the line in terms of what we call sexual assault. This case has led some (Grace supporters and Grace opponents) to point out that calling her experience sexual assault means we've all been sexually assaulted. Or maybe not everyone, but most wimmin at the very least. Because most wimmin can point to a situation where they were uncomfortable or unhappy but pressured by a man to proceed with sex.
Ansari was oblivious to Grace's lack of enjoyment, and her inability to clearly verbally express this points to a power inequality. In a truly equal relationship between two people, each would feel totally comfortable walking away at any point. And each would be carefully listening to what the other said (verbally and non-verbally). Whatever it is that stopped Grace from walking away, whether it's Ansari's fame or wealth, or just her training as a womyn to do what a man asks, it's undeniable that she was not able to just walk away.
This is the crux of the problem with attempting to reform away sexual assault while we live in a patriarchal society. Rape is non-consensual sex. And, as the Ansari case demonstrates, there are many situations in which wimmin aren't giving consent even though men think the encounter is totally consensual. We call this non-consensual sex what it is: rape.
When there is a power difference in a relationship, the persyn with less power is limited in their ability to consent. You can't freely consent when someone is holding a gun to your head. And similarly you can't freely consent when you fear economic consequences. Those are obvious inequalities. Someone who says "yes, please" in those situations simply can't be freely consenting. The Ansari case gets at more subtle inequalities, but ones that have a very real impact on people's ability to consent. In a society where inequality is inherent in every interaction, we can't expect people to have sexual relationships that are equal and consensual. The problem isn't that Ansari raped Grace. The problem is that all sex under the patriarchy is non-consensual. Grace just wrote about one of the more subtle cases of non-consensual sex.
All this sexual assault in Amerikan society isn't the fault of the men who are being called out. It's the fault of the patriarchal society. Grace proponents point out that it shouldn't be wimmin's responsibility to help men learn how to read their discomfort. Grace opponents complain that wimmin need to empower themselves and speak up and demand that their consent (or lack of consent) be respected. This is a good debate, and we actually agree with both sides. But it's the wrong debate to be having, because neither side can achieve their goal under patriarchy. A lifetime of training to respect power (the power of men, the power of money, the power of fame, the power of a teacher, the power of looks, the power of skill) can't be overcome with an assertiveness training class. And educating people to ask for consent at every step of the way won't help when someone feels they have to say "yes" to their teacher/priest/benefactor/mentor/idol.
Some might hope that other changes in Amerikan society will move us towards abolishing the patriarchy. People fighting gender oppression argue that having a womyn president who speaks out against sexual harassment, and getting in judges who will prosecute people aggressively, and the broad education and exposure of the #MeToo campaign will eventually break down the gender power differential in this society. But even this level of reform won't change a fundamental system that is based on power differentials. We don't believe the patriarchy can be abolished under a system that is set up to help the rich profit off the exploitation of the Third World peoples.
The #MeToo movement is trying to show people how pervasive sexual assault is. That's important. We need to take that further and show the link between power differentials in relationships and sexual assault. And we must be clear that these power differences will always exist under a capitalist patriarchy. We can't reform our way to pure and equal sex. Just as many wimmin are now dramatically calling out #MeToo, we dramatically call out #AllSexIsRape. Sexual assault is everywhere; revolutionary change is needed.
Los E$tados Unidos encierra a los Nuevos Afrikanos a una velocidad de 5 veces más rápido que a los Euro-Amerikanos. La tasa para los [email protected] es de por lo menos 1.4 veces más alta que la de los blancos, y la forma en que las prisiones recogen información sobre los “Hispanos” hace que probablemente este número sea muy bajo.(1) Este exceso dramático de encarcelación de las naciones oprimidas en las prisiones de U.$. no es nuevo. Pero el alto número de gente encerrada es un fenómeno relativamente reciente. En la década de los 60, la disparidad entre las tasas de encarcelación era prácticamente la misma de la de hoy. Pero la población en prisión era mucho menor, de forma que impactaba a mucho menos gente.
En 1960, la tasa de encarcelación de los hombres blancos fue de 262 cada 100,000 residentes blancos de los U.$, y la tasa de hombres Nuevo Afrikanos fue de 1,313; lo cual son 5 veces más que la tasa de los blancos. Para 2010 la disparidad se había elevado hasta 6 veces. Esto significa que los hombres Nuevos Afrikanos eran seis veces más susceptibles a ser encerrados que los hombres blancos. Esta discrepancia tuvo un impacto mucho mayor en 2010 porque las tasas de encarcelación se dispararon hasta el cielo, empezando en la década de los 70, de modo que para el 2010 la tasa de encarcelación de hombre Nuevos Afrikanos era de 4,347 cada 100,000.(2)
En 2000 la discrepancia en las tasas de encarcelación entre los Nuevos Afrikanos y los blancos empezaron en realidad a bajar, y para el 2015 ya estaba hasta en los niveles de los 60. Entre el 2000 y el 2015 la tasa de encarcelamiento para hombres Nuevos Afrikanos cayó 24%, mientras que al mismo tiempo, la tasa de encarcelamiento para hombres blancos se elevó ligeramente. Entre mujeres vemos la misma tendencia pero con una caída del 50% para las mujeres Nuevas Afrikanas y un 50% de aumento para las mujeres blancas.(3)
Tasas de hombres Negros y Blancos en prisión
Tenemos que poner estos cambios en contexto. La tasa de encarcelación de Nuevos Afrikanos es todavía increíblemente alta en comparación con la tasa para blancos. La opresión nacional en las prisiones no se ha eliminado, ni de cerca. A la velocidad actual de cambio, tomaría hasta aproximadamente el año 2100 para que haya igualdad de encarcelamiento en la nación.
Pero no podemos ignorar cambios como estos, especialmente cuando son consistentes a lo largo de un período de 15 años.
Las prisiones se usan principalmente como una herramienta de control social por el gobierno de los E$tados Unidos. Las naciones oprimidas siempre han sido una amenaza debido a la relación dialéctica entre los oprimidos y los opresores. Y por eso, las naciones oprimidas enfrentan las tasas de encarcelación mayores. Y los objetivos más grandes son aquellos que organizan el cambio revolucionario, como vimos con las operaciones masivas del COINTELPRO contra el Partido de la Pantera Negra (Black Panther Party) y el Partido de los Señores Jóvenes (Young Lords Party) en la década de los 70.
Así que, ¿por qué el sistema de injusticia criminal cambiaría para disminuir la tasa de encarcelación de Nuevos Afrikanos pero no haría lo mismo para los blancos? Una explicación posible es que los cambios en el sistema de injusticia criminal se han realizado a velocidades diferentes en las ciudades y en áreas no urbanas. La caída en las tasas de encarcelación se debe principalmente a las tasas menores en las ciudades, porque en las zonas rurales no han cambiado.(3) Tal vez veamos que estos cambios se nivelen con el tiempo.
Luego de la proclamación de la emancipación, hemos visto cambios en la opresión nacional en la sociedad Amerikana en varios momentos de la historia. Estos cambios generalmente suceden como respuesta a los movimientos sociales. Las reformas se dieron desde la segregación legal hasta la restricción de la discriminación abierta en ámbitos como el hogar, empleo, y préstamos. Pero estas reformas en realidad no pusieron un fin a estas prácticas; la realidad de la segregación y discriminación continuaron, simplemente cambiaron a formas más sutiles o escondidas. No obstante, podemos decir que en algunos aspectos, las condiciones para las naciones oprimidas dentro de las fronteras de los E$tados Unido$, han mejorado. Esto no sorprende porque el gobierno de los EE. UU. no puede realmente tener disturbios activos dentro de sus fronteras mientras pelea tantas guerras abiertas e indirectas alrededor del mundo. El imperialismo es más estable cuando puede mantener tranquila a la población de su país natal.
En un país imperialista rico, los capitalistas tienen el dinero para integrar parcialmente las semi-colonias, comprándolas con los beneficios del saqueo imperialista. Sin embargo, la opresión nacional está tan arraigada en la sociedad imperialista moderna que no anticipamos la integración total de estas semi-colonias internas. Y por eso, creemos que la distancia entre las tasas de encarcelación de la nación oprimida y la blanca no estará cerca de cerrarse. Pero las corrientes actuales en las tasas de encarcelación se prestan para seguirles la pista.