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).
This issue of ULK is refocusing on an ongoing debate we've held in these pages of the role "sex offenders" can, or can't, play in our revolutionary organizing. Many of our subscribers see "sex offenders" as pariahs just by definition of their conviction, yet we also receive letters from "sex offenders" with plenty of interest in revolutionary organizing. How/can we reconcile this contradiction? This is what this issue of ULK explores.
As you read through subscribers' article submissions and our responses on this topic, you'll see some common themes, some of which have been summarized below. This article also is an attempt to provide a snapshot of where we are now on this question, and suggest some aspects of our organizing that need to be developed more deeply.
The "Sex Offender" Label
There are three groups that are discussed throughout this issue that need to be distinguished.
People who have committed crimes by proletarian standards, but have not been convicted of them (i.e. Donald Trump, people whose sexual assaults go unreported, prisoner bullies, etc.). These people are not called "sex offenders" according to the state's definition.
People convicted of being "sex offenders" who didn't commit a crime by proletarian standards (i.e. people labeled as "sex offenders" for pissing in public).
People who are convicted as "sex offenders" by the state, for behaviors that would also be considered crimes by proletarian standards (i.e. physical assault, pimping, etc.).
Throughout this issue the term "sex offender" is used to mean any one of those categories, or all three. It's muddled, and we should be more clear on our terminology moving forward. By the state's definition, the term does include some benign behaviors such as pissing in public (group 2); crimes which are convicted in a targeted manner disproportionately against members of oppressed nations. So we put the term "sex offender" in quotes because it is the official term that the state uses, and it includes people who have not committed anti-people (anti-proletarian) sex-crimes. Under a system of revolutionary justice, people in group 2 would need no more rehabilitation than your average persyn on the street.
We cannot trust the state to tell us what "crimes" someone has committed, and this is true for sex offenses as much as anything else. This country has a long history of locking up oppressed-nation men on the false accusation of raping white wimmin, generally to put these men "in their place." We have printed many letters from people locked up for "sex offenses" but who have not committed terrible acts against people.
Interestingly, most of our subscribers know there are many falsely-convicted prisoners in all other categories of crime, and they readily believe that many are innocent. But when the state labels someone a "sex offender" that persyn becomes a pariah without question. This is an important thing for us to challenge as it represents, to us, a patriarchal way of thinking in prison culture. Usually it is paired with rhetoric about the need to protect helpless wimmin and children and is just a different expression of patriarchal norms: in this case the non-"sex offender" playing protector-man by attacking anyone labeled "sex offender."
Why don't we see this with people with murder convictions? Isn't killing someone also a horrifying act that should not be tolerated? And why is sexual physical assault in prison allowed to proliferate? In the 1970s, Men Against Sexism was a group organizing in Washington state against prison rape, and they effectively ended prison rape in that state.(1) Statistics show that people "convicted of a sexual offense against a minor"(2) are more likely to be sexually assaulted in prison. Are the people who are "delivering justice" to these "sex offenders" then cast out as pariahs? Why is the state's label, and not people's actual behavior, given so much validity? These are questions United Struggle from Within comrades need to dig into much deeper.
Anti-people crimes include many different behaviors, from complacency with capitalism and imperialism, to extreme and deliberate acts of reactionary violence. Anti-people crimes include manufacturing and selling pornography, illegal drugs, and even alcohol and cigarettes, much of which is legal or at least permissible in our Liberal capitalist society. And it includes all sadistic physical assault, which would include all forms of sexual assault.
From our perspective, this discussion has raised more clearly for us the importance of not glorifying or fostering positive images of any types of anti-people violence among prisoners. Sometimes folks from lumpen organizations hold up their history of reactionary violence as a badge of honor and we need to criticize that, just like we need to be critical of any positive or even neutral discussion of sexual violence. But we still can't take the labels from the criminal injustice system as the reason for this criticism. Those locked up on protective custody yards for sexual assault convictions don't merit this criticism merely for their PC status. That gets into the realm of "no investigation, no right to speak" because we can't take the injustice system's labels as sufficient evidence.
Anti-people behavior of all kinds is unacceptable both within and around the revolutionary movement. Our challenge is in the fact that we are not currently in a position to investigate individuals' crimes. In truth the change needed from all of us is impossibly difficult without a revolutionary government and culture to back it up. As revolutionaries, we all do the best we can to fight external influences and keep our lives on a positive track so we can be contributing revolutionaries. But there is a difference between people with class/nation/gender backgrounds that will lead to counter-revolutionary thoughts and actions, and those who commit anti-people crimes. Where to draw the line between what we can deal with today and what we put off until after we have a revolutionary government in power is not a clear and easy question to answer.
In our current conditions, we have to ask ourselves, for instance, what about the persyn who commits violence as a part of eir job (say selling drugs) but then spends eir spare time building the revolutionary movement? There's a clear contradiction between these two practices. Do we dismiss eir revolutionary work entirely as a result, or do we consider em an ally while we struggle against eir reactionary violence? The answer to this will come from the masses, and not from abstract revolutionary principle.
In the real world, perhaps we don't need to make this comparison. If someone in a revolutionary organization engaged in some sort of non-sexual extreme anti-people violence the organization would need to address this directly. The intervention would at least include independent investigation and calls for self-criticism, and if an individual doesn't recognize their error and take serious steps to correct their line and practice they could be ejected from the organization. It could also include other interventions, based on the organization's needs, skills, and resources.
Any anti-people violence is going to harm the movement, and of course the people it is directed against, and so perpetrators of these actions should not be a part of our revolutionary organizations. We will still struggle with those who have class and/or national interests aligned with the revolutionary movement but who are acting out extreme anti-people violence. But until they understand why what they did/do is wrong and demonstrate change in their practice, they should not be admitted into revolutionary organizations.
Sex-Crimes vs. Other Crimes
One argument for why sexual violence should be distinguished from non-sexual violence could be that gender is the principal contradiction within any revolutionary movement that admits people of all genders, and we need to deal with it differently within our organizations. For example, we have contemplated the value of separate-gender organizations because of this contradiction, though to date we have not advocated this solution.
Another argument could be that victims of sexual violence in imperialist countries are more likely to take up revolutionary politics, fueled by their experience of gender oppression. And because of the pervasiveness of sexual assault in imperialist countries, we will end up with a lot of
revolutionaries, mostly bio-females, who have experienced sexual violence.
This could again raise gender to a principal contradiction within imperialist-country movements because of the traumatic background of so many members. It becomes a contradiction the movement has to deal with (when any patriarchal violence arises within the movement), and one of the greatest propellants forward on gender questions.
Neither of these principal contradiction arguments make a case for a significant distinction between sexual and non-sexual anti-people violence in the abstract. Rather they are relevant in terms of of how our organizations need to deal with the problems. And in both cases it has to do with the people within the movement's perception of these types of violence.
Applying this same concept to organizing in the hyper-masculine prison environment, it may make sense to exclude "sex offenders" from our projects because of the pervasive anti-"sex offender" attitude among prisoners. However, we already discussed above that we're not using the state's definitions of crime. If revolutionary prisoners determine a need to exclude people who have specifically committed sexually violent anti-people crimes from their organization, to maintain organizational strength, they should do this. But of course this is different from excluding "sex offenders." (group 2)
In dealing with sex-crimes accusations, the primary difference between organizing people on the streets and organizing in prisons is the presence of an accuser. With prisoners, we don’t generally interact with an accuser, we just have a label from the criminal injustice system. Though certainly prison-based organizations will have to deal with accusers in the case of prisoner-on-prisoner assaults. This prison-based situation is more similar to the situation in organizations on the streets where a member brings up an accusation against another member.
And in the case of prisoners, like the Central Park 5, some "sex offenders" did not even have an accuser on the street. The survivor of the assault had no recollection of the event. The state picked out these 5 young New Afrikan men to target, to set an example and vilify New Afrikans in the media. They were later all acquitted.
Whereas on the streets, or when organizing inside with non-"sex offender" prisoners who have survived sexual violence, we are almost always going to be directly interfacing with the survivors.
While we are here minimizing the state's definition of "sex offender," we in no way mean to minimize the accusations of victims of sexual violence. In general society, false accusations are statistically rare, and the best practice is to put substantial weight on the validity of accusations of sex-crimes.(3)
Anecdotally, we've seen a high prevalence of sexual violence survivors attracted to revolutionary work. It's easy to see why people who have experienced the ugliest gender oppression in our society would be drawn to revolutionary organizing. Suffering often breeds resistance.
Within revolutionary movements, the rate of false accusations is in all likelihood more common than in the general population. This is because the state will use any method imaginable to tear us down, especially from the inside out. Many comrades have been taken down from false sex-crime accusations from the state or agent provocateurs. We need to build structures in to our organizations that protect against state attacks, and simultaneously hold the claims of victims in high regard, not just of sex-crimes but of any anti-people behavior that could come up internally. This process will vary organization-to-organization, but our internal strength comes in preparation. Not only by creating a process to follow in case something does come up, but also in creating a culture, and even including membership policies, that prevent it from even happening in the first place.
These principles and processes need development and input from organizations that already have them in place and have used them. This is definitely not a new concept to revolutionary organizations and radical circles, and even with all that practice under our belt there are still many unanswered questions. Some basic practices might include: un-muddling the relationships between comrades (i.e. no dating within the org) and establishing and practicing communication methods and skills to create cultural norms for preventing chauvinistic behaviors and addressing these behaviors when they do arise.
How we handle this process now in our cell structure will be different if a cell has 2 members versus 2,000 members. The process will need to be adapted for different stages of the struggle as well, such as when we have dual power, and then again when the Joint Dictatorship of the Proletariat of the Oppressed Nations has power. And on and on, adapting our methods into a stateless communism.
Even with policies in place, we have limited means of combating chauvinism, assault allegations and other unforeseen organizational problems endemic to the left. Rather than wave off these contradictions, or put them out of sight (or cover them up, like so many First World-based parties and organizations have done), we need to build institutions that protect those who are oppressed by gender violence.
Potential for Punishment
We do not yet have the means at our disposal to deal with crimes against the people as thoroughly as we would like. To do that, we would indeed need institutions tantamount to state power. If found guilty, the most we can do is issue expulsions, orders of isolation, and disseminate warnings privately to anyone in the movement who might be endangered by the offender. The principle of these measures is the isolation and (hopefully) separation from the anti-imperialist movement of personalities that not only put comrades in physical danger, but through their violent and narcissistic habits (seeking validation, circumventing investigations, denying rectification) leave the movement open to plants and pigs who have never passed up the opportunity to use such unstable personalities as entry points. The individuals we are most interested in excluding are those who have not only committed anti-people acts, but who continue to pose active physical risks to the movement and individual comrades. In all cases which can be addressed without expulsion, we certainly encourage thorough and continual self-criticism and rectification.
Regardless of the crime though, there is almost no way MIM(Prisons) could investigate any of the crimes committed by people behind bars. We have had subscribers write to us to tell us another of our subscribers is a rat or sexual predator, and we've had people write to us who do say their conviction is true. One could make an argument that we need to ask prisoners to make a self-criticism that demonstrates that they now understand what they did was wrong, and we should do more to encourage this. But if someone doesn't admit to the crime ey is accused of, then we are at a loss.
In organizing through the mail, the most we can do is note an accusation as something to potentially be aware of for the future. If we saw this manifest in the accused subscriber's actions interacting with MIM(Prisons), or other prisoners, then we would consider cutting off contact or taking other measures to exclude em from our organizing work. The amount of resources required, and the risk of state meddling, to conduct an investigation on guilt and enforce punishment, brings us back to our line that practice must be principal in our recruiting. Comrades demonstrate in practice their commitment to the movement and their political line, and that is the best thing we have to judge them on from the outside.
Potential for Rehabilitation
How should we handle people who have committed sex-crimes by proletarian standards when they do want to continue to participate in revolutionary organizing? Should they be banned from organizing with us (which is basically how "sex offenders" are treated in prisons now)? Or relegated to the role of "supporter" only, and not member? Should we avoid organizing with them altogether, or can we work with them in united front work? Or are people who have committed sex-crimes an exception to our work building a United Front for Peace in Prisons?
Defining what we need to trust people to do (or not do) is a decent starting point. Assessing whether these tasks can be trusted to someone with a particular behavioral history is then possible. This would be true of any crime. For example, if someone had laundered money from a people's support organization in the past, it would be difficult to trust em as the treasurer of a revolutionary org. Many checks would need to be built into place in order for this persyn to be trusted to do bookkeeping, and probably it's a better use of our limited time and resources to just not have them doing the bookkeeping at all.
Whether we can actually build in these checks and balances for any crime will depend a lot on the crime itself. For example, we organize with a lot of former-gangbangers, who have a history of committing sexual violence in the context of their lumpen-criminal activities. If this was the only context in which someone engaged in sexual violence, and they have very thoroughly engaged in a self-criticism process about eir time banging, then it's reasonable to expect that if ey's not banging that ey is most likely not committing sexual violence. On the other hand, if someone committed sexual violence in the context of molesting people simply because they are weaker than em, for sadistic pleasure or eir twisted perspective of "love", we may not have resources or expertise at this time to reform these people before we destroy our current patriarchal capitalist society.
In discussing rehabilitation of people who have committed anti-people sex-crimes, we also find it useful to examine the social causes of why people commit sex-crimes in the first place. MIM(Prisons)'s analysis is that people commit these horrible acts because they are raised in our horrible patriarchal, militaristic, power-hungry, individualistic, capitalist society. Part of our challenge is we can't remove people from this society without first destroying the society. So can we expect someone who is so deeply affected by our fucked up society to also deeply heal to the point where we can trust em with whatever is needed for our struggle? Any sadistic anti-people activity will require extreme rehabilitation, which we may just not be in a position to assist with at this time. We can and should encourage self-criticism for past errors from those serious about revolution. But from a distance (through mail) our ability to help and foster this self-criticism is greatly limited.
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.
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.
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.
In my last article on China I rehashed the 40-year old argument that China abandoned the socialist road, with some updated facts and figures.(1) The article started as a review of the book Is China an Imperialist Country? by N.B. Turner, but left most of that question to be answered by Turner's book.
We did not publish that article to push some kind of struggle against Chinese imperialism. Rather, as we explained, it was an attack on the promotion of revisionism within the forum www.reddit.com/r/communism, and beyond. The forum's most-enforced rule is that only Marxists are allowed to post and participate in discussion there. Yet almost daily, posts building a persynality cult around Chinese President Xi Jinping, or promoting some supposed achievement of the Chinese government, are allowed and generally receive quick upvotes.
The title of our previous article asking is China in 2017 Socialist or Imperialist may be misunderstood to mean that China must be one or the other. This is not the case. Many countries are not socialist but are also not imperialist. In the case of China, however, it is still important (so many years after it abandoned socialism) to clarify that it is a capitalist country. And so our positive review of a book discussing Chinese imperialism, became a polemic against those arguing it is socialist.
One of the major contradictions in the imperialist era is the inter-imperialist contradiction. The United $tates is the dominant aspect of this contradiction as the main imperialist power in the world today. And currently Russia and China are growing imperialist powers on the other side of this inter-imperialist contradiction. Reading this contradiction as somehow representative of the class contradiction between bourgeoisie and proletariat or of the principal contradiction between oppressed nations and oppressor nations would be an error.
We have continued to uphold that China is a majority exploited country, and an oppressed nation.(2) But China is a big place. Its size is very much related to its position today as a rising imperialist power. And its size is what allows it to have this dual character of both a rising imperialist class and a majority proletariat and peasantry. Finally, its size is part of what has allowed an imperialist class to rise over a period of decades while insulating itself from conflict with the outside world — both with exploiter and exploited nations.
A major sign that a country is an exploiting country is the rise and subsequent dominance of a non-productive consumer class. At first, the Chinese capitalists depended on Western consumers to grease the wheels of their circulation of capital. While far from the majority, as in the United $tates and Europe, China has more recently begun intentionally developing a domestic consumer class.(3) This not only helps secure the circulation of capital, but begins to lay the groundwork for unequal exchange that would further favor China in its trade with other countries. Unequal exchange is a mechanism that benefits the rich First World nations, and marks a more advanced stage of imperialism than the initial stages of exporting capital to relieve the limitations of the nation-state on monopoly capitalism. As we stated in the article cited above, China's size here becomes a hindrance in that it cannot become a majority exploiter country, having 20% of the world's population, without first displacing the existing exploiter countries from that role. Of course, this will not stop them from trying and this will be a contradiction that plays out in China's interactions with the rest of the world and internally. At the same time with an existing "middle class" that is 12-15% of China's population, they are well on their way to building a consumer class that is equal in size to that of Amerika's.(3)
In our last article, we hint at emerging conflicts between China and some African nations. But the conflict that is more pressing is the fight for markets and trade dominance that it faces with the United $tates in the Pacific region and beyond. China remains, by far, the underdog in this contradiction, or the rising aspect. But again, its size is part of what gives it the ability to take positions independent of U.$. imperialism.
As we stated in our most recent article, this contradiction offers both danger and opportunity. We expect it to lead to more support for anti-imperialist forces as the imperialists try to undercut each other by backing their enemies. Then, as anti-imperialism strengthens, the imperialists will face more global public opinion problems in pursuing their goals of exploitation and domination. In other words, a rising imperialist China bodes well for the international proletariat. Not because China is a proletarian state, but because the era of U.$. hegemony must end for a new era of socialism to rise. We should be clear with people about the definitions of imperialism and socialism to make this point.
China's potential to play a progressive role in the world in coming years does not change the fact that the counter-revolution led by Deng Xiaoping dismantled the greatest achievement towards reaching communism so far in history. If we do not learn from that very painful setback, then we are not applying the scientific method and we will not even know what it is that we are fighting for. How and when socialism ended in China is a question that is fundamental to Maoism.
The United $tates locks up New Afrikans at a rate more than 5 times Euro-Amerikans. The rate for [email protected] is at least 1.4 times higher than whites, and the way the prisons collect information on "Hispanics" makes this number likely an underestimate.(1) This dramatic over-incarceration of oppressed nations in U.$. prisons isn't new. But the huge numbers of people locked up is a relatively recent phenomenon. In the 1960s the disparity between incarceration rates was actually about the same as it is today. But the prison population was much smaller, so it impacted a lot fewer people.
In 1960, the white male incarceration rate was 262 per 100,000 white U.S. residents, and the New Afrikan male rate was 1,313; that's 5x the rate for whites. By 2010 this disparity had risen to 6x. This means New Afrikan men were six times more likely to be locked up than white men. This discrepancy had a much bigger impact in 2010 because incarceration rates skyrocketed starting in the 1970s, so that by 2010 the New Afrikan male incarceration rate was 4,347 per 100,000.(2)
In 2000 the discrepancy in incarceration rates between New Afrikans and whites actually started dropping, and by 2015 it was back down to the 1960 levels. Between 2000 and 2015 the imprisonment rate of New Afrikan men dropped 24%, while at the same time the incarceration rate of white men rose slightly. Among wimmin we see the same trend but with a 50% drop for New Afrikan wimmin and a 50% increase for white wimmin.(3)
We need to put these changes in context. The incarceration rate of New Afrikans is still ridiculously higher than for whites! National oppression in prisons has not been eliminated, not even close. At the current rate of change, it would take until around the year 2100 to hit imprisonment equality by nation.
But we can't ignore changes like these, especially when they are consistent over a 15 year period.
Prisons are used primarily as a tool of social control by the United $tates government. Oppressed nations have always been a threat because of the dialectical relationship between oppressed and oppressor. And so oppressed nations face the highest incarceration rates. And the biggest targets are those who are organizing for revolutionary change, as we saw with the massive COINTELPRO operations against the Black Panther Party and the Young Lords Party in the 1970s.
So why would the criminal injustice system shift to lowering the rate of incarceration of New Afrikans but not doing the same for whites? One possible explanation is that changes to the criminal injustice system have been proceeding at different rates in cities and in non-urban areas. The drop in incarcerations rates has been largely driven by lower rates in cities while incarceration in rural areas has remained unchanged.(3) We may see these changes even out over time.
Post-emancipation proclamation, we have seen changes in national oppression in Amerikan society at various times in history. These changes generally happen in response to social movements. Reforms ranged from ending legal segregation to curtailing overt discrimination in arenas like housing, employment, and loans. But these reforms didn't actually put an end to these practices; the reality of segregation and discrimination continued, just shifted to more subtle or hidden forms. Nonetheless, we can say that in some regards conditions for oppressed nations within U.$. borders have improved. This is not surprising as the U.$. government can't really afford to have active unrest within its borders while it's fighting so many overt and proxy wars around the world. Imperialism is more stable when it can keep its home country population pacified.
In a wealthy imperialist country, the capitalists have the money to partly integrate the internal semi-colonies, buying them off with the benefits of imperialist plunder. But the national oppression is so entrenched in modern imperialist society that we don't anticipate full integration of these internal semi-colonies. And so we think it's likely the gap between white and oppressed nation imprisonment rates won't come close to closing. But the current trends in imprisonment rates are something to keep watching.
The United $tates government, and society in general, spend an enormous amount of money on the criminal injustice system. The primary reason behind this expenditure, from the perspective of the government, is social control of oppressed nations within the United $tates.(see Politics of Mass Incarceration article) But there are other beneficiaries, and losers, in this expensive criminal injustice system. In this article we will look at where the money comes from; who is benefiting and who is paying; and how these economic interests play into our strategy to organize against the criminal injustice system.
This is a follow-up to "MIM(Prisons) on U.S. Prison Economy" written in 2009. By periodically looking at these economic facts and trends we can gain insights into how the imperialist system operates and what strategies and tactics will be most effective in our struggle against imperialism.
Direct costs of prisons
Total spending on prisons and jails more than quadrupled over the twenty years between 1980 and 2010, from approximately $17 billion in 1980 to more than $80 billion in 2010. When including expenditures for police, judicial and legal services, the direct costs reached $261 billion.(1)
For comparison, in 2015 the United $tates "defense" budget was $637 billion, up from $379 billion in 1980, a 68% increase.(2,3) In that same period, total government spending on K-12 education more than doubled, going from $271 billion to over $621 billion.(3) So we can see the growth in criminal injustice system spending was dramatically faster than the growth in other government spending.
Hidden costs of prisons
Direct expenditures on prisons are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the economic impact of prisons. One study, conducted in 2016, estimated the total aggregate burden of imprisonment at $1 trillion, with an additional $10 in social costs for every $1 spent on corrections. This means that most of that $1 trillion is being borne by families, community members, and prisoners themselves.(4)
Being locked up in prison comes with a lot of negative consequences beyond the obvious loss of years of one's life spent behind bars. Economically these costs include lost wages, reduced earnings once on the streets, injuries sustained behind bars (from guards and other prisoners), and for some the ultimate price of death from fatal injuries while in prison, or a shorter life expectancy for prisoners. This totals up to annual costs of just under $400 billion dollars per year.
Estimated Costs borne by prisoners:(4)
Lost wages while imprisoned ($70.5 billion)
Reduced lifetime earnings ($230.0 billion)
Nonfatal injuries sustained in prison ($28.0 billion)
Higher mortality rates of former prisoners ($62.6 billion)
Fatal injuries to prisoners ($1.7 billion)
Beyond the direct costs to prisoners, family members and society in general carry an even larger financial burden. This includes direct costs like traveling for visitation of loved ones and moving costs when families can no longer afford their homes. But also less obvious costs like the impact prison has on family members which has been demonstrated to worsen the health and educational achievement of prisoners' children, leaving some homeless, lead to higher rates of divorce and also reduce the marriage rate in the community. Further there are costs to society from homelessness of released prisoners, and reentry programs and others serving prisoners.
Estimates of Costs Borne by Families, Children, and Communities:(4)
Visitation costs ($0.8 billion)
Adverse health effects ($10.2 billion)
Infant mortality ($1.2 billion)
Children's education level and subsequent wages as an adult ($30.0 billion)
Children rendered homeless by parental imprisonment ($0.9 billion)
Homelessness of former prisoners ($2.2 billion)
Decreased property values ($11.0 billion)
Divorce ($17.7 billion)
Reduced marriage ($9.0 billion)
Child welfare ($5.3 billion)
These expenses disproportionately impact oppressed nation communities as the primary target of the criminal injustice system. A majority of prisoners are New Afrikan and [email protected], and this is a form of economic oppression against those nations. Unlike government expenditures which create jobs and fund industries, most of these expenses do not directly financially benefit anyone. This is just economic punishment piled on top of the punishment. The massive United $tates prison system is not just a tool of repression, it is actively worsening the economic conditions of oppressed nations, keeping significant sectors of these nations trapped in precarious conditions.
Prisons Create Jobs
While prisons have a devastating impact on oppressed nation communities in the United $tates, they play a different role for the disproportionately white employees of the criminal injustice system and the mostly rural communities in which these prisons operate.
Of the direct expenditures on prisons and jails, a lot of money goes to jobs for guards and other correctional employees. In 2016 there were 431,600 guards in prisons and jails, earning on average $46,750 per year or $22.48 per hour.(5)
We can see striking examples in states like New York and California where prisons are clustered in rural white communities (upstate New York and in the central valley of California), but they are imprisoning mostly oppressed nation people from urban communities.
In 2012 (the latest data available from the U.$. Bureau of Justice) the total number of criminal injustice system employees across federal, state and local governments was 2,425,011 of which 749,418 were prison staff.(6) About half of the total corrections budget goes to pay salaries for prison staff, which is two orders of magnitude than the $400 million in profits of private prison companies.(17)
There are other jobs generated more indirectly by prison spending: construction jobs building and maintaining prisons, and jobs in all of the industries that supply the prisons with food, bedding, clothing, and other basics required to support the prison population. While some of these costs are recovered through prisoner labor (we will address this topic in more detail in ULK 62), the vast majority is still paid for by the government. Vendors also make a lot of money through commissary, phone bills, and other costs to prisoners. There are clearly a lot of individuals and corporations with an economic interest in the criminal injustice system.
Most prisons are in rural areas, often in poorer parts of states. Some prison towns are entirely centered around employment at the prison, or support services like hotels for visiting families. Others may have a more diversified economy but the prisons still provide a significant number of jobs for residents. These jobs give workers, and the community their jobs are supporting, a strong interest in seeing prisons stay full or grow bigger.
In reality, many jobs in newly-built prisons go to people from outside of the community where it was built. People with experience are brought in to fill these jobs. Many of these workers commute to the prison rather than relocate to a rural town. And there is some evidence that in the long run prisons are bad for the economy of rural communities. But this is definitely not a popular opinion as many communities lobby aggressively for prison construction. Once a prison is in place in a community, even if it's not working out so well, it's not easy to reverse course and change the economy. As a result some towns end up lobbying for building more prisons to help bolster their economy once they have one in place.(7)
Given the size of the criminal injustice system, and the many people employed in and around it, this is a big incentive to maintain Amerika's crazy high imprisonment rates. It's like a huge public works program where the government gives money to create jobs and subsidize corporations working in and around prisons.
State vs. Federal Funding
Most prison spending is at the state level. In 2010 state governments paid 57% of the direct cash costs, while 10% came from the federal government and 33% from local governments.(1) It's all government money, but this fact is interesting because it means state economic interest is likely more important than federal economic interest in determining criminal injustice system spending.
Looking closer at state spending on prisons we find that imprisonment rates vary dramatically by state (8). Top states by imprisonment rate per 100,000 adults:
All other states have rates under 1000 with a few states down in the 300s.
Prison populations are still growing in a few states, but in the top imprisonment rate states listed above only Arizona's population grew between 2014 and 2015 (1.6%). Most of the states with an increase in imprisonment rate between 2014 and 2015 were very small states with smaller prison populations overall.(9)
There is a skewing towards high imprisonment rates in southern states. These are typically poorer states with fewer economic resources. It's possible these states feel a stronger drive to build prisons as an economic growth tool, in spite of the evidence mentioned above now suggesting this isn't necessarily the best path for towns to take. It's an interesting "investment" decision by these poorer southern states that suggests there is more than just economics in play since it is a money-losing operation for already financially strapped states.
Just as the decrease in country-wide imprisonment rates coincided with the peak of the recession in 2008, it's inevitable that economic interests by the states, and by the many employees of the criminal injustice system, are also influencing prison growth and prison shrinkage. In some cases it is a battle between the interests of the prison workers, who want prisons to grow, and the states that want to stop bleeding so much money into the prisons. In each state different conditions will determine who wins.
Economic Crisis and State Responses
In 2009, MIM(Prisons) looked at the potential of the economic crisis to motivate a reduction in prison populations to address state budget shortages. We cited a few examples painting that as an unlikely scenario. The statistics do show that the total imprisoned population has dipped since then. Here we revisit some of the big prison states to see how things have shaken out since 2008.
If anything, overcrowding continues to be a bigger issue in many states than funding issues. Though overcrowding may reflect a reluctance to build new facilities, which is related to budgets. Ohio just celebrated a modest decrease in their prison population at the end of 2017.(10) At 49,420, the population was a few thousands smaller than projected four years earlier when things weren't looking so good.(11) But overall the numbers have just hovered around 50,000 since before the 2008 economic crisis.
Ohio was looking to the court-ordered prison population reduction in California as an example of what might happen there if they didn't get their numbers under control. The California reduction (or "realignment") was to address overcrowding in response to a lawsuit about conditions, and not budget problems. It was significant, with a reduction of almost 30,000 prisoners in the year following the "realignment." Numbers are even lower today. However, county populations have increased as a result, with an estimated increase of 1 county prisoner for every 3 reduced in the state system. In other words, the county population was up over 10,000 people following the realignment.(12) Still California accounted for a majority of the decrease in prisoners in the United $tates since 2010.
Former Illinois Governor Pat Quinn canceled plans to close Pontiac Correctional Center back in 2009. But current Governor Bruce Rauner has a plan to reduce the population by 25% over the next decade, already having reduced it by thousands over a couple years.(13) The Illinois state system also remains over capacity at this time. However, Governor Rauner primarily cites fiscal concerns as eir motivation for the reforms.(14) Texas also recently reduced its population by 5,000, closing one prison. Both Texas and Illinois did this by putting more money into treatment programs and release resources.(14)
Pennsylvania has also implemented reforms in sentencing and preventing recidivism.(15) After the passing of the 2012 Justice Reinvestment Act, population numbers began to level off and even decrease by hundreds each year. Like Ohio, Pennsylvania's population has been hovering around 50,000, and like many other states these numbers remain over capacity for the state (which is closer to 43,000).(16)
Overall we're still talking about fairly marginal numbers here, and not a systematic transformation. We peaked at 2.3 million prisoners in the United $tates, and now we're closer to 2.1 million. Still by far the highest imprisonment rate in the world. Ultimately, the economic crisis of 2008 did not have a huge impact on Amerikans because of the ability of imperialism to push crisis off on the periphery. But we can conclude from this experience that a serious economic crises is not enough to significantly change the course of the massive Amerikkkan injustice system.
Prisoners, their family and the community pay a heavy price for imprisonment, and this includes a significant financial cost. The impact on oppressed nation communities plays into the ongoing national oppression that is part of imperialism. So we shouldn't be surprised by an imperialist society tolerating and even perpetuating these costs.
But prisons also cost the government a lot of money. And clearly these costs have not deterred the United $tates government from maintaining the highest imprisonment rate in the world. It's a very expensive public works program, if all this money is being spent just to supply jobs to the many workers in and around the criminal injustice system. Although these jobs do provide significant political incentive to sustain prisons at their current level, Amerikan capitalist history provides us with plenty of examples of cheaper and more socially productive programs that create jobs for groups currently employed by the criminal injustice system. It's clearly a political choice to continue with this expenditure and pour money into a costly system of social control.
Some anti-prison activists try to use the high costs of prison to their advantage, organizing around slogans that emphasize that this money could be better spent elsewhere, like on education. The 10-year aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis demonstrates the weakness of this approach. The social forces of change are not coming from state bureaucracy budget offices. The social force for change are the oppressed nations that are still being targeted by the out-of-control injustice system, and the lumpen organizations that come up as a means of self-defense from this oppression.