† Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.
Liberals Take the Bait and Switch ~ the Myth of “Bipartisan Criminal Justice Reform”
by nancy a heitzeg
We agree with the New York Times: End Mass Incarceration Now. Increasingly, many do, as there are widening calls for “criminal justice reform.” But what does that look like?
We at CI have always advocated for Abolition, and that is certainly not the mainstay of what is being proposed. As we have written before, many calls for “bipartisan criminal justice reform” are thinly masked appeals to right-wing driven policies that seem “reasonable” in the short-run, but in the end make the prison industrial complex even more entrenched with new avenues for profiteering, and new color-blind policies that magnify racial disparity.
The reality of the “Right on Crime” agenda, is most simply, more privatization. Privatization ensures that any possibility for public accountability vanishes. Further privatization of criminal justice serves to pave the way for expanded privatization of other public programs such as Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, education, food and nutrition assistance, and so on. As we recently warned: expect more of this in the upcoming months and years ahead.
Case in point:
On the surface, this may seem reasonable, but pay careful attention to the rhetoric. Notice that the two problem states singled are are the Deep Blue states of New York and California – no accident. Notice too that Gingrich misleads by suggesting the $ is spent to keep inmates “hired” ( it isn’t – it is the per capita cost of incarceration) as if we are paying them $168,000 per yer. He certainly isn’t proposing that we use any money saved to send inmates to Yale, or seek meaningful efforts to reduce the structural conditions that contribute to incarceration, or in the specific example of Rikers Island where 40% of the population faces mental health issues, address the lack of funding for meaningful mental health services. No, he is complaining about money “wasted on prisoners”. In fact, his primary concern – as well as that of his colleagues on the right - is ” wasteful government spending” and so-called “public safety”. No surprises here.
Notice too the obfuscation created by our Token Democrat Van Jones. While Jones is justified in his condemnation of the exploding California prison system and Governor Brown’s “doubling down” on mass incarceration (see The PIC – Old School/New School 2 The Golden Gulag and Prison Privatization Part 1: Another Cautionary Tale from California), he is sadly mistaken if he thinks Mississippi’s “prison reform” is to be lauded or held up as an example of a leader in efforts to reduce mass incarceration. “Forward -leaning and progressive”? “Smarter”?
To the contrary.