† 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. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.
The PIC – Old School/New School 2
by nancy a heitzeg
Last week CI took a close look at the PIC Old School in that Incarceration Capital of the World: Louisiana. It is easy to find evidence there of the largely uninterrupted connection between plantation slavery, convict lease/prison farms ( aka slavery by another name) and the continued practices of racialized mass incarceration for profit. In many respects, it is the embodiment of that 13th Amendment loophole: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
Slavery unwilling to die. Writ Large.
Today, we examine that the epicenter of the contemporary PIC – California, which until recently imprisoned in sheers numbers more than any state. More prisoners than Louisiana, than Florida, probably still more than Texas even if we count those transferred to county jails — nearly a quarter million locked away. Numbers so excessive they made the SCOTUS blink and declare that the extreme over-crowding must be reduced by as many as 30,000 inmates. This over-crowding is especially egregious at the Central California Women’s Facility at Chowchilla, the world’s largest prison for women, which is currently housing nearly double capacity. And although California has not conducted an execution in 7 years, it still retains – by far – the largest death row in the nation.
It is California – the Golden Gulag - that brings us the expansion of the modern pic – driven by a draconian three strikes law ( just recently revised), the proliferation of gang legislation, correctional spending that far outstrips educational investments, excessive use of solitary confinement and SuperMax conditions, and a powerful police officer and prison guard union that stands in the way of any meaningful efforts to reduce mass incarceration.
While the racism is less overt and the system newer in design, the connections are inescapable and the inhumane results much the same. It is impossible to fully address the complexity of California’s penal code and massive correctional apparatus here, so what follows is a brief overview of the genesis and results of a prison-building and filling project that is “”biggest in the history of the world”. Certainly, as always, it is based on the latest data and analysis, but also on a first-hand glimpse of the state of incarceration and resistance in Northern California.