† 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
by nancy a heitzeg
Editors Note: For the past several years now, I have taught courses on dismantling racism that encourage a critical examination of the prison industrial complex via direct on – site observation. First in the State of Louisiana and the City of New Orleans — the incarceration capitals of the world. There is No Where to better explore the deep and undeniable connections between the old system of plantation slavery and its’ current manifestations in the contemporary prison industrial complex.
It is all revealed in brutal starkness at LSP Angola. This is the nations’ largest maximum security prison and the only prison with its own zip code, houses more than 5200 inmates, all serving sentences of at least 30 years, most serving life. Otherwise known as The Farm, Angola is located on the site of an old 18,000 acre plantation, converted after Reconstruction into a state penitentiary. Angola depends on neo-slave inmate labor starting at 2 cents per hour. The highest available wage for a few rare jobs is 20 cents per hour.
This year, we examined 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 46,000 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. (For those of you in California, please join the California Coalition for Women Prisoners Chowchilla Freedom Rally on January 26 or support this in any way you can. More on that next week.)
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.
The contrasts and connections between these two “leaders” in incarceration is instructive, as is an examination at the multitude of grassroots efforts at resistance. Because, yes, wherever there are cages –there are those seeking to open them.
You can read 10 million books, but there is no substitute ever for Being There. So in the next few weeks, CI will take a closer look at the Old School version of the prison industrial complex as exemplified by Louisiana and the New School configuration as evidenced in California. We will “be there” and see what lessons are revealed for all of us as we continue to challenge both the premises and practices of mass imprisonment.
I was reminded again recently of a provocative post by our comrades at Prison Culture: What Should We Make Of Prison Tourism? Always mixed feelings and a deep sense of obligation about visiting prisons both defunct and especially active. At least this: if you have been there you must report back. You must add your voice to the rising opposition.
One of my students — a woman who herself had done time in prison – put it best, with these remarks after a “tour” of Angola.
“Prisoners don’t have a voice,” she said”, “At least now they have 20 more.”
We Need a Million More.
Please join us.