SYG 2000 GCU Are Prisons Obsolete Discussion

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Are Prisons Obsolete?

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Michelle Alexander's New York Time's Best Seller "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness" addresses the failure of a prison system that has disproportionately targeted poor communities of color.

Check out Chapter 1 here: -----> Download The_New_Jim_Crow-1.pdf

Angela Davis, Emeritus Professor of UC Santa Cruz wrote her epic title, "Are Prison's Obsolete."

You can find the first chapter of her book here: -----> Download Angela-Davis-Are_Prisons_Obsolete-1.pdf

The Sentencing Project has this brief that will also help your understanding of the big picture!

You can access that brief here: ----> Download U.S.-Prison-Decline-Insufficient-to-Undo-Mass-Incarceration.pdf

Considering the reality of institutional racism in corrections, consider the following questions for your discussion. You may do additional research on the web to fill out your answers!

1. What does 'mass incarceration' mean and who is primarily affected by this phenomenon?

2. Why is prison reform necessary, according to Davis and others?

3. What alternatives to incarceration would you suggest for people convicted of crimes? Research options and share a link with the class, describing these alternatives.

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sa.jls: $13.95 CANADA £6.99 UK "In this extraordinary book. Ang la Davis challenges us to confront the human rights catastrophe In our jails and prisons. As she so convincingly argues, the contemporary U.S. practice of super-incarceration is closer to new age slavery than to any recognizable system of 'criminal justice.'" -Mike Davis, author of Dead Cities and City of Quartz "In this brilliant, thoroughly researched book. Angela Davis swings a wrecking ball Into the racist and sexist underpinnings of the American prison system. Her arguments are well wrought and restrained, leveling an unflinching critique of how and why more than 2 million Americans are presently behind bars, and the corporations who profit from their suffering. Davis explores the bias­ es that criminalize communities of color, politically disenfranchising huge chunks of minority voters in the process. Uncompromising in her vision, Davis calls not merely for prison reform, but for nothing short of 'new terrains of justice.' Another Invaluable work In the Open Media Series by one of America's last truly fearless public intellectuals." -formor ConQresswoman Cynthia McKinney ISBN 1-58322-581-1 fill ••JK TRADE BY CONSORTIUM "T ARE PRISONS OBSOLETE? AnCJela Y. Davis An Open Media Book SEVEN STORIES PRESS New York Contents © 2003 by Angela Y . Davis Open Media series editor, Greg Ruggiero. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproiuced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, by any means, includ· ing mechanical, electric, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the written permission of the publisher. In Canada: Publishers Group Canada, 250A Carlton Street, Toronto , ONM5A211 In the U.K.: Turnaround Publisher Services Ltd., Unit 3, Olympia Acknowledgments . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . In Australia: PalgraveMa cmillan, 627 Chapel Street, South Yarra, Perspectives Toward Prison . . ISBN·lO: 1·58322·581-1/ ISBN-I3: 978-1-58322-581-3 Printed in Canada. 7 6 . . . . . . .... . .7 . . . . . . 9 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .40 . . . . . . . . . . . 60 . . . . . . . . . . . 84 CHAPTER 3 Cover design and photos: Greg Ruggiero 8 . Introduction-Prison Reform or Prison Abolition? CHAPTER 2 Slavery, Civil Rights, and Abolitionist 9 . CHAPTER 1 Trading Estate, Coburg Road, Wood Green, London N22 6TZ VIC 3141 . . 5 4 3 Imprisonment and Reform . . . CHAPTER 4 How Gender Structures the Prison System CHAPTERS The Prison Industrial Complex . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 105 CHAPTER 6 Abolitionist Alteruatives ... . . Resources Notes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .116 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 119 About the Author . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 128 . . . . . . 5 Acknowledgments I should not be listed as the sole author of this book, for its ideas reflect various forms of collaboration over the last six years with activists, scholars, prisoners, and cultural work­ ers who have tried to reveal and contest the impact of the prison industrial complex on the lives of people-within and outside prisons-throughout the world. The organizing committee for the 1998 Berkeley conference, Critical Resistance: Beyond the Prison Industrial Complex, included Bo (rita d. brown), Ellen Barry, Jennifer Beach, Rose Braz, Julie Browne, Cynthia Chandler, Kamari Clarke, Leslie DiBenedetto Skopek, Gita Drury, Rayne Galbraith, Ruthie Gilmore, Naneen Karraker, Terry Kupers, Rachel Lederman, Joyce Miller, Dorsey Nunn, Dylan Rodriguez, Eli Rosenblatt, Jane Segal, Cassandra Shaylor, Andrea Smith, Nancy Stoller, Julia Sudbury, Robin Templeton, and Suran Thrift. In the long process of coordinating plans for this con­ ference, which attracted over three thousand people, we worked through a number of the questions that I raise in this book. I thank the members of that committee, including those who used the conference as a foundation to build the organization Critical Resistance. In :2000, I was a member of a University of California Humanities Research Institute Resident Research Group and had the opportunity to partic- 7 1 ipate in regular discussions on many of these issues. I thank the members of the group-Gina Dent, Ruth Gilmore, Avery Gordon, David Goldberg, Nancy Schepper Hughes, and Sandy Barringer-for their invaluable insights. Introduction-Pris on Reform or Pris on Abolition? Cassandra Shaylor and I coauthored a report to the 2.001 World Conference Against Racism on women of color and the prison industrial complex-a number of whose ideas have made their way into this book. I have also drawn from a number of other recent articles I have published in various collections. Over the last five years Gina Dent and I have made numerous presentations together, published together, and engaged in protracted conversations on what it means to In most parts of the world, it is taken for granted that who­ do scholarly and activist work that can encourage us all to ever is convicted of a serious crime will be sent to prison. In imagine a world without prisons. I thank her for reading the some countries-including the United States-where capital manuscript and I am deeply appreciative of her intellectual punishment has not yet been abolished, a small but signifi­ and emotional support. Finally, I thank Greg Ruggiero, the cant number of people are sentenced to death for what are editor of this for his patience and encouragement. considered especially grave crimes. Many people are familiar with the campaign to abolish the death penalty. In fact, it has already been abolished in most countries. Even the staunchest advocates of capital punishment acknowledge the fact that the death penalty faces serious challenges. Few peo­ ple find life without the death penalty difficult to imagine. On the other hand, the prison is considered an inevitable and permanent feature of our social lives. Most people are quite surprised to hear that the prison abolition movement also has a long history-one that dates back to the historical appearance of the prison as the main form of punishment. In fact, the most natural reaction is to assume that prison activists-even those who consciously refer to themselves as " antiprison activists"-are simply trying to ameliorate prison conditions or perhaps to reform the prison in more fundamental ways. In most circles prison abolition is simply unthinkable and implausible. Prison abolitionists are dis- 8 I Angela Y. Davis 9 missed as utopians and idealists whose ideas are at best unre­ When I first became involved in antiprison activism dur­ alistic and impracticable, and, at worst, mystifying and fool­ ing the late 1 960s, I was astounded to learn that there were ish. This is a measure of how difficult it is to envision a then close to two hundred thousand people in prison. Had social order that does not rely on the threat of sequestering anyone told me that in three decades ten times as many peo­ people in dreadful plaees designed to separate them from ple would be locked away in cages, I would have been their communities and families. The prison is considered so absolutely incredulous. I imagine that I would have respond­ "natural" that it is extremely hard to imagine life without it. ed something like this: IIAs racist and undemocratic as this It is my hope that this book will encourage readers to country may be [remember, during that period, the demands question their own assumptions about the prison. Many peo­ of the Civil Rights movement had not yet been consolidat­ ple have already reached the conclusion that the death penal­ edt I do not believe that the U.S. government will be able to ty is an outmoded form of punishment that violates basic lock up so many people without producing powerful public principles of human rights. It is time, I believe, to encourage resistance. No, this will never happen, not unless this coun­ similar conversations about the prison. During my own try plunges into fascism." That might have been my reac­ career as an antiprison activist I have seen the population of tion thirty years ago. The reality is that we were called upon u.s. prisons increase with such rapidity that many people in to inaugurate the twenty-first century by accepting the fact black, Latino, and Native American communities now have that two million a far greater chance of going to prison than of getting a decent of many countries-are living their lives in places like Sing group larger than the population education. When many young people decide to join the mili­ Sing, Leavenworth, San Quentin, and Alderson Federal tary service in order to avoid the inevitability of a stint in Reformatory for Women. The gravity of these numbers prison, it should cause us to wonder whether we should not becomes even more apparent when we consider that the try to introduce better alternatives. U.S. population in general is less than five percent of the The question of whether the prison has become an obso­ world's total, whereas more than twenty percent of the lete institution has become especially urgent in light of the world's combined prison population can be claimed by the fact that more than two million people (out of a world total United States. In Elliott Currie's words, "[t]he prison has of nine million! now inhabit U.S. prisons, jails, youth facili­ become a looming presence in our society to an extent ties, and immigrant detention centers. Are we willing to rel­ unparalleled in our history or that of any other industrial egate ever larger numbers of people from racially oppressed democracy. Short of major wars, mass incarceration has eommunities to an isolated existence marked by authoritari­ been the most thoroughly implemented government social an regimes, violence, disease, and technologies of seclusion program of our time."2 that produce severe mental instability? According to a recent In thinking about the possible obsolescence of the prison, study, there may be twice as many people suffering from we should ask how it is that so many people could end up in mental illness who are in jails and prisons than there are in prison without major debates regarding the efficacy of incar­ all psychiatric hospitals in the United States combined.l ceration. When the drive to produce more prisons and incar- 10 I Angela Y. Davis A R E P R I SONS O B S O L ET E? 1 11 cerate ever larger numbers of people occurred in the 1980s Facility for Women, were opened between 1984 and 1989. during what is known as the Reagan era, politicians argued Recall that it had taken more than a hundred years to build the that "tough on crime" stances-including certain imprison­ first nine California prisons. In less than a single decade, the ment and longer sentences-would keep communities free number of California prisons doubled. And during the 1990s, of mass incarceration during twelve new prisons were opened, including two more for of crime. However, the that period had little or no effect on official crime rates. In women. In 1995 the Valley State Prison for Women was fact, the most obvious pattern was that larger prison popu­ opened. According to its mission statement, it "provides 1,980 lations led not to safer communities, but, rather, to even women's beds for California's overcrowded prison system." larger prison populations. Each new prison spawned yet However, in 2002, there were 3,570 prisoners5 and the other another new prison. And as the U.S. prison system expand­ two women's prisons were equally overcrowded. ed, so did corporate involvement in construction, provision There are now thirty-three prisons, thirty-eight camps, six­ labor. Because of the teen community correctional facilities, and five tiny prisoner extent to which prison building and operation began to mother facilities in California. In 2002 there were 157,979 of goods and services, and use of attract vast amounts of capital-from the construction people incarcerated in these institutions, including approxi­ industry to food and health care provision-in a way that mately twenty thousand people whom the state holds for recalled the emergence of the military industrial complex, immigration violations. The racial composition of this prison we began to refer to a "prison industrial complex. "3 population is revealing. Latinos, who are now in the majority, Consider the case of California, whose landscape has account for 35.2 percentj African-Americans 30 percent; and been thoroughly prisonized over the last twenty years. The white prisoners 29.2 percent.6 There are now more women in first state prison in California was San Quentin, which prison in the state of California than there were in the entire opened in 1852.4 Folsom, another well-known institution, country in the early 1970s. In fact, California can claim the opened in 1880. Between 1880 and 1933, when a facility for largest women's prison in the world, Valley State Prison for women was opened in Tehachapi, there was not a single new Women, with its more than thirty-five hundred inhabitants. prison constructed. In 1952, the California Institution for Located in the same town as Valley State and literally across Women opened and Tehachapi became a new prison for the street is the second-largest women's prison in the world­ men. In all, between 1852 and 1955, nine prisons were con­ Central California Women's Facility-whose population in structed in California. Between 1962 and 1965, two camps 2002 also hovered around thirty-five hundred.! were established, along with the California Rehabilitation If you look at a map of California depicting the location Center. Not a single prison opened during the second half of of the thirty-three state prisons, you will see that the only the sixties, nor during the entire decade of the 1970s. However, a massive project of prison construction was ini­ area that is not heavily populated by prisons is the area north of Sacramento. Still, there are two prisons in the town tiated during the 1980s-that is, during the years of the Reagan of Susanville, and Pelican Bay, one of the state's notorious presidency. Nine prisons, including the Northern California super-maximum security prisons, is near the Oregon border. 12 1 Angela Y. Davis A R E P R I S ONS O B S OL E T E ? 1 13 California artist Sandow Birle was inspired by the colonizing occurred. At the same time, this promise of progress helps of the landscape by prisons to produce a series of thirty-three us to understand why the legislature and California's voters landscape paintings of these institutions and their surround­ decided to approve the construction of all these new prisons. ings. They are collected in his book Incarcerated: Visions of People wanted to believe that prisons would not only reduce California in tbe Twenty-first Century.8 crime, they would also provide jobs and stimulate econom­ I present this brief narrative of the prisonization of the ic development in out-of-the-way places. California landscape in order to allow readers to grasp how At bottom, there is one fundamental question: Why do we easy it was to produce a massive system of incarceration with take prison for granted? While a relatively small proportion the implicit consent of the public. Why were people so quick of the population has ever directly experienced life inside to assume that locking away an increasingly large proportion prison, this is not true in poor black and Latino communi· of the U.S. population would help those who live in the free ties. Neither is it true for Native Americans or for certain world feel safer and more secure? This question can be for­ Asian-American communities. But even among those people mulated in more general terms. Why do prisons tend to make who must regrettably accept prison sentences-especially people think that their own rights and liberties are more young people-as an ordinary dimension of community life, secure than they would be if prisons did not exist? What other it is hardly acceptable to engage in serious public discussions reasons might there have been for the rapidity with which about prison life or radical alternatives to prison. It is as if prisons began to colonize the California landscape? prison were an inevitable fact of life, like birth and death. Geographer Ruth Gilmore describes the expansion of pris­ On the whole, people tend to take prisons for granted. It ons in California as "a geographical solution to socia-eco­ is difficult to imagine life without them. At the same time, nomic problems."9 Her analysis of the prison industrial com­ there is reluctance to face the realities hidden within them, plex in California describes these developments as a response a fear of thinking about what happens inside them. Thus, to surpluses of capital, land, labor, and state capacity. the prison is present in our lives and, at the same time, it is absent from our lives. To think about this simultaneous California's new prisons are sited on devalued rural presence and absence is to begin to acknowledge the part land, most, in fact on formerly irrigated agricultur­ played by ideology in shaping the way we interact with our al acres . . . The State bought land sold by big social surroundings. We take prisons for granted but are landowners. And the State assured the small, often afraid to face the realities they produce. After all, no depressed towns now shadowed by prisons that the one wants to go to prison. Because it would be too agonizing new, recession-proof, non-polluting industry would to cope with the possibility that anyone, including our­ jump-start local redevelopment.lO selves, could become a prisoner, we tend to think of the prison as disconnected from our own lives. This is even true But, as Gilmore points out, neither the jobs nor the more general economic revitalization promised by prisons has 14 1 Angela Y. Davis for some of us, women as well as men, who have already experienced imprisonment. A R E P R I S O N S O B S O L ETE? 1 1 5 We thus think about imprisonment as a fate reserved for others, a fate reserved for the "evildoers," to use a term recently popularized by George W. Bush. Because of the per­ sistent power of racism, criminals" and IIevildoers" are, in the collective imagination, fantasized as people of color. The prison therefore functions ideologically as an abstract site into which undesirables are deposited, relieving us of the responsibility of thinking about the real issues afflicting those communities from which prisoners are drawn in such dispro­ portionate numbers. This is the ideological work that the prison performs-it relieves us of the responsibility of seri­ ously engaging with the problems of our society, especially those produced by racism and, increasingly, global capitalism. What, for example, do we miss if we try to think about prison expansion without addressing larger economic devel­ opments? We live in an era of migrating corporations. In order to escape organized labor in this country-and thus higher wages, benefits, and so on-corporations roam the world in search of nations providing cheap labor pools. This corporate migration thus leaves entire communities in shambles. Huge numbers of people lose jobs and prospects for future jobs. Because the economic base of these commu­ nities is destroyed, education and other surviving social services are profoundly affected. This process turns the men, women, and children who live in these damaged communi­ ties into perfect candidates for prison. In the meantime, corporations associated with the pun­ ishment industry reap profits from the system that manages prisoners and acquire a clear stake in the continued growth of prison populations. Put simply, this is the era of the prison industrial complex. The prison has become a black hole into which the detritus of contemporary capitalism is deposited. Mass imprisonment generates profits as it devours social 1/ 16 1 Angela Y. Davis wealth, and thus it tends to reproduce the very conditions that lead people to prison. There are thus real and often quite complicated connections between the deindustrialization of the economy-a process that reached its peak during the 1980s-and the rise of mass imprisonment, which also began to spiral during the Reagan-Bush era. However, the demand for more prisons was represented to the public in simplistic terms. More prisons were needed because there was more crime. Yet many scholars have demonstrated that by the time the prison construction boom began, official crime sta­ tistics were already falling. Moreover, draconian drug laws were being enacted, and "three-strikes" provisions were on the agendas of many states. In order to understand the proliferation of prisons and the rise of the prison industrial complex, it might be helpful to think further about the reasons we so easily take prisons for granted. In California, as we have seen, almost two-thirds of existing prisons were opened during the eighties and nineties. Why was there no great outcry? Why was there such an obvious level of comfort with the prospect of many new prisons? A partial answer to this question has to do with the way we consume media images of thc prison, even as the realities of imprisonment are hidden from almost all who have not had the misfortune of doing time. Cultural critic Gina Dent has pointed out that our sense of familiari­ ty with the prison comes in part from representations of prisons in film and other visual media. The history of visuality linked to the prison is also a main reinforcement of the institution of the prison as a naturalized part of our social landscape. The history of film has always been wedded to the representation of incarceration. Thomas Edison's A R E P R I S O N S O B S OL E T E ? 1 17 first films (dating back to the 1901 reenactment pre­ exist. It has become so much a part of our lives that it sented as newsreel, requires a great feat of the imagination to envision life Execution of Czolgosz with Panorama of Auburn Prison) included footage of beyond the prison. the darkest recesses of the prison. Thus, the prison This is not to dismiss the profound changes that have is wedded to our experience of visuality, creating occurred in the way public conversations about the prison also a sense of its permanence as an institution. We are conducted. Ten years ago, even as the drive to expand the also have a constant flow of Hollywood prison prison system reached its zenith, there were very few cri­ films, in fact a genreJl tiques of this process available to the public. In factI most people had no idea about the immensity of this expansion. Some of the most well known prison films are: I Want to This was the period during which internal changes-in part Live, Papillon, Cool Hand Luke, and Escape from Alcatraz. through the application of new technologies-led the U.S. It also bears mentioning that television programming has prison system in a much more repressive direction. Whereas become increasingly saturated with images of prisons. Some previous classifications had been confined to low, medium, The Big and maximum security, a new category was invented-that House, which consists of programs on San Quentin, of the super-maximum security prison, or the supermax. Alcatraz, Leavenworth, and Alderson Federal Reformatory The turn toward increased repression in a prison system, for Women. The long-running HBO program Oz has man­ distinguished from the beginning of its history by its repres­ recent documentaries include the A&E series aged to persuade many viewers that they know exactly what sive regimes, caused some journalistsl public intellectualsl goes on in male maximum-security prisons. and progressive agencies to oppose the growing reliance on But even those who do not consciously decide to watch a documentary or dramatic program on the topic of prisons prisons to solve social problems that are actually exacerbat­ ed by mass incarceration. inevitably consume prison images, whether they choose to In 1990, the Washington-based Sentencing Project pub­ or not, by the simple fact of watching movies or TV. It is vir­ lished a study of U.S. populations in prison and jail, and on tually impossible to avoid consuming images of prison. In parole and probation, which concluded that one in four 1997, I was myself quite astonished to find, when I inter­ black men between the ages of twenty and twenty-nine were viewed women in three Cuban prisons, that most of them among these numbers.12 Five years later, a second study narrated their prior awareness of prisons-that is, before revealed that this percentage had soared to almost one in they were actually incarcerated-as coming from the many three (32.2 percent). Moreover, more than one in ten Latino Hollywood films they had seen. The prison is one of the men in this same age range were in jail or prison, or on pro­ most important features of our image environment. This has bation or parole. The second study also revealed that the caused us to take the existence of prisons for granted. The group experiencing the greatest increase was black women, prison has become a key ingredient of our common sense. It whose imprisonment increased by seventy-eight percent.13 is there, all around us. We do not question whether it should According to the Bureau of Tustice Statistics, African- 18 I A n gela Y. Davis A R E P R I S O N S O B S O LETE? 1 19 Americans as a whole now represent the majority of state and federal prisoners, with a total of 803,400 black inmates-118,600 more than the total number of white inmates.14 During the late 1990s major articles on prison expansion appeared in Newsweek, Harper's, Emerge, and Atlantic Monthly. Even Colin Powell raised the question of the rising number of black men in prison when he spoke at "crime" and of the social and economic conditions that track so many children from poor communities, and espe­ Cially communities of color, into the juvenile system and then on to prison. The most difficult and urgent challenge today is that of creatively exploring new terrains of justice, where the prison no longer serves as our major anchor. the 2000 Republican National Convention, which declared George W. Bush its presidential candidate. Over the last few years the previous absence of critical positions on prison expansion in the political arena has given way to proposals for prison reform. While public dis­ course has become more flexible, the emphasis is almost inevitably on generating the changes that will produce a bet­ ter prison system. In other words, the increased flexibility that has allowed for critical discussion of the problems asso­ ciated with the expansion of prisons also restricts this dis­ cussion to the question of prison reform. As important as some reforms may be-the elimination of sexual abuse and medical neglect in women's prison, for example-frameworks that rely exclusively on reforms help to produce the stultifying idea that nothing lies beyond the prison. Debates about strategies of decarceration, which should be the focal point of our conversations on the prison crisis, tend to be marginalized when reform takes the center stage. The most immediate question today is how to prevent the further expansion of prison populations and how to bring as many imprisoned women and men as possible back into what prisoners call lithe free world." How can we move to decriminalize drug use and the trade in sexual services? How can we take seriously strategies of restorative rather than exclusively punitive justice? Effective alternatives involve both transformation of the techniques for addressing 2 0 I Angela Y. Davis A R E P R I S O N S O B S O L E T E? 1 21 dominant media of the period as extremists and fanatics. 2 When Frederick Douglass embarked on his career as an anti­ Slavery, Civil RiQhts, and Abolitionist Perspectives Toward slavery orator, white people-even those who were passion­ ate abolitionists-refused to believe that a black slave could display such intelligence. The belief in the permanence of slavery was so widespread that even white abolitionists Prison found it difficult to imagine black people as equals. It took a long and violent civil war in order to legally dis­ establish the "peculiar institution. II Even though the Thirteenth Amendment to the u.s. Constitution outlawed involuntary servitude, white supremacy continued to be embraced by vast numbers of people and became deeply Advocates of incarceration .. . hoped that the peniten­ tiary would rehabilitate its inmates. Whereas philoso­ phers perceived a ceaseless state of war between chattel slaves and their masters, criminologists hoped to negoti­ if ate a peace treaty of sorts within the prison walls. Yet herein lurked a paradox: if the penitentiary's internal regime resembled that of the plantation so closely that the two were often loosely equated, how could the prison pos­ sibly function to rehabilitate criminals? " -Adam Jay Hirsch15 inscribed in new institutions. One of these post-slavery institutions was lynching, which was widely accepted for many decades thereafter. Thanks to the work of figures such as Ida B. Wells, an antilynching campaign was gradually legitimized during the first half of the twentieth century. The NAACP, an organization that continues to conduct legal challenges against discrimination, evolved from these efforts to abolish lynching. Segregation ruled the South until it was outlawed a cen­ tury after the abolition of slavery. Many people who lived The prison is not the only institution that has posed complex under Jim Crow could not envision a legal system defined by challenges to the people who have lived with it and have racial equality. When the governor of Alabama personally become so inured to its presence that they could not con­ attempted to prevent Arthurine Lucy from enrolling in the ceive of society without it. Within the history of the United University of Alabama, his stance represented the inability States the system of slavery immediately comes to mind. to imagine black and white people ever peaceably living and Although as early as the American Revolution antislavery studying together. "Segregation today, segregation tomor­ advocates promoted the elimination of African bondage, it row, segregation forever" are the most well known words of took almost a century to achieve the abolition of the "pecu­ this politician, who was forced to repudiate them some liar institution." White antislavery abolitionists such as John years later when segregation had proved far more vulnerable Brown and William Lloyd Garrison were represented in the than he could have imagined. Although government, corporations, and the dominant 22 A R E P R I S O N S O B S O L ET E ? 1 23 me dia try to rep resent racism as an unfo rtun ate abe rration o f who re ape d dire ct bene fits from this dre adful s ystem of racist t he p ast t hat has bee n re legate d to t he graveyard o f u.s. his­ explo it at ion . A nd even t ho ugh t he re was widespre ad res ist ­ contempo rary ance among black s laves, t he re we re even some amo ng t hem structures, att itudes, and be havio rs. Nevertheless , anyo ne who ass ume d t hat t he y and t he ir p ro ge ny wo uld be always who would dare to call for t he reintro duct ion o f slave ry, t he s ubje cte d to t he t yranny o f s lave ry. tory, it continues to p ro fo undly in flue nce o rganiz at ion o f lynch mobs, or the reestablishme nt of le gal I have int ro duce d t hree abo lit io n campaigns t hat we re segre gatio n would be s umm arily dismissed. B ut it s hould be event ually mo re o r less s uccessful to m ake t he point that remembe re d t hat the an cestors o f m any o f to day's most so cial circumstan ces t rans fo rm an d popular att it udes s hift, ardent libe rals co uld not have im agi ne d life without s lave ry, in p art in respo nse to o rganize d so cial movements . B ut I life without lynching, o r life without se gregation. The 2001 have also evo ke d t hese historical camp aigns be cause t he y all World Confe re n ce Against Racism , Racial D is crim in ation, t argete d some expressio n o f racism. U . S. chattel s lave ry was Xenophobia, and Re late d I ntole rances he ld in D urban, South a s ystem o f force d labor t hat re lie d o n racist ide as and be liefs Afr ica, div ulge d t he immensity of the global t as k of elim in at­ to j ustify t he re le gat io n o f people o f African des cent to t he ing racism . The re m ay be m any dis agreements re garding what le gal st atus o f p ropert y. L yn chi ng was an extrale gal instit u­ counts as racism and what are t he most ef fe ct ive s tr ategies to t io n t hat s urren de re d t housan ds of African-Ame rican lives e lim in ate it. However, espe cially wit h t he do wnfall o f t he to t he v io lence o f ruthless racist mobs. Un de r se gre gat io n, ap arthe id regime in Sout h A frica, the re is a global conse ns us black people we re le gally de clare d se cond- class citize ns, fo r t hat racism s hould not de fine the fut ure of the planet. whom votin g, jo b, e ducat io n, an d hous ing ri ghts were dras ­ I have re fe rre d to t hese historical ex amp les o f e ffo rts to t ically curt aile d, if t he y we re av ailable at all. dism ant le racist inst itutions be cause t he y have co ns ide rable What is the relat ions hip between t hese historical expres­ re lev an ce to o ur dis cuss io n o f p riso ns and p rison abo lit io n. It s ions of racism an d the ro le o f t he p rison s ystem to day? is t rue t hat s lave ry, lynching, and segre gation acquire d such Explo ring s uch co nne ct io ns m ay o ffe r us a diffe rent pe rspec­ a stalwa rt ideologi cal q ualit y that many, if not most, co uld t ive on t he current state of t he p unishme nt indust ry. I f we not fo resee t he ir de cline and co llapse. S lave ry, lyn ching, an d are alre ady pe rsuade d t hat racism s ho uld not be allo we d to se gre gat ion are cert ainly compe llin g ex amples of so cial inst i­ de fine t he p lanet's future an d if we can s uccess fully argue t utions t hat, like the p rison, were once cons ide re d to be as t hat p riso ns are racist instit ut io ns, t his m ay le ad us to t ake eve rlasting as t he s un. Yet, in t he case o f all t hree examp les, se rious ly t he p rospe ct o f de claring p risons obso lete. we can point to movements t hat ass ume d t he radical stance Fo r t he moment I am co ncent ratin g on the history o f o f anno uncing t he o bsoles cence of t hese instit ut ions . It m ay ant iblack racism i n o rde r t o m ake th e point t hat t he p riso n help us gain p e rspe ct ive on t he p rison if we t ry to im agine reveals conge ale d fo rms o f ant iblack racism that ope rate in how stran ge and dis com fo rt ing t he de bates about t he obso ­ clandest ine ways. I n othe r words , t he y are rare ly re cognize d les ce nce o f s lave ry must have bee n to t hose who took t he as racist. B ut t he re are othe r racialize d histories t hat have "pe culiar i nst it ut ion" fo r gr ante d-an d espe cially to t hose affe cte d t he deve lopment of t he U . S. p unis hment s ystem as 24 1 Angela Y. Davis A R E P R I S O N S O BS O LETE? 1 2 5 and against this new system of punishment during the revolu­ Asian-Americans. These racisms also congeal and combine tionary period, the penitentiary was generally viewed as a well-the histories of Latinos, Native Americans, in the prison. Because we are so accustomed to talking about progressive reform, linked to the larger campaign for the race in terms of black and white, we often fail to recognize rights of citizens. and contest expressions of racism that target people of color In many ways, the penitentiary was a vast improvement who are not black. Consider the mass arrests and detention over the many forms of capital and corporal punishment of people of Middle Eastern, South Asian, or Muslim her­ inherited from the English. However, the contention that itage in the aftermath of the September 1 1, 2001 attacks on prisoners would refashion themselves if only given the the Pentagon and World Trade Center. opportunity to reflect and labor in solitude and silence dis­ This leads us to two important questions: Are prisons regarded the impact of authoritarian regimes of living and racist institutions? Is racism so deeply entrenched in the work. Indeed, there were significant similarities between institution of the prison that it is not possible to eliminate slavery and the penitentiary prison. Historian Adam Jay one without eliminating the other? These are questions that Hirsch has pointed out: we should keep in mind as we examine the historical links between U.S. slavery and the early penitentiary system. The One may perceive in the penitentiary many reflec­ penitentiary as an institution that simultaneously punished tions of chattel slavery as it was practiced in the and rehabilitated its inhabitants was a new system of pun­ South. Both institutions subordinated their subjects ishment that first made its appearance in the United States to the will of others. Like Southern slaves, prison around the time of the American Revolution. This new sys­ inmates followed a daily routine specified by their tem was based on the replacement of capital and corporal superiors. Both institutions reduced their subjects to punishment by incarceration. dependence on others for the supply of basic human Imprisonment itself was new neither to the United States services such as food and shelter. Both isolated their nor to the world, but until the creation of this new institu­ subjects from the general population by confining tion called the penitentiary, it served as a prelude to punish­ them to a fixed habitat. And both frequently coerced ment. People who were to be subjected to some form of cor­ their subjects to work, often for longer hours and for poral punishment were detained in prison until the execu­ less compensation than free laborers.l6 tion of the punishment. With the penitentiary, incarceration became the punishment itself. As is indicated in the desig­ As Hirsch has observed, both institutions deployed simi­ nation "penitentiary," imprisonment was regarded as reha­ lar forms of punishment, and prison regulations were, in fact, bilitative and the penitentiary prison was devised to provide very similar to the Slave Codes-the laws that deprived convicts with the conditions for reflecting on their crimes enslaved human beings of virtually all rights. Moreover, both and, through penitence, for reshaping their habits and even prisoners and slaves were considered to have pronounced their souls. Although some antislavery advocates spoke out proclivities to crime. People sentenced to the penitentiary in 26 1 Angela Y. Davis A R E P R I SONS O B S O L ET E ? 127 the North, white and black alike, were popularly represented as having a strong kinship to enslaved black people.17 The ideologies governing slavery and those governing punishment were profoundly linked during the earliest period of U.S. history. While free people could be legally sentenced to punishment by hard labor, such a sentence would in no way change the conditions of existence already experienced by slaves. Thus, as Hirsch further reveals, Thomas Jefferson, who supported the sentencing of con­ victed people to hard labor on road and water projects, also pointed out that he would exclude slaves from this sort of hard labor, sen­ punishment. Since slaves already tencing them to penal labor would not mark a difference in their condition. Jefferson suggested banishment to other countries instead. is race has always played Particularly in the United a central role in constructing presumptions of criminality. After the abolition of slavery, former slave states passed new legislation revising the Slave Codes in order to regulate the behavior of free blacks in ways similar to those that had existed during slavery. The new Black Codes proscribed a range of actions-such as vagrancy, absence from work, breach of job contracts, the possession of firearms, and insulting gestures or acts-that were criminalized only when the person charged was black. With the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, slavery and involuntary servitude were putatively abolished. However, there was a significant exception. In the wording of the amendment, slavery and involuntary servitude were abol­ ished "except as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted. II According to the Black Codes, there were crimes defined by state law for which only black people could be "duly convicted." Thus, former 28 I Angela Y. Davis slaves, who had recently been extricated from a eondition of hard labor for life, could be legally sentenced to p enal servitude. In the immediate aftermath of slavery, the southern states hastened to develop a criminal justice system that could legally restrict the possibilities of freedom for newly released slaves. Black people became the prime targets of a developing convict lease system, referred to by many as a reincarnation of slavery. The Mississippi Black Codes, for example, declared vagrant /I anyone/who was guilty of theft, had run away [from a job, apparently], was drunk, was wanton in con­ duct or speech, had neglected job or family, handled money carelessly, and . . . all other idle and disorderly persons. "19 Thus, vagrancy was coded as a black crime, one punishable by incarceration and forced labor, sometimes on the very plantations that previously had thrived on slave labor. Mary Ellen Curtin's study of Alabama prisoners during the decades following emancipation discloses that before the four hundred thousand black slaves in that state were set free, ninety-nine percent of prisoners in Alabama's peniten­ tiaries were white. As a consequence of the shifts provoked by the institution of the Black Codes, within a short period of time, the overwhelming majority of Alabama's convicts were black.2o She further observes: Although the vast majority of Alabama's antebel­ lum were white, the popular perception was that the South's true criminals were its black slaves. the 1870s the growing number of black prisoners in the South further buttressed the belief that African Americans were inherently criminal and, in particular, prone to larceny.21 A R E P R I S O N S O B S O L ETE? ! 29 In 1883, Frederick Douglass had already written about lation. Police departments in major urban areas have admit­ the South's tendency to "impute crime to color."22 When a ted the existence of formal procedures designed to maximize particularly egregious crime was committed, he noted, not the numbers of African-Americans and Latinos arrested­ only was guilt frequently assigned to a black person regard­ even in the absence of probable cause. In the aftermath of less of the perpetrator's race, but white men sometimes the September 11 attacks, vast numbers of people of Middle sought to escape punishment by disguising themselves as Eastern and South Asian heritage were arrested and detained black. Douglass would later recount one such incident that by took place in Granger County, Tennessee, in which a man Naturalization Services (INS). The INS is the federal agency the police agency known as Immigration and who appeared to be black was shot while committing a rob­ that claims the largest number of armed agents, even more bery. The wounded man, however, was discovered to be a than the FBJ.24 respectable white citizen who had colored his face black. During the post-slavery era, as black people were inte­ The above example from Douglass demonstrates how grated into southern penal systems--and as the penal sys­ whiteness, in the words of legal scholar Cheryl Harris, oper­ ates as property.23 According to Harris, the fact that white associated with slavery became further incorporated into identity was possessed as property meant that rights, liber- the penal system. "Whipping," as Matthew Mancini has tem became a system of penal servitude-the punishments and self-identity were affirmed for white people, while observed, "was the preeminent form of punishment under being denied to black people. The latter's only access to slaverYi and the lash, along with the chain, became the very whiteness was through "passing." Douglass's comments emblem of servitude for slaves and prisoners. "25 As indicat­ indicate how this property interest in whiteness was easily ed above, black people were imprisoned under the laws reversed in schemes to deny black people their rights to due assembled in the various Black Codes of the southern states, process. Interestingly, cases similar to the one Douglass dis­ which, because they were rearticulations of the Slave Codes, cusses above emerged in the United States during the 1990s: tended to racialize penality and link it closely with previous in Boston, Charles Stuart murdered his pregnant wife and regimes of slavery. The expansion of the convict lease sys­ attempted to blame an anonymous black man, and in tem and the county chain gang meant that the antebellum Union, South Carolina, Susan Smith killed her children and criminal justice system, which focused far more intensely claimed they had been abducted by a black carjacker. The on black people than on whites, defined southern criminal racialization of crime-the tendency to "impute crime to justice largely as a means of controlling black labor. color," to use Frederick Douglass's words-did not wither According to Mancini: away as the country became increasingly removed from slavery. Proof that crime continues to be imputed to color Among the multifarious debilitating legacies of resides in the many evocations of "racial profiling" in our slavery was the conviction that blacks could only time. That it is possible to be targeted by the police for no labor in a certain way-the way experience had other reason than the color of one's skin is not mere specu- shown them to have labored in the past: in gangs, 30 I Angela Y. Davis A R E P R I S O N S O B S OLETE? 1 31 subjected to constant supervision, and under the malaria, frostbite, consumption, sunstroke, dysen­ discipline of the lash. Since these were the requi­ tery, gunshot wounds, and"shaclde poisoning" (the sites of slavery, and since slaves were blacks, constant rubbing of chains and leg irons against Southern whites almost universally concluded that bare £leshJ.29 blacks could not work unless subjected to such intense surveillance and discipline.26 The appalling treatment to which convicts were subject­ ed under the lease system recapitulated and further extend­ Scholars who have studied the convict lease system point ed the regimes of slavery. If, as Adam Tay Hirsch contends, out that in many important respects, convict leasing was far the early incarnations of the U.S. penitentiary in the North worse than slavery, an insight that can be gleaned from titles tended to mirror the institution of slavery in many impor­ such as One Dies, Get Another (by Mancini), Worse Than tant respects, the post-Civil War evolution of the punish­ Slavery (David Oshinsky's work on Parchman Prison),2 7 and Twice the Work of Free Labor (Alex Lichtenstein's examina­ tion of the political economy of convict leasing).28 Slave ment system was in very literal ways the continuation of a slave system, which was no longer legal in the "free" world. The population of convicts, whose racial composition was owners may have been concerned for the survival of indi­ dramatically transformed by the abolition of slavery, could vidual slaves, who, after all, represented significant invest­ be subjected to such intense exploitation and to such hor­ ments. Convicts, on the other hand, were leased not as indi­ rendous modes of punishment precisely because they con­ viduals, but as a group, and they could be worked literally to tinued to be perceived as slaves. death without affecting the profitability of a convict crew. According to descriptions by contemporaries, the condi­ Historian Mary Ann Curtin has observed that many schol­ ars who have acknowledged the deeply entrenched racism of tions under which leased convicts and county chain gangs the post-Civil War structures of punishment in the South have lived were far worse than those under which black people failed to identify the extent to which racism colored common­ had lived as slaves. The records of Mississippi plantations in sense understandings of the circumstances surrounding the the Yazoo Delta during the late 1880s indicate that wholesale criminalization of black communities. Even antiracist historians, she contends, do not go far enough in the prisoners ate and slept on bare ground, without examining the ways in which black people were made into blankets or mattresses, and often without clothes. criminals. They point out-and this, she says, is indeed par­ They were punished for "slow hoeing" (ten lashes), tially true-that in the aftermath of emancipation, large num­ "sorry planting" (five lashes), and"being light with bers of black people were forced by their new social situation cotton" to steal in order to survive. It was the transformation of petty (five lashes). Some who attempted to escape were whipped"till the blood ran down their thievery into a felony that relegated substantial numbers of legs"; others had a metal spur riveted to their feet. black people to the "involuntary servitude" legalized by the Convicts dropped from exhaustion, pneumonia, Thirteenth Amendment. What Curtin suggests is that these 32 1 Angela Y. Davis A R E P R I S O N S O B SOLETE? 1 33 charges of theft were frequently fabricated outright. They "also served as subterfuge for political revenge. After emanci­ pation the courtroom became an ideal place to exact racial ret­ ribution."3o In this sense, the work of the criminal justice sys­ tem was intimately related to the extralegal work of lynching. Alex Lichtenstein, whose study focuses on the role of the convict lease system in forging a new labor force for the South, identifies the lease system, along with the new Jim Crow laws, as the central institution in the development of a racial state. New South capitalists in Georgia and elsewhere were able to use the state to recruit and discipline a convict labor force, and thus were able to develop their states' resources without creating a wage labor force, and without undermining planters' control of black labor. In fact, quite the opposite: the penal system could be used as a powerful sanction against rural blacks who challenged the racial order upon which agricultural labor control relied.31 Lichtenstein discloses, for example, the extent to which the building of Georgia railroads during the nineteenth cen­ tury relied on black convict labor. He further reminds us that as we drive down the most famous street in Atlanta­ Peachtree Street-we ride on the backs of convicts: " [TJhe renowned Peachtree Street and the rest of Atlanta's well­ paved roads and modern transportation infrastructure, which helped cement its place as the commercial hub of the modern South, were originally laid by convicts."32 Lichtenstein's major argument is that the convict lease was not an irrational regression; it was not primarily a throwback to precapitalist modes of production. Rather, it 34 I Angela Y. Davis was a most efficient and most rational deployment of racist strategies to swiftly achieve industrialization in the South. In this sense, he argues, "convict labor was in many ways in the vanguard of the region's first tentative, ambivalent, steps toward modernity. "33 Those of us who have had the opportunity to visit nine­ teenth-century mansions that were originally constructed on slave plantations are rarely content with an aesthetic appraisal of these structures, no matter how beautiful they may be. Sufficient visual imagery of toiling black slaves cir­ culate enough in our environment for us to imagine the bru­ tality that hides just beneath the surface of these wondrous mansions. We have learned how to recognize the role of slave labor, as well as the racism it embodied. But black con­ vict labor remains a hidden dimension of our history. It is extremely unsettling to think of modern, industrialized urban areas as having been originally produced under the racist labor conditions of penal servitude that are often described by historians as even worse than slavery. I grew up in the city of Birmingham, Alabama. Because of its mines-coal and iron ore-and its steel mills that remained active until the deindustrialization process of the 1980s, it was widely known as "the Pittsburgh of the South. " The fathers of many of my friends worked in these mines and mills. It is only recently that I have learned that the black miners and steelworkers I knew during my child­ hood inherited their place in Birmingham's industrial devel­ opment from black convicts forced to do this work under the lease system. As Curtin observes, Many ex-prisoners became miners because Alabama used prison labor extensively in its coalmines. By 1888 all of Alabama's able male prisoners were leased A R E P R I S O N S O B S O L ET E ? I 35 to two major mining companies: the Tennessee Coal and Iron Company (TCI) and Sloss Iron and Steel Company. For a charge of up to $ 18.50 per month per man, these corporations "leased," or rented prison laborers and worked them in coalmines.34 Learning about this little-acknowledged dimension of black and labor history has caused me to reevaluate my own childhood experiences. One of the many ruses racism achieves is the virtual era­ sure of historical contributions by people of color. Here we have a penal system that was racist in many respects-dis­ criminatory arrests and sentences, conditions of work, modes of punishment-together with the racist erasure of the significant contributions made by black convicts as a result of racist coercion. Just as it is difficult to imagine how much is owed to convicts relegated to penal servitude during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, we find it difficult today to feel a connection with the prisoners who produce a rising number of commodities that we take for granted in our daily lives. In the state of California, public colleges and uni­ versities are provided with furniture produced by prisoners, the vast majority of whom are Latino and black. There are aspects of our history that we need to interro­ gate and rethink, the recognition of which may help us to adopt more complicated, critical postures toward the pres­ ent and the future. I have focused on the work of a few schol­ ars whose work urges us to raise questions about the past, present, and future. Curtin, for example, is not simply con­ tent with offering us the possibility of reexamining the place of mining and steelwork in the lives of black people in Alabama. She also uses her research to urge us to think about the uncanny parallels between the convict lease sys36 I Angela Y. Davis tem in the nineteenth century and prison privatization in the twenty-first. In the late nineteenth century, coal companies wished to keep their skilled prison laborers for as long as they could, leading to denials of "short time. " Today, a slightly different economic incen­ tive can lead to similar consequences. CCA [Corrections Corporation of America] is paid per prisoner. If the supply dries up, or too many are released too early, their profits are affected . . . Longer prison terms mean greater profits, but the larger point is that the profit motive promotes the expansion of imprisonment.35 The persistence of the prison as the main form of pun­ ishment, with its racist and sexist dimensions, has created this historical continuity between the nineteenth- and early­ twentieth-century convict lease system and the privatized prison business today. While the convict lease system was legally abolished, its structures of exploitation have reemerged in the patterns of privatization, and, more gener­ ally, in the wide-ranging corporatization of punishment that has produced a prison industrial complex. If the prison con­ tinues to dominate the landscape of punishment throughout this century and into the next, what might await coming generations of impoverished African-Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and Asian-Americans? Given the paral­ lels between the prison and slavery, a productive exercise might consist in speculating about what the present might look like if slavery or its successor, the convict lease system, had not been abolished. To be sure, I am not suggesting that the abolition of slavA R E P R I S ONS O B S O L ET E ? 137 ery and the lease system has produced an era of equality and justice. On the contrary, racism surreptitiously defines social and economic structures in ways that are difficult to identify and thus are much more damaging. In some states, for example, more than one-third of black men have been labeled felons. In Alabama and Florida, once a felon, always a felon, which entails the loss of status as a rights-bearing citizen. One of the grave consequences of the powerful reach of the prison was the 2000 (sJelection of George W. Bush as president. If only the black men and women denied the right to vote because of an actual or presumed felony record had been allowed to cast their ballots, Bush would not be in the White House today. And perhaps we would not be dealing with the awful costs of the War on Terrorism declared dur­ ing the first year of his administration. If not for his election, the people of Iraq might not have suffered death, destruc­ tion, and environmental poisoning by u.s. military forces. As appalling as the current political situation may be, imagine what our lives might have become if we were still grappling with the institution of slavery-or the convict lease system or racial segregation. But we do not have to speculate about living with the consequences of the prison. There is more than enough evidence in the lives of men and women who have been claimed by ever more repressive institutions and who are denied access to their families, their communities, to educational opportunities, to produc­ tive and creative work, to physical and mental recreation. And there is even more compelling evidence about the dam­ age wrought by the expansion of the prison system in the schools located in poor communities of color that replicate the structures and regimes of the prison. When children attend schools that place a greater value on discipline and security than on knowledge and intellectual development, 38 I Angela Y. Davis they are attending prep schools for prison. If this is the predicament we face today, what might the future hold if the prison system acquires an even greater presence in our soci­ ety? In the nineteenth century, antislavery activists insisted that as long as slavery continued, the future of democracy was bleak indeed. In the twenty-first century, antiprison activists insist that a fundamental requirement for the revi­ talization of democracy is the long-overdue abolition of the prison system. A R E P R I S O N S O B S O L E T E ? 1 39 used to burn away the flesh from his limbs, and molten lead, 3 I m prison m ent an d R e f or m boiling oil, burning resin, and other substances were melted together and poured onto the wounds. Finally, he was drawn and quartered, his body burned, and the ashes tossed into the wind.37 Under English common law, a conviction for sodomy led to the punishment of being buried alive, and convicted heretics also were burned alive. "The crime of treason by a female was punished initially under the com­ "One should recall that the movement for reforming the prisons, for controlling their functioning is not a recent phenomenon. It does not even seem to have originated in a recognition of failure. Prison 'reform' is virtually con­ temporary with the prison itself: it constitutes, as it were, its programme." mon law by burning alive the defendant. However, in the year 1790 this method was halted and the punishment became strangulation and burning of the corpse."38 European and American reformers set out to end macabre penalties such as this, as well as other forms of corporal pun­ ishment such as the stocks and pillories, whippings, brand­ -Michel Foucault36 ings, and amputations. Prior to the appearance of punitive incarceration, such punishment was designed to have its It is ironic that the prison itself was a product of concerted most profound effect not so much on the person punished as efforts by reformers to create a better system of punishment. on the crowd of spectators. Punishment was, in essence, If the words "prison reform" so easily slip from our lips, it is public spectacle. Reformers such as John Howard in England because "prison" and "reform" have been inextricably and Benjamin Rush in Pennsylvania argued that punish­ linked since the beginning of the use of imprisonment as the ment-if carried out in isolation, behind the walls of the main means of punishing those who violate social norms. prison-would cease to be revenge and would actually As I have already indicated, the origins of the prison are reform those who had broken the law. associated with the American Revolution and therefore with It should also be pointed out that punishment has not been the resistance to the colonial power of England. Today this without its gendered dimensions. Women were often pun­ seems ironic, but incarceration within a penitentiary was ished within the domestic domain, and instruments of torture assumed to be humane-at least far more humane than the were sometimes imported by authorities into the household. capital and corporal punishment inherited from England and In seventeenth-century Britain, women whose husbands iden­ other European countries. tified them as quarrelsome and unaccepting of male domi­ Foucault opens his study, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, with a nance were punished by means of a gossip's bridle, or ic description of a 1757 execution in Paris. The man who ilbranks, " a headpiece with a chain attached and an iron bit was put to death was first forced to undergo a series of for­ that was introduced into the woman's mouth.39 Although the midable tortures ordered by the court. Red-hot pincers were branking of women was often linked to a public parade, this 40 A R E P R I S ONS O B S O L ET E ? 1 41 contraption was sometimes hooked to a wall of the house, where the punished woman remained until her husband decided to release her. I mention these forms of punishment inflicted on women because, like the punishment inflicted on slaves, they were rarely taken up by prison reformers. Other modes of punishment that predated the rise of the prison include banishment, forced labor in galleys, trans­ portation, and appropriation of the accused's property. The punitive transportation of large numbers of people from England, for example, facilitated the initial colonization of Australia. Transported English convicts also settled the North American colony of Georgia. During the early 1700s, one in eight transported convicts were women, and the work they were forced to perform often consisted of prostitution.40 Imprisonment was not employed as a principal mode of punishment until the eighteenth century in Europe and the nineteenth century in the United States. And European prison systems were instituted in Asia and Africa as an important component of colonial rule. In India, for example, the English prison system was introduced during the second half of the eighteenth century, when jails were established in the regions of Calcutta and Madras. In Europe, the peni­ tentiary movement against capital and other corporal pun­ ishments reflected new intellectual tendencies associated with the Enlightenment, actIVIst interventions by Protestant reformers, and structural transformations associ­ ated with the rise of industrial capitalism. In Milan in 1764, Cesare Beccaria published his Essay on Crimes and Punishments,4 1 which was strongly influenced by notions of equality advanced by the philosophes-especially Voltaire, Rousseau, and Montesquieu. Beccaria argued that punish­ ment should never be a private matter, nor should it be arbi­ trarily violent; rather, it should be public, swift, and as 42 I Angela Y. Davis lenient as possible. He revealed the contradiction of what was then a distinctive feature of imprisonment-the fact that it was generally imposed prior to the defendant's guilt or innocence being decided. However, incarceration itself eventually became the penalty, bringing about a distinction between imprisonment as punishment and pretrial detention or detention until the infliction of punishment. The process through which imprisonment developed into the primary mode of state­ inflicted punishment was very much related to the rise of capitalism and to the appearance of a new set of ideological conditions. These new conditions reflected the rise of the bourgeoisie as the social class whose interests and aspira­ tions furthered new scientific, philosophical, cultural, and popular ideas. It is thus important to grasp the fact that the prison as we know it today did not make its appearance on the historical stage as the superior form of punishment for all times. It was simply-though we should not underesti­ mate the complexity of this process-what made most sense at a particular moment in history. We should therefore ques­ tion whether a system that was intimately related to a par­ ticular set of historical circumstances that prevailed during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries can lay absolute claim on the twenty-first century. It may be important at this point in our examination to acknowledge the radical shift in the social perception of the individual that appeared in the ideas of that era. With the rise of the bourgeoisie, the individual came to be regarded as a bearer of formal rights and liberties. The notion of the indi­ vidual's inalienable rights and liberties was eventually memorialized in the French and American Revolution. "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite" from the French Revolution and "We hold these truths to be self-evident: all men are creA R E P R I S ONS O B S O L ET E ? 1 43 ated equal . . . /J from the American Revolution were new and resistance to the contemporary tendency to commodify radical ideas, even though they were not extended to every aspect of planetary existence. The question we might women, workers, Africans! and Indians. Before the accept­ consider is whether this new resistance to capitalist global­ ance of the sanctity of individual rights, imprisonment ization should also incorporate resistance to the prison. could not have been understood as punishment. If the indi­ Thus far I have largely used gender-neutral language to vidual was not perceived as p ossessing inalienable rights and describe the historical devel opment of the prison and its liberties, then the alienation of those rights and liberties by reformers. But convicts punished by imprisonment in emer­ removal from society to a space tyrannically governed by the gent penitentiary systems were primarily male. This reflect­ state would not have made sense. Banishment beyond the ed the d eeply gender-biased structure of legal, political, and geographical limits of the town may have made sense, but economic rights. Since women were largely denied public not the alteration of the individual's legal status through status as rights-bearing individuals, they could not be easily imposition of a prison sentence. punished by the deprivation of such rights through impris­ Moreover, the prison sentence, which is always comput­ onment.43 This was especially true of married women, who ed in terms of time, is related to abstract quantification, had no standing before the law. According to English com­ evoking the rise of science and wh;;tt is often referred to as mon law, marriage resulted in a state of " civil death, " as the Age of Reason. We should keep in mind that this was symbolized by the wife's assumption of the husband's name. precisely the historical period when the value of labor began Consequently, she tended to be punished for revolting to be calculated in terms of time and therefore compensated against her domestic duties rather than for failure in her mea­ in another quantifiable way, by money. The c omputability ger public responsibilities. The relegation of white women to of state punishment in terms of d omestic economies prevented them from playing a months, years-resonates with the role of labor-time as the basis for cant role in the emergent commodity realm. This was espe­ computing the value of capitalist commodities. Marxist the­ cially true since wage labor was typically gendered as male orists of punishment have noted that precisely the historical and racialized as white. It is not fortuitous that domestic cor­ period during which the commodity form arose is the era poral punishment for women survived long after these modes during which penitentiary sentences emerged as the primary of punishment had become obsolete for (white) men. The form of punishment.42 persistence of domestic violence painfully attests to these Today, the growing social movement contesting the historical modes of gendered punishment. supremacy of global capital is a movement that directly chal­ Some scholars have argued that the word "penitentiary" human, animal, and plant may have been used first in connection with plans outlined lenges the rule of the populations, as well as its natural resources-by corporations in England in 1758 to house "penitent prostitutes./I In 1777, that are primarily interested in the increased production and John Howard, the leading Protestant proponent of penal circulation of ever more profitable commodities. This is a reform in England, published The State of the Prisons,44 in challenge to the supremacy of the c ommodity form, a rising which he conceptualized imprisonment as an occasion for 44 I Angela Y. Davis A R E P R I S O N S O B S O L E T E ? I 45 religious self-reflection and self-reform. Between 1 78 7 and 1 791, the utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham published his letters on a prison model he called the panopticon.45 Bentham claimed that criminals could only internalize pro­ ductive labor habits if they were under constant surveil­ lance. According to his panopticon model, prisoners were to be housed in single cells on circular tiers, all facing a multi­ level guard tower. By means of blinds and a complicated play of light and darkness, the prisoners-who would not see each other at all-would be unable to see the warden. From his vantage point, on the other hand, the warden would be able to see all of the prisoners. However-and this was the most significant aspect of Bentham's mammoth panopti­ con-because each individual prisoner would never be able to determine where the warden's gaze was focused, each prisoner would be compelled to act, that is, work, as if he were being watched at all times. If we combine Howard's emphasis on disciplined self­ reflection with Bentham's ideas regarding the technology of internalization designed to make surveillance and discipline the purview of the individual prisoner, we can begin to see how such a conception of the prison had far-reaching impli­ cations. The conditions of possibility for this new form of punishment were strongly anchored in a historical era during which the working class needed to be constituted as an army of self-disciplined individuals capable of performing the req­ uisite industrial labor for a developing capitalist system. John Howard's ideas were incorporated in the Penitentiary Act of 1799, which opened the way for the modern prison. While Jeremy Bentham's ideas influenced the development of the first national English penitentiary, located in Millbank and opened in 18 1 6, the first full-fledged effort to create a panopticon prison was in the United States. 46 I Angela Y. Davis The Western State Penitentiary in Pittsburgh, based on a revised architectural model of the panopticon, opened in 1826. But the penitentiary had already made its appearance in the United States. Pennsylvania's Walnut Street Jail housed the first state penitentiary in the United States, when a portion of the jail was converted in 1790 from a detention facility to an institution housing convicts whose prison sentences simultaneously became punishment and occasions for penitence and reform. Walnut Street's austere regime-total isolation in single cells where prisoners lived, ate, worked, read the Bible (if, indeed, they were literate), and supposedly reflected and repented-came to be known as the Pennsylvania system. This regime would constitute one of that era's two major models of imprisonment. Although the other model, devel­ oped in Auburn, New York, was viewed as a rival to the Pennsylvania system, the philosophical basis of the two models did not differ substantively. The Pennsylvania model, which eventually crystallized in the Eastern State Penitentiary in Cherry Hill-the plans for which were approved in 182 1-emphasized total isolation, silence, and solitude, whereas the Auburn model called for solitary cells but labor in common. This mode of prison labor, which was called congregate, was supposed to unfold in total silence. Prisoners were allowed to be with each other as they worked, but only under condition of silence. Because of its more efficient labor practices, Auburn eventually became the dominant model, both for the United States and Europe. Why would eighteenth- and nineteenth-century reform­ ers become so invested in creating conditions of punishment based on solitary confinement? Today, aside from death, solitary confinement-next to torture, or as a form of tor­ ture-is considered the worst form of punishment imaginaA R E P R I S O N S O B S O LETE? 1 47 ble. Then, however, it was assumed to have an emaneipato­ ry effect. The body was placed in conditions of se�;rel�atLOn and solitude in order to allow the soul to flourish. It is not accidental that most of the reformers of that era were deeply religious and therefore saw the architecture and of the penitentiary as emulating the architecture and regimes of monastic life. Still, observers of the new penitentiary saw, early on, the real potential for insanity in solitary confine­ ment. In an often-quoted passage of his American Notes, Charles Dickens prefaced a description of his 1842 visit to Eastern Penitentiary with the observation that "the system here is rigid, strict, and hopeless solitary confinement. I believe it, in its effects, to be cruel and wrong." In its intention I am well convinced that it is kind, humane, and meant for reformation; but I am per­ suaded that those who devised this system of Prison Discipline, and those benevolent gentlemen who carry it into execution, do not know what it is that they are doing. I believe that very few men are capa­ ble of estimating the immense amount of torture and agony that this dreadful punishment, prolonged for years, inflicts upon the sufferers . . . I am only the more convinced that there is a depth of terrible endurance in it which none but the sufferers them­ selves can fathom, and which no man has a right to inflict upon his fellow-ereature. I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body . . . because its wounds are not upon the surface, and it extorts few cries that human ears can hear; therefore I the more denounce it, as a secret punishment which slumbering humanity is not roused up to stay.46 48 I Angela Y. Davis Unlike other Europeans such as Alexis de Tocqueville and Gustave de Beaumont, who believed that such punish­ ment would result in moral renewal and thus mold convicts into better citizens,47 Dickens was of the opinion that "[t]hose who have undergone this punishment MUST pass into society again morally unhealthy and diseased. "48 This early critique of the penitentiary and its regime of solitary confinement troubles the notion that imprisonment is the most suitable form of punishment for a democratic society. The current constmction and expansion of state and fed­ eral super-maximum security prisons, whose putative pur­ pose is to address disciplinary problems within the penal system, draws upon the historical conception of the peni­ tentiary, then considered the most progressive form of pun­ ishment. Today African-Americans and Latinos are vastly overrepresented in these supermax prisons and control units, the first of which emerged when federal correctional authorities to send prisoners housed throughout the system whom they deemed to be /I dangerous" to the federal prison in Marion, Illinois. In 1983! the entire prison was "locked down,'! which meant that prisoners were confined to their cells twenty-three hours a day. This lockdown became permanent, thus furnishing the general model for the control unit and supermax prison.49 Today, there are approximately super-maximum security federal and state prisons located in thirty-six states and many more supermax units in virtually every state in the country. A description of supermaxes in a 1997 Human Rights Watch report sounds chillingly like Dickens's description of Eastern State Penitentiary. What is different, however, is that all references to individual rehabilitation have disap­ peared. A R E P R I SONS O BS O L ETE? 1 49 Inmates in super-maximum security facilities are usually held in single cell lock-down, commonly referred to as solitary confinement . . . [C]ongregate activities with other prisoners are usually prohibit­ ed; other prisoners cannot even be seen from an inmate's cell; communication with other prisoners of is prohibited or difficult (consisting, for shouting from cell to cell); visiting and telephone privileges are limited.5o The new generation of super-maximum security facilities controlling prisoner conduct and movement, utilizing, for example, video monitors and remote· controlled electronic doors. 51 "These prisons represent the application of sophis­ to the task of social control, and they isolate, regulate and surveil more effectively than anything that has preceded them."52 I have highlighted the similarities between the early U.S. penitentiary-with its aspirations toward individual rehabil· itation-and the repressive supermaxes of our era as a reminder of the mutability of history. What was once regarded as progressive and even revolutionary represents today the marriage of technological superiority and political backwardness. No one-not even the most ardent defenders of the supermax-would try to argue today that absolute segregation, including sensory deprivation, is restorative and healing. The prevailing justification for the supermax is that the horrors it creates are the perfect complement for the hor· rHying personalities deemed the worst of the worst by the prison system. In other words, there is no pretense that rights are respected, there is no concern for the individual, there is no sense that men and women incarcerated in super- 50 I Angela Y. Davis of Corrections, Generally, the overall constitutionality of these [supermax] programs remains unclear. As larger numbers of inmates with a greater of char· acteristics, backgrounds, and behaviors are incar· cerated in these facilities, the likelihood of legal challenge is increased. 53 also rely on state-of-the-art technology for monitoring and ticated, modern technology dedicated maxes deserve anything approaching respect and eomfort. According to a 1999 report issued by the National Institute During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, absolute solitude and strict regimentation of the prisoner's every action were viewed as strategies for transforming habits and ethics. That is to say, the idea that imprisonment should be the main form of punishment reflected a belief in the poten­ tial of white mankind for progress, not only in science and industry, but at the level of the individual member of socie­ ty as well. Prison reformers mirrored Enlightenment assumptions of progress in every aspect of human-or to be more precise, white Western-society. In his Imagining the Mind in 1987 study Fiction and the Architecture of England, John Bender proposes the very intriguing argument that the emergent literary genre of the novel furthered a discourse of progress and individual transformation that encouraged attitudes toward punish· ment to These attitudes, he suggests, heralded the conception and construction of penitentiary prisons during the latter part of the eighteenth century as a reform suited to the capacities of those who were deemed human. Reformers who called for the imposition of penitentiary architecture and regimes on the then existing structure of the prison aimed their critiques at the prisons that were primari· A R E P R I S O N S O B SO L E T E ? ] 51 ly used for purposes of pretrial detention or as an alternative punishment for those who were unable to pay fines exacted by the courts. John Howard, the most well known of these reformers, was what you might today call a prison activist. Beginning in 1773, at the age of forty-seven, he initiated a series of visits that took him "to every institution for the poor in Europe . . . [a campaign] which cost him his fortune and finally his life in a typhus war of the Russian army at Cherson in 1 79 1. "55 At the conclusion of his first trip abroad, he successfully ran for the office of sheriff in Bedfordshire. As sheriff he investigated the prisons under his own jurisdiction and later "set out to visit every prison in England and Wales to document the evils he had first observed at Bedford."56 Bender argues that the novel helped facilitate these cam­ paigns to transform the old prisons-which were filthy and in disarray, and which thrived on the bribery of the war­ dens-into well-ordered rehabilitative penitentiaries. He shows that novels such as Moll Flanders and Robinson Crusoe emphasized "the power of confinement to reshape personality"57 and popularized some of the ideas that moved reformers to action. As Bender points out, the eighteenth­ century reformers criticized the old prisons for their chaos, their lack of organization and classification, for the easy cir­ culation of alcohol and prostitution they permitted, and for the prevalence of contagion and disease. The reformers, primarily Protestant, among whom Quakers were especially dominant, couched their ideas in large part in religious frameworks. Though John Howard was not himself a Quaker-he was an independent Protestant-nevertheless [h]e was drawn to Quaker asceticism and adopted the dress " of a plain Friend. " His own brand of piety 52 I Angela Y. Davis was strongly reminiscent of the Quaker traditions of silent prayer, " suffering" introspection, and faith in the illumining power of God's light. Quakers, for their part, were bound to be drawn to the idea of imprisonment as a purgatory, as a forced withdraw­ al from the distractions of the senses into silent and solitary confrontation with the self. Howard con­ ceived of a convict's process of reformation in terms similar to the spiritual awakening of a believer at a Quaker meeting. 58 However, according to Michael Ignatieff, Howard's con­ tributions did not so much reside in the religiosity of his reform efforts. The originality of Howard's indictment lies in its "scientific, " not in its moral character. Elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1756 and author of several scientific papers on climatic variations in Bedfordshire, Howard was one of the first philan­ thropists to attempt a systematic statistical description of a social problem. 59 Likewise, Bender's analysis of the relationship between the novel and the penitentiary emphasizes the extent to which the philosophical underpinnings of the prison reformer's campaigns echoed the materialism and utilitari­ anism of the English Enlightenment. The campaign to reform the prisons was a project to impose order, classifica­ tion, cleanliness, good work habits, and self-consciousness. He argues that people detained within the old prisons were not severely restricted-they sometimes even enjoyed the freedom to move in and out of the prison. They were not A R E P R I S O N S O B S O L ETE? I 53 compelled to work and, depending on their own resources, could eat and drink as they wished. Even sex was sometimes available! as prostitutes were sometimes allowed temporary entrance into the prisons. Howard and other reformers called for the imposition of rigid rules that would "enforce solitude and penitence, cleanliness and work. "60 ilThe new penitentiaries," according to Bender, "sup­ planting both the old prisons and houses of correction! explicitly reached toward . . . three goals: maintenance of order within a largely urban labor force, salvation of the soul, and rationalization of personality."6 1 He argues that this is precisely what was narratively accomplished by the novel. It ordered and classified social life, it represented indi­ viduals as conscious of their surroundings and as self-aware and self-fashioning. Bender thus sees a kinship between two major developments of the eighteenth century-the rise of the novel in the cultural sphere and the rise of the peniten­ tiary in the socio-Iegal sphere. If the novel as a cultural form helped to produce the penitentiary, then prison reformers must have been influenced by the ideas generated by and through the eighteenth-century novel. Literature has continued to play a role in campaigns around the prison. During the twentieth century, prison writ­ ing, in particular! has periodically experienced waves of pop­ ularity. The public recognition of prison writing in the United States has historically coincided with the influence of social movements calling for prison reform and/or abolition. Robert Burns's I Am a Fugitive from a Georgia Chain and the 1932 Hollywood film upon which it was based, played a central role in the campaign to abolish the chain gang. During the 1970s, which were marked by intense organizing within, outside, and across prison walls, numer­ ous works authored by prisoners followed the 1970 publica- 54 I Angela Y. Davis tion of George Jackson's Soledad Brother63 and the antholo­ gy I coedited with Bettina Aptheker, If They Come in the Morning.64 While many prison writers during that era had discovered the emancipatory potential of writing on their own, relying either on the education they had received prior to their imprisonment or on their tenacious efforts at self­ education, others pursued their writing as a direct result of the expansion of prison educational programs during that era. Mumia Abu-Jamal, who has challenged the contemporary dismantling of prison education programs, asks in Live from Death Row, What societal interest is served by prisoners who remain illiterate? What social benefit is there in ignorance ? How are people corrected while impris­ oned if their education is outlawed? Who profits (other than the prison establishment itself) from stupid prisoners?65 A practicing journalist before his arrest in 1982 on charges of killing Philadelphia policeman Daniel Faulkner, Abu­ Jamal has regularly produced articles on capital punishment, focusing especially on its racial and class disproportions. His ideas have helped to link critiques of the death penalty with the more general challenges to the expanding U.S. prison sys­ tem and are particularly helpful to activists who seek to asso­ ciate death penalty abolitionism with prison abolitionism. His prison writings have been published in both popular and scholarly journals (such as The Nation and Yale Law Tournai) as well as in three collections, Live from Death Row, Death Blossoms,66 and All Things Censored. 67 Abu-Jamal and many other prison writers have strongly criticized the prohibition of Pell Grants for prisoners, which A R E P R I S ONS O B S OL ET E? I 55 was enacted in the 1 994 crime bill,68 as indicative of the contemporary pattern of dismantling educational programs behind bars. As creative writing courses for prisoners were defunded, virtually every literary journal publishing prison­ ers' writing eventually eollapsed. Of the scores of magazines and newspapers produced behind walls, only the Angolite at Louisiana's Angola Prison and Prison Legal News at Washington State Prison remain. What this means is that precisely at a time of consolidating a significant writing cul­ ture behind bars, repressive strategies are being deployed to dissuade prisoners from educating themselves. If the publication of Malcolm X's autobiography marks a pivotal moment in the development of prison literature and a moment of vast promise for prisoners who try to make education a major dimension of their time behind bars,69 contemporary prison practices are systematically dashing those hopes. In the 1 950s, Malcolm's prison edu­ cation was a dramatic example of prisoners' ability to turn their incarceration into a transformative experience. With no available means of organizing his quest for knowledge, he proceeded to read a dictionary, copying each word in his own hand. By the time he could immerse himself in read­ ing, he noted, "months passed without my even thinking about being imprisoned. In fact, up to then, I never had been so truly free in my life." 7o Then, aceording to Malcolm, prisoners who demonstrated an unusual interest in reading were assumed to have embarked upon a j ourney of self-rehabilitation and were frequently allowed special privileges-such as checking out more than the maximum number of books. Even so, in order to pursue this self-edu­ cation, Malcolm had to work against the prison regime-he often read on his cell floor, long after lights-out, by the glow of the corridor light, talting care to return to bed each 56 I Angela Y. Davis hour for the two minutes during which the guard marched past his cell. The contemporary disestablishment of writing and other prison educational programs is indicative of the official dis­ regard today for rehabilitative strategies, particularly those that encourage individual prisoners to acquire autonomy of the mind. The documentary film The Last Graduation describes the role prisoners played in establishing a four-year college program at New York's Greenhaven Prison and, twenty-two years later, the official decision to dismantle it. According to Eddie Ellis, who spent twenty-five years in prison and is currently a well-known leader of the antiprison movement, "As a result of Attica, college programs came into the prisons. II 71 In the aftermath of the 1971 prisoner rebellion at Attica and the government-sponsored massacre, public opinion began to favor prison reform. Forty-three Attica prisoners and eleven guards and civilians were killed by the National Guard, who had been ordered to retake the prison by Governor Nelson Rockefeller. The leaders of the prison rebellion had been very specific about their demands. In their "practical demands" they expressed concerns about diet, improvement in the quality of guards, more realistic rehabilitation programs, and better education programs. They also wanted religious freedom, freedom to engage in political activity, and an end to censorship-all of which they saw as indispensable to their educational needs. As Eddie Ellis observes in The Last Graduation, Prisoners very early recognized the fact that they needed to be better educated, that the more educa­ tion they had, the better they would be able to deal with themselves and their problems, the problems A R E P R I S O N S O B S O L ETE? I 57 of the prisons and the problems of the communities full of gold." The prisoner who for many years had served as from which most of them came. a clerk for the college sadly reflected, as books were being moved, that there was nothing left to do in prison-except Lateef Islam, another former prisoner featured in this perhaps bodybuilding. " But/' he asked, "what's the use of documentary, said, "We held classes before the building your body if you can't build your mind?" Ironically, came. We taught each other, and sometimes under penalty not long after educational programs were disestablished, of a beat-up." weights and bodybuilding equipment were also removed After the Attica Rebellion, more than five hundred pris­ from most U.S. prisons. oners were transferred to Greenhaven, including some of the leaders who continued to press for educational programs. As a direct result of their demands, Marist College, a New York state college near Greenhaven, began to offer college-level courses in 1973 and eventually established the infrastruc­ ture for an on-site four-year college program. The program thrived for twenty-two years. Some of the many prisoners who earned their degrees at Greenhaven pursued postgradu­ ate studies after their release. As the documentary power­ fully demonstrates, the program produced dedicated men who left prison and offered their newly acquired knowledge and skills to their communities on the outside. In 1994, consistent with the general pattern of creating more prisons and more repression within all prisons, Congress took up the question of withdrawing college fund­ ing for inmates. The congressional debate concluded with a decision to add an amendment to the 1994 crime bill that eliminated all Pell Grants for prisoners, thus effectively defunding all higher educational programs. After twenty­ two years, Marist College was compelled to terminate its program at Greenhaven Prison. Thus, the documentary revolves around the very last graduation ceremony on July IS, 1995, and the poignant process of removing the books that, in many ways, symbolized the possibilities of freedom. Or, as one of the Marist professors said, "They see books as 58 I Angela Y. Davis A R E P R I S O N S O B S O L ETE? I 59 4 H o w G end er Str u c t u res the Pr i s o n Syste m "I have been told that I will never leave prison if I contin­ ue to fight the system. My answer is that one must be alive in order to leave prison, and our current standard of medical care is tantamount to a death sentence. Therefore, I have no choice but to continue . . . Conditions within the institution continually reinvoke memories of violence and oppression, often with devastating results. Unlike other incarcerated women who have come forward to reveal their impressions of prison, I do not feel 'safer' here because 'the abuse has stopped.' It has not stopped. It has shifted shape and paced itself differently, but it is as insidious and pervasive in prison as ever it was in the world I know outside these walls. What has ceased is my ignorance of the facts concerning abuse-and my willing­ ness to tolerate it in silence." -Marcia Bunny72 Over the last five years, the prison system has received far more attention by the media than at any time since the peri­ od following the 1971 Attica Rebellion. However, with a few important exceptions, women have been left out of the pub­ lic discussions about the expansion of the u. s. prison sys­ tem. I am not suggesting that simply bringing women into the existing conversations on jails and prisons will deepen 60 our analysis of state punishment and further the project of prison abolition. Addressing issues that are specific to women's prisons is of vital importance, but it is equally important to shift the way we think about the prison system as a whole. Certainly women's prison practices are gendered, but so, too, are men's prison practices. To assume that men's institutions constitute the norm and women's institutions are marginal is, in a sense, to participate in the very nor­ malization of prisons that an abolitionist approach seeks to contest. Thus, the title of this chapter is not "Women and the Prison System, " but rather "How Gender Structures the Prison System. " Moreover, scholars and activists who are involved in feminist projects should not consider the struc­ ture of state punishment as marginal to their work. Forward­ looking research and organizing strategies should recognize that the deeply gendered character of punishment both reflects and further entrenches the gendered structure of the larger society. Women prisoners have produced a small but impressive body of literature that has illuminated significant aspects of the organization of punishment that would have otherwise remained unacknowledged. Assata Shakur's memoirs,73 for example, reveal the dangerous intersections of racism, male domination, and state strategies of political repression. In 1977 she was convicted on charges of murder and assault in connection with a 1973 incident that left one New Jersey state trooper dead and another wounded. She and her com­ panion, Zayd Shakur, who was killed during the shootout, were the targets of what we now name racial profiling and were stopped by state troopers under the pretext of a broken taillight. At the time Assata Shakur, known then as Joanne Chesimard, was underground and had been anointed by the police and the media as the "Soul of the Black Liberation A R E P R I S O N S O B S O L ET E ? I 61 Army." By her 1977 conviction, she either had been acquitted or had charges dismissed in six other cases-upon the basis of which she had been declared a fugitive in the first place. Her attorney, Lennox Hinds, has pointed out that since it was proven that Assata Shakur did not handle the gun with which the state troopers were shot, her mere presence in the auto­ mobile, against the backdrop of the media demonization to which she was subjected, constituted the basis of her convic­ tion. In the foreword to Shakur's autobiography Hinds writes: In the history of New Jersey, no woman pretrial detainee or prisoner has ever been treated as she was, continuously confined in a men's prison, under twenty-four-hour surveillance of her most intimate functions, without intellectual suste­ nance, adequate medical attention, and exercise, and without the company of other women for all the years she was in their custodyJ4 There is no doubt that Assata Shakur's status as a black political prisoner accused of killing a state troop...
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Discussion Board: Are Prisons Obsolete?

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Question one
Mass incarceration is the high number of individuals being imprisoned in the United
States throughout the country's history. This phenomenon is characterized by excessive
imprisonment as a response to crime. In the long run, it results in a disproportionately large
prison population. According to Alexander (2011), African Americans, Latinos, and other racial
and ethnic minorities are primarily the most affected population by mass incarceration. Various
other studies and reports have also highlighted the racial disparities within the criminal justice
system by considering suc...


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