Sociology Question

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1. According to Becker, how do label's affect our view of substances? What does Becker say about the current "drug problem" in the U.S.?

2. What is meant by the terms 'prison reform' and 'defund the police'?

3. What alternatives to either the current corrections system or current policing practices would you suggest for positive change? 

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U.S. PRISON DECLINE: INSUFFICIENT TO UNDO MASS INCARCERATION U.S. Prison Decline: Insufficient to Undo Mass Incarceration By yearend 2018, the U.S. prison population reached 1.4 million people, declining by 9% since reaching its peak level in 2009. This follows a nearly 700% growth in the prison population between 1972 and 2009. This research brief reveals significant variation across states in decarceration and highlights the overall modest pace of reforms relative to the massive imprisonment buildup. This analysis is based on the most recent data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics on people serving sentences greater than one year. Since the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, a number of states and the federal system have made additional, albeit modest, reductions in their prison populations. This analysis underscores the need to address excessively high levels of imprisonment amidst a public health crisis. SIGNIFICANT VARIATION ACROSS STATES All but six states have reduced their prison populations since reaching their peak levels. For twenty-five states, the reduction in imprisonment levels was less than 10%. The federal prison population was downsized by 17% relative to its peak level in 2011.1 Seven states lead the nation, having decarcerated by over 30% since reaching their peak imprisonment levels: New Jersey, Alaska, Connecticut, New York, Alabama, Rhode Island, and Vermont.2 These prison population reductions are the result of a mix of changes in policy and practice designed to reduce prison admissions and lengths of stay. But six states had their highest ever prison populations in 2018: Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin, Kansas, and Oregon. Figure 1: U.S. Prison Population by Conviction Offense, 1980-2017 800,000 700,000 Violent: 2% reduction since 2009 600,000 500,000 400,000 Drug: 29% reduction since 2007 300,000 Property: 18% reduction since 2007 200,000 100,000 0 1980 1984 1988 1992 1996 2000 2004 2008 2012 2017 Note: Reductions are from year when the prison population for that offense category reached its peak. Based on sentenced prison population in state and federal systems. Chart omits public order and other/unspecified offenses, for which an additional 231,000 people were imprisoned in 2017, down 1% since 2014. Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics Prisoners Series (1994-2018) The Sentencing Project • 1705 DeSales Street NW, 8th Floor • Washington, D.C. 20036 • 1 U.S. PRISON DECLINE: INSUFFICIENT TO UNDO MASS INCARCERATION Figure 2. U.S. Prison Population Trends Through 2018: Decreases Since Peak Year, Increases Since 2013 NJ AK -37% CT -36% NY -35% AL -34% RI -32% VT -27% CA -26% HI -25% MI -23% MA -20% SC -19% LA -19% IL -18% MD -17% Federal -14% MS -13% ME -13% CO -10% IN -9% TN -9% U.S. Total -9% PA -7% OK -7% MO -7% FL -7% MN -6% NH* -6% UT* -5% ND -5% WV -5% NC -5% DE -5% ID -5% VA -5% GA -4% TX -4% NM* -3% OH -1% AR -1% MT* -1% AZ -1% WA -1% NV -1% KY 0% SD 1% OR* KS WI IA NE Note: See Table 1 for additional details. WY *This state’s trend may not be accurate due to data incomparability across years. -39% -38% 5% 7% 9% 10% 10% Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics Prisoners Series (1999-2018) 2 U.S. PRISON DECLINE: INSUFFICIENT TO UNDO MASS INCARCERATION MODEST PACE OF REFORMS Although 44 states and the federal system have reduced their prison populations since reaching peak levels, the pace of reform has been slow to reverse nearly four decades of aggressive annual imprisonment growth. At the pace of decarceration since 2009, averaging 1% annually, it will take 65 years— until 2085—to cut the U.S. prison population in half. Clearly, waiting over six decades to substantively alter a system that is out of step with the world and is racially biased is unacceptable. NEXT STEPS The United States has made only modest progress in ending mass incarceration despite a dramatic decline in crime rates. Reported crime rates have plummeted to half of their 1990s levels—as they have in many other countries that did not increase imprisonment levels.3 Expediting the end of mass incarceration will require accelerating the end of the Drug War and scaling back sentences for all crimes, including violent offenses for which half of people in prison are serving time.4 1,750,000 Past reforms have helped to reduce the number of people imprisoned for a drug offense by 29% between peak year 2007 and 2017. The number of people imprisoned for a property offense has declined by 18% between peak year 2007 and 2017. But for the half of the prison population imprisoned for a violent crime— which ranges from certain burglaries, robbery, and assault to rape and murder—reforms remain the exception. Overall, the number of people imprisoned for a violent offense has only declined by 2% between peak year 2009 and 2017, despite substantial declines in violence since the mid-1990s. The reluctance to scale back excessive sentences for this population is at odds with evidence that long sentences incapacitate older people who pose little public safety threat, produce limited deterrent effect, and detract from more effective investments in public safety. Expediting the end of mass incarceration will require making a meaningful dent into the number of people imprisoned for violence as well as intensifying sentencing reforms for non-violent crimes. Figure 3. Historical and Projected U.S. Federal and State Prison Population, Based on 2009-2018 Rate of Decline 1,500,000 1,250,000 1,000,000 750,000 500,000 250,000 0 1925 1940 1960 1980 2000 2020 2040 2060 2075 2085 Source of historical figures: Bureau of Justice Statistics (1982) “Prisoners 1925-81”; Bureau of Justice Statistics Corrections Statistical Analysis Tool; Carson, E. A. (2020). Prisoners in 2018. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Available at: 3 U.S. PRISON DECLINE: INSUFFICIENT TO UNDO MASS INCARCERATION Table 1: U.S. Prison Population Trends Through 2018: Decreases Since Peak Year, Increases Since 2013 Jurisdiction Peak to 2018 Peak Year New Jersey -38.5% 1999 Alaska -37.8% 2006 Connecticut -37.4% 2007 New York -36.1% 1999 Alabama1 -34.9% 2012 Rhode Island -33.7% 2008 Vermont -32.0% 2009 California -26.7% 2006 Hawaii -26.2% 2005 Michigan -24.8% 2006 Massachusetts -23.4% 2011 South Carolina -20.3% 2009 Louisiana -19.4% 2012 Illinois -19.1% 2012 Maryland -17.7% 2007 Federal -16.9% 2011 Mississippi -13.9% 2008 Maine -13.4% 2007 Colorado -13.0% 2008 Indiana -10.2% 2013 Tennessee -9.2% 2017 U.S. total -9.0% 2009 Pennsylvania -8.6% 2011 Oklahoma -7.3% 2016 Missouri -6.8% 2017 Florida -6.5% 2010 Minnesota -6.5% 2015 New Hampshire* -6.3% 2007 Utah* -6.1% 2013 North Dakota -5.4% 2015 West Virginia -5.4% 2016 North Carolina -5.3% 2014 Delaware -5.1% 2007 Idaho -4.6% 2013 Virginia -4.5% 2015 Georgia -4.5% 2009 Texas -3.7% 2010 New Mexico* -3.5% 2017 Ohio -3.4% 2015 Arkansas -1.3% 2017 Montana* -1.3% 2016 Arizona -1.3% 2015 Washington -0.7% 2017 Nevada -0.6% 2017 Kentucky -0.5% 2017 South Dakota -0.4% 2017 2013 to 2018 0.5% Peak Year 2018 Kansas 4.7% 2018 Wisconsin 7.1% 2018 Iowa 8.6% 2018 Nebraska 9.8% 2018 Wyoming 10.1% 2018 1 Jurisdiction Oregon* Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics Prisoners Series (1999-2018) *This state’s trend may not be accurate due to data incomparability across years. 4 U.S. PRISON DECLINE: INSUFFICIENT TO UNDO MASS INCARCERATION NOTES 1. This figure is based on the number of people serving sentences longer than one year. The Bureau of Prisons reports that the total population under its jurisdiction decreased by 22% between peak year 2013 and April 30, 2020. 2. Alaska and Alabama are poised to reverse some of this progress. Prompted by its governor, in 2019 Alaska’s state legislature repealed several aspects of a major criminal justice overhaul, Senate Bill 91. Alabama’s prison population increased by 6% between September 2018 and January 2020, and recent changes in the state’s parole policies and practices are poised to further undo the state’s decarceration. 3. Federal Bureau of Investigations Uniform Crime Reporting Program. Doob, A., & Webster, C. (2006). Countering punitiveness: Understanding stability in Canada’s imprisonment. Law & Society Review, 40(2), 325–367; Tseloni, A., Mailley, J., & Garrell, G. (2010). Exploring the international decline in crime rates. European Journal of Criminology, 7(5), 375–394 4. Carson, E. A. (2020). Prisoners in 2018. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Available at: pdf This briefing paper was written by Nazgol Ghandnoosh, Senior Research Analyst at The Sentencing Project. Published May 2020. 1705 DeSales Street NW, 8th Floor Washington, D.C. 20036 The Sentencing Project works for a fair and effective U.S. justice system by promoting reforms in sentencing policy, addressing unjust racial disparities and practices, and advocating for alternatives to incarceration. 5 Drugs: What Are They? Howard S. Becker1 I begin with my own country, as an example which will let me suggest an orientation for our discussions. The United States, as is well known, has a very large “drug problem.” The problem is real, but it has been conceptualized improperly. The U.S. government defines the problem as one of “drug” or “narcotic” use, and goes on to conceptualizes this area of human behavior as a police problem: people are using substances that “appropriate experts have defined as things they should not be using, and thereby doing themselves and others harm. The solution to this problem is to enhance the police power so that these “narcotics” or “drug” users can be discovered and, through the use of the criminal sanction, prevented from continuing to use. Those who supply users with “narcotics” must similarly be prevented, by use of the criminal sanction, from continuing to give users the means to harm themselves. The U.S. government has taken the wrong approach to the so-called drug problem. This is not and never has been a police problem except in the sense that the police are themselves the problem. It is, rather, a semantic problem, a problem of definitions, a problem of the fit between words and reality. We might better say that the solution to the American problem is for the American government to call these substances by some other name, a name which would allow a different and more realistic method of regulating their use. I will suggest the following propositions: 1. “Drug” (as well as “narcotic,” and similar terms in French and other languages) does not denote a scientific or pharmacological category. It points, rather, to a category that reflects how a society has decided to treat a substance, and it implies a classification of substances in which the term “drug” has an ambiguous status. 2. The category to which a substance is assigned affects how people who ingest that substance are treated and that, in turn, affects what the substance in question does to and for them. 3. Therefore, the solution to the problem is to redefine the phenomena involved. But this simple solution is not available because the power to define is concentrated among people whose interest gives them no incentive to take that easy step. Categories and Moral Judgment The world is full of things, substances, objects, which we categorize in a variety of ways. One category, not in common use in ordinary life or even in most professional vocabularies, is that of 1 Published in French as “Les drogues: que sont‐elles?,” pp. 11–20 in Howard S. Becker, ed., Qu’est‐ce qu’une drogue?, Anglet: Atlantica, 2001. Available online in English at things, substances and objects which are ingested, taken into the body in one way or another. Some we swallow. Some we inhale. Some we inject. This classifies objects by their common routes of administration. We also categorize the objects we ingest by the uses we put them to, the results we expect to obtain from having ingested them. Some substances provide nourishment, and thus maintain the normal physiological functioning of our bodies. Some provide the pleasures of taste and smell that we associate with wine and what we think of as well-prepared food. Some substances work to restore normal physiological functioning when our bodies do not work properly. Some provide the pleasures of altered psychological states to which, in one form or another, every society finds a way to gain access. Routes of ingestion do not map on to the uses to which substances are put in any simple way. We swallow things meant to nourish, things meant to please, things meant to cure and heal, and things meant to alter our psychological state. We inhale things to cure us (nasal sprays), things to please us (perfumes), and things to alter our psychic state. We inject things that cure (e.g., insulin) and things that are meant to get us high. So we can’t say that the route of administration is firmly attached to any category of use; they overlap. Further, we typically categorize substances according to who is ingesting them. Substances may be healthful for one group and neutral or even harmful for another, as alcohol may be thought to improve circulation in the elderly but harm the health of children. Pork is religiously forbidden to Jews but is a healthful food for others. Added to these categories of use and routes of administration are the categories of moral judgment, according to which some acts of ingestion are morally correct and even required, others morally neutral and permitted but not required, and still others morally reprehensible and forbidden. It may, let us say, be morally required for adherents of the Catholic faith to take Communion and swallow the Communion wafers, while religiously observant Jews are forbidden to eat a variety of foods; most of the food we all eat, however, is morally neutral, and a matter of our taste and our finances. Similarly, injection is generally disapproved, although permitted when done by appropriate personnel and for the purpose of healing or avoiding illness, while swallowing is generally an approved method of ingesting things, unless the purpose is illicit. These overlapping categories allow people to create a great variety of substance/route/social type combinations, which can be morally evaluated in any of the suggested ways. The words commonly used in this arena of discourse suggest some of the standard combinations and evaluations. The most common categories are those of everyday activity: “food” and “drink.” The most common categories for our purposes here are those which designate substances ingested only in special circumstances. The most common such terms, which I want to focus on here, are “drug,” “narcotic,” and “medicines,” which seem to be distinguished by whether ingesting them is evaluated positively, neutrally, or negatively, and whether negative evaluations are combined with a legal prohibition or regulation. The names are important because they suggest and legitimize action. If something is “food” or “drink,” then we do not consider ingesting it an activity that the State should intervene in, other than to guarantee standards of accurate labeling of amounts and contents and healthful conditions of production and sale. If something is called a “drug,” however, there are two possibilities. It can be a “medicine,” in which case ingesting it is a good thing to do The same substance, however, can be a “narcotic,” in which case it should not be ingested, and should not be available for ingestion; the State properly intervenes, if necessary by use of the criminal sanction, to see that these prohibitions are enforced. How do we know whether a substance is one or another of these things? One thing is clear. These are not pharmacological categories. Substances are frequently reclassified. Medicines become drugs, and drugs become medicines (food and drink can also become medicines, though they less frequently become drugs). The question cannot be settled by looking at the formula that describes the substance chemically, though this is often attempted. Many years ago the distinguished theorist of deviance David Matza noted, in a paper that unfortunately was never published, that “weeds” (mauvaises herbes) did not constitute a botanical category but rather a moral category. The term “weed” was defined, in books on horticulture, as “a plant out of place,” as a plant which was where someone (a gardener) didn’t want it to be. Those of us who are fond of wild blackberries define them as food. But people who are trying to maintain a garden of flowers or vegetables know them as a vicious weed which will take over a plot of earth gardeners have dedicated to some other plants; the blackberries would be fine in their place but now they are in another plant’s place. This gives us a clue as to how to approach the question of drugs, narcotics, and medicines. We can think of words like “drugs”(when used pejoratively) and “narcotics” as the equivalent, in this arena of social life, of the term “weeds.” Drugs and narcotics are, we might say, pharmacological weeds. Matza’s discovery that “weed” was not a botanical category, but rather a moral judgment about a plant not being in its proper place, suggests an analytic point of departure: a “narcotic” is a substance out of place. The place of a substance, its proper place, is that combination of substance, route, and person which are understood to be appropriate and proper: something which may appropriately be ingested under certain circumstances by a certain kind of person for a certain kind of use. When a substance is so ingested, it is a candidate for being defined as a medicine. The improper place of a substance, the place it doesn’t belong, is that combination of substance, route, and person which are understood to be inappropriate and improper. When a substance is ingested in what is understood to be an improper way by what is understood to be the wrong kind of person for what is understood to be an improper use, the substance is a candidate for being defined as a narcotic. I say substances are candidates for being defined in one way or another because there are always two steps to the analysis of the categories to which substances are assigned. First, we want to know what combinations are in fact common enough to be socially defined at all, to have names which are widely recognized and moral reputations which are equally well known. And then, since these combinations alone will not distinguish substances unambiguously (some combinations similar to those which have been defined as “out of place” will not be so defined), we want to know the process through which the potential negative labeling is turned into actual labeling. This crucial second step, which creates a large area of indeterminacy in the process of definition, is that someone has in fact to do the defining, have the right and take the initiative to say that a particular combination of route, person, and substance is inappropriate and out of place. And that may or may not happen, depending on local circumstances and especially on who is in a position to do the defining and who wants to argue with them about it. The problem of how substances are defined thus becomes a problem in the social organization in which that activity takes place. Much of the definitional process is informal. But the crucial steps bring in the State and its power, because the State is the only actor powerful enough to exercise ultimate control over these definitions. Though some substances may come from folk tradition, and thus have acquired their names and definitions in that setting, the production and use of most of the substances we ingest are in one way or another regulated by the State and its various agencies. In the area of drugs, narcotics, and medicines, the State (through its agents) decides which category a substance will fall into, who may legitimately use it, how it may be manufactured and distributed, and so on. The State decides who can decide all these matters and, usually indirectly but nonetheless decisively, how they will decide them. So whether a substance is a narcotic or a medicine is decided not by the substance’s pharmacology, but by how the State decides to treat it. While the State can be, and often is, arbitrary, it more often tries to produce a believable rationale for its actions, and most often tries to do this through science or through a combination of science and morality. Certain scientifically ascertainable conditions must be satisfied if it to merit this or that label and the corresponding governmental treatment. Does the substance, for instance, really have the power to cure an illness or unpleasant condition? Has that been demonstrated in ways that meet the standards of the State and its regulatory bodies? If so, the substance can be a medicine, which means that it can be dispensed to and ingested by people the appropriate professionals have approved to take it. Has the medicine in fact been taken by the person approved by the State or its representatives in the medical profession? Or does the substance fail to have any recognized medicinal value, and thus qualify for membership in a class of forbidden narcotics? These matters are decided in a combination of administrative and political considerations, most often understood to be a realm of “policy,” official government policy. The differences between countries with respect to “drug policy” make clear how little any of these definitional processes have to do with the characteristics of the substances themselves. American drug policy has for decades been hostage to electoral politics. Every attempt to move away from the punitive policies established early in the last century has been stigmatized as “soft on crime” and a program of prohibition of all “narcotic” use has been maintained in spite of its obvious failure. The policy rests on an arbitrary classification of substances which sets their allowable uses. Many substances are not classified as medicines, even though their possible therapeutic uses are well-known and scientifically demonstrated. This has led to the somewhat bizarre situation in which voters have passed laws through the interesting American institution of the “initiative” to legalize, for example, the use of marihuana for therapeutic purposes (prevention of nausea in chemotherapy patients, glaucoma, etc.). International comparisons make it clear that national policy is never dictated by the pharmacological properties of substances. The Dutch “experiments” with more lenient policies stands as a perpetual rebuke to the American position. Henri Bergeron (1999) has described how “une singularité française” has expressed itself in a policy which runs counter to what is done in most other European countries. Bergeron’s study shows how the process by which a substance is defined and categorized takes place not only in the arena of the state, its bureaucracy, and national politics, but also in the arenas of professional organizations and their mobility and development. The State almost always delegates the work in this area to professional groups, letting them deal with the details of matching substances to terms the State has authorized. So, in France, as Bergeron has shown us, definitions and programs came under the control of a psychoanalytically oriented organizational apparatus. Caroline Acker (1995), in her careful study of the development of research and theory in the area of addictive drug use in the United States, shows how the discipline of pharmacology struggled to make a name for itself and a place in the American academic and scientific hierarchy in the 1920s. Part of that struggle consisted in an attempt to find a non-addictive analgesic that could be called a “medicine” rather than a “narcotic.” If these pharmacologists could find a substance that would produce analgesia without addiction, they would have solved what was coming to be defined as a major social problem by pharmacological means. And that, in turn, would demonstrate to the worlds of science, medicine, and the government that this new scientific discipline was indeed a worthy addition to the roster or established sciences and eligible for all the benefits that could bring to a group struggling for an established seat at the table. So the fate of a new substance like Desomorphine (desoxymorphine-D) depended on whether this experiment in professional mobility would succeed in giving it the “right” name and definition. If it could be called an analgesic, then people could take it without fear of arrest. These are only examples of the way social organization and definitional processes work together to produce “drug problems,” which will be the focus of our deliberations for these two days. REFERENCES Acker, Caroline Jean. 1995. “Addiction and the Laboratory: The Work of the National Research Council’s Committee on Drug Addiction, 1928-1939.” Isis 86:167-193. Bergeron, Henri. 1999. L’État et la toxicomanie: Histoire d’une singularité française. Paris: Presses Universitairede France. 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 ot...
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Criminal Justice Reforms
Accoding to Becker (2001), labels have far reaching impact on how society views
substances. He observes that the terms “ drugs” and “narcotics” have no scientific or
pharmacological foundation but rather denote how society members have chosen to classify a
substance. Consequently, it is this subjective classification that influences how society treats
people who take a particular substance. Becker further argues that this societal treatment has
impact on how the substance in question affects the people taking it. Concerning the current
drug problem in the US, Becker contends that it is more of a semantic as opposed to a...

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