Prisons and Crime

The Student Insurgent

Pelican Bay Super-max Prison engaged in a hunger strike to improve conditions which began July 1st and was sustained until July 22nd. Thousands of prisoners across racial lines joined in and the hunger strike which spread across the California Prison system and as far as Chicago’s Joliet Prison in solidarity.

“Their demands include an end to long-term solitary confinement, collective punishment, and forced interrogation on gang affiliation. The prisoners have also stated that they are willing to give up their lives unless their demands are met.”- Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity website.

The Prisoners demands are a reminder that the State retains a gulag system, willing to deprive humans- supposedly in an attempt to reform ‘immoral’ actions. Prisoners understand for themselves the most necessary elements necessary to maintain their humanity, however for those on ’the outside’, it is necessary to be critical of the justice system as a whole.

The Insurgent recognizes that prisoners are captives in an unconsentual and cruel system. Down the line from Laws, to Judgement to ‘Corrections’, the whole system is rooted in inequality.

The process of laws tend to focus on low-income neighborhoods, because of large population and the ’efficiency’ of policing, neighborhoods composed of people of color are also especially targeted. These neighborhoods are also targeted, because they offer the least legal resistance and are most likely to feel an obligation to pay off a fine.

The Process of Judgement is given by primarily White Men, who by virtue of being judges necessarily have a significant education and usually legal career experience- in short they are out of touch. Passing judgement on the poor and people of color, is an especially insensitive and callous practice. These are no peers, nor proponents of the poor, it is hierarchical and outside the scope of the judge to understand the circumstances of judged. Furthermore the legal system is based on a dichotomy of ‘guilty and innocent’, this ignores the motivating factors, history and legacy of familial violence and offers only a moral judgement, which consequently, is unable to render any meaningful process of reform for its recipient.

The ‘Corrections’ are incapable to reform. These institutions are centers of deprivation. They are fueled today by low-wage work camps, many prisoners earning 15 cents an hour or less (~$5 a month). These low wages allow a high profit margin for corporations and a ‘stable’ workforce. This model of prison work is justified as ‘providing work skills to prisoners’- these, skills are irrelevant for their market application is undercut by the very place where they learned them and this encourages recidivism. Furthermore the application of a moral ‘right and wrong’ system is a tool of deprivation.

-Furthermore the movement towards so-called ‘green jobs’ is occurring in the prisons- with low-wage solar cell production, ‘green’ goods are sold at market value- produced by a prison population. The prisoners themselves enjoy the jobs as an opportunity to escape their cells, but are unable by any stretch of the imagination to fulfill their needs for services.

Prison teaches violence not social contract.

In an Insurgent Poll of Federal Prisons, based on personal interviews a formal questioning process and volumes of correspondence, we have identified five conditions which are most desirable changes within the Prison system and why.

  1. Overcrowding. This is seen as the source which all other problems stem from, it exacerbates the existing conditions and problems.
  2. Medical Care. Long lines, slow services and incompetence have ensured the prolonged suffering of many inmates. Numerous horror stories of worsening injuries have been reported and ignored by the Bureau of Prisons.
  3. Payment for Employment. Wages are abysmal and they do not match the costs of services at a commissary, making prisoners reliant upon outside sources for basic needs.
  4. Availability of Jobs. While many jobs are not mandatory, prisoners need an activity to occupy their time, jobs provide this.
  5. Accommodations for Visitors. This means the prisoner and family being able to see each other. The ending of extreme requirements for visitation and the comfort of the visitor.

The basic humanity expressed during this process was overwhelming. Prisoners are caught in a wretched system which offers little for them in terms of education, opportunity or even basic safety.

Education is limited to outside programs coming in. The only reading material which remains stocked is the law books, because of a Federal requirement to keep up-to-date law books.

Opportunity for work is a difficult, prisoners must on the one hand sell themselves for a pitiful wage and on the other be competing against one another.

Basic safety is threatened by ’the politics’ on the yard. Race divisions created by guards and reinforced by gangs in prison, make even simple tasks of getting food difficult- a cut in line or a bump of a tray can quickly lead to a fight and a week in solitary confinement.

The whole questions of the prison must be thought of on a community level- what does safety mean and how do we get there. There are questions for a community, in responding to inner-community disputes and inter-community disputes. Bu the prison itself, even as it fills continues to reveal a deeply problematic system which is incapable of meeting the needs of its unwilling participants.

Special thanks to the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Blog