“Arguably the most important parallel between mass incarceration and Jim Crow is that both have served to define the meaning and significance of race in America. Indeed, a primary function of any racial caste system is to define the meaning of race in its time. Slavery defined what it meant to be black (a slave), and Jim Crow defined what it meant to be black (a second-class citizen). Today mass incarceration defines the meaning of blackness in America: black people, especially black men, are criminals. That is what it means to be black.”
― Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
Like many Blacks, who grew up in lower/middle class areas (urban) areas, I’ve had the misfortune to witness many friends and family members go through the prison system. Overtime, I adopted the attitude, “If you do the crime, you do the time”, and had no pity for those who begged, pleaded and prayed for a second change. If you were a criminal you deserved to be prison…right?! The answer to that question is still correct. Yes, if you do a crime, you have to accept responsibility for that and pay your debt to society. What changed for me was when I realized that Black men, who are incarcerated, pay far more than their fair share. Mass incarceration has affected Black families throughout the United States. Not only are Black men being stripped away from their families for years for non-violent crimes, they are more than likely to receive longer sentences for these crimes than their counterparts, white men. There have been controversial claims made that the “3 strikes law” and the “war of drugs” were put into effect for the sole purpose of locking the Black man up and breaking up the Black family and the Black community. I am not writing this to dispel certain “conspiracy” theories but I do want to shed light on a growing epidemic that is having a dire effect on the Black community.
Prison Is A Billion Dollar Industry
Fact: Prison is a billion dollar industry. It costs approximately $38,000-40,000 per year for each inmate, to house and feed. States receive these budgets through federal funding. There is an estimate of 2 million inmates in state, federal and private prisons throughout the United States.
According to Global Research, the figures show that the United States has locked up more people than any other country: a half million more than China, which has a population five times greater than the U.S. Statistics reveal that the United States holds 25% of the world’s prison population, but only 5% of the world’s people. From less than 300,000 inmates in 1972, the jail population grew to 2 million by the year 2000. In 1990 it was one million. Ten years ago there were only five private prisons in the country, with a population of 2,000 inmates; now, there are 100, with 62,000 inmates. It is expected that by the coming decade, the number will hit 360,000, according to reports.
It isn’t by accident that United States has a climbing incarceration rate. The education budget, in Arizona, is cut every year; however the prison budget continues to increase. Long ago, prison stopped being used for reform and rehabilitation purposes but has become operated as a business. So, the more people that are locked up, the more money these businesses…excuse me…prisons make. Isn’t that a conflict of interest?
Speaking of conflict of interest…fact: the prison industry is the fastest-growing industry in the United States with stockholders that range from judges to prosecutors to record executives…
Media Is Partly Responsible For the Incline in Mass Incarceration
Yes, record executives have large shares in prison stocks.
Theory: It was claimed that in 1991 an anonymous email was sent to various members of the music/publishing industry by a former record executive, who disclosed information that took place during a private meeting on the role hip hop would play in the increasing demand to drive up privatized prison profits. Their jobs (record executives) were to market criminal behavior by glamorizing it with the rap/hip hop community. Because this “executive” didn’t release his identity, some have claimed that it is false. But what is not fake, is the Corrections Corporation of American (CCA) contacted 48 states offering to buy their prisons, contingent on a minimum 90% occupancy rate. Two months after that is when the anonymous record executive claims a letter was sent to him and his colleagues. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this out. Media plays a huge role in shaping society because media controls the images that we see. Though I cannot say for certain that the record labels were directly involved in this secret meeting to use rap music to influence criminal behavior, I can say I wouldn’t be surprised to find it to be true.
Prison Is Modern Day Slavery
We’ve heard before that prison is modern say slavery but what makes it so? One of the definitions of slavery is a condition compared to that of a slave in respect of exhausting labor or restricted freedom. Restricted freedom is a given. What about the fact that felons are often stripped of their rights to vote, employment and government funding. While in prison, inmates are forced to work for wages as low as $0.40 an hour, even though the prisons are being paid quadruple that amount for the inmate’s labor. So what do they do with the extra money earned off the labor of the inmates, they pocket it.
Back to the subject at hand, Black’s have the highest imprisonment rate in the United States. Laws such as the 3 strikes that offered life sentences for repeat offenders (of even non-violent crimes or the use of drugs) and the war on drugs were targeted in the Black community. Our men are not all innocent; however, they are receiving sentences that reach far beyond the offense. Why? Because the prison is a business and it is a way for the system to destroy Black families while making profit.
“We lock up nonviolent, first-time offenders, users or tiny drug dealers … and dump them back in the ‘hood. Then jail culture becomes the core culture of communities, and you wonder why some communities are so violent.” ~Russell Simmons
Toni Larue is an author, entrepreneur and women’s empowerment advocate. She is the author of fiction novels, Abandoned Secrets (available now) and No Kissing (release date TBD), and the co-owner and COO of Team Jon Doe Management and Entertainment and Sounwave Music.
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Photo Credits:image: Shackled hand in front of American flag. Digital image. Justice not Jails. May 27th, 2014. Web. April 11th,2016. http://justicenotjails.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/end-mass-incarceration-350.jpg