On prisons: Cut, but possibly good, or better than what I revised it to

…working at sub-par wages directly or indirectly for transnational corporations, barred from their homes but immobilized where they are, lacking civil and human rights. The boundary between the two categories is porous, since the migrant can easily become a prisoner. The immobility of these two classes stands in sharp contrast to the free movement of goods, and exuberant movement of some people, that characterize neoliberalism and globalization or transnational capitalism. The work undertaken by prisoners, however, differs from other work in that its primary functions are to make prisons look useful and importantly, to reproduce and reinforce the racial hierarchy and the colonial difference of free and unfree labor—a point to which I return below.

Ruth Wilson Gilmore (1988-1999, 2018) points out that through its imbrication with neoliberalism and globalization, the prison industrial complex does important work on behalf of transnational capital. Gordon Avery and Angela Davis note, furthermore, that the naturalization of persons of color and immigrants as criminals “creates an ideological barrier to understanding the connections between structural racism and the globalization of capital” (Avery 1999, 148).

Ruth Wilson Gilmore (1988-1999, 2018) points out that through its imbrication with neoliberalism and globalization, the prison industrial complex does important work on behalf of transnational capital. Gordon Avery and Angela Davis note, furthermore, that the naturalization of persons of color and immigrants as criminals “creates an ideological barrier to understanding the connections between structural racism and the globalization of capital” (Avery 1999, 148).

Davis’ example is corporations that move overseas or offshore, leaving unemployed persons of color here, some of whom become “criminals” and go to jail. The process stimulates our economy and creates jobs in corrections for unemployed persons of color who do not yet have records (Avery 1999). Mass incarceration of United States residents supports and enables the globalization of capital in this way, and also helps shield the problems of transnational capitalism from public view. This is why despite low profit margins, and despite the fact that so many towns need prisons for the income they generate (often a decision made in desperation or by accretion, not as part of rational planning), the system as it is does indeed benefit someone economically, although not us.

The other important implication of our commitment to the prison system is political. The law and order regime created in the 1970s and 1980s and expanded from the 1990s forward abridges the rights of many, installs a carceral mentality in people and institutions, and takes aim at democracy generally. Its ultimate target is the idea of democracy itself, both here and abroad. As Gilmore warned over twenty years ago, “[a] new kind of state is being built on prison foundations” (1998-1999, 72). She points out as well that prison administration is also the economic activity that is allotted to certain geographical areas under the uneven development produced by globalization (1998-1999, 174).

Much critique of the prison industrial complex relies on showing its direct imbrication with economic interests. It may well appear we are “generating income for large corporations by stripping people of color of their rights,” (Avery 147), but this analysis minimizes the issues by both overdramatizing and oversimplifying the connection between corrections and private industry. Christian Parenti points out that the prison industrial complex, large as it is and much as it staunches economic damage in depressed regions, does not in fact create prosperity or provide a Keynesian economic stimulus in the way that the military industrial complex has done for the past several decades. The primary functions of prisons and the prison industrial complex are, he says, to manage the contradictions of late capitalism by (a) terrorizing the poor, (b) warehousing social wreckage, and (c) focusing the attention of the middle classes on the problem of “crime” and away from the economy. Prison labor, though cheap, cannot make enough to hold the interest of corporations and is not part of the prison industrial complex. Its function, as Parenti points out, is mainly ideological: to make prisons look useful. This is why the idea of a gulag state providing colored bodies to work is incomplete. We do have a gulag state, but its function in the national and world economy is broader, more basic, less immediately visible, and more squarely political. There is a prison-business nexus, but the law-and-order regime is far more importantly a class struggle from above (Parenti xxx).

In this capacity, the carceral state does the sort of work accomplished by the “social cleansing” of the poor and undesirable in Latin America through the mass murder of street children and the roundup of homeless persons for medical experimentation (Robinson 122). We jettison social problems by disappearing people into multiple life sentences and expelling them from public life. The surplus population that grows daily through globalization and neoliberal economic restructuring is transformed into a class of non-persons.

Prison administration is also, as Gilmore explains, the economic activity that is allotted to certain geographical areas under the uneven development produced by globalization (1998-1999, 174).

Axé.


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