by KurtFF8 (Mike C)
There have been various stories relating the the conditions of the prison system in the United States in the news recently. From the under reported (yet perhaps most significant) recent Georgia Prisoner’s strike to the high profile solitary confinement of Bradley Manning who gained notoriety for his involvement in leaking a video to Wikileaks. This attention should be seen as an opportunity to open up space for debate on the very structure of our prisons.
There is also the case of Cornelius Dupree, Jr.who was just freed in Texas after 30 years of being in prison when DNA evidence showed that he was actually innocent. According to his attorney, Texas has had the most DNA exonerations of any state, and Dallas the most within Texas. This is of course a disturbing trend that may certainly be seen as yet another case of institutional racism that has a strong tradition (especially in the South, but of course not limited to the South) and seems to be rather obvious in these cases as according to the Innocence Project, almost 60% of those exonerated post-conviction via DNA are African American.
Bradley Manning’s conditions have been highlighted in the international press recently, with an emphasis on his mental health as a result of being in solitary confinement for a long period of time. The interesting thing about the Manning case is that it is being portrayed in the media as a sort of political imprisonment by the United States, while the majority of cases that activists consider to be clear cases of political imprisonment tend to be portrayed as seen that way only by a small fringe. Thus the case offers yet another example for the Left to call into question this system.
The most bizarre incident is the Georgia Prisoner’s strike. I say bizarre because of the relative silence (or at least not much emphasis) by the “mainstream media” on what has been labeled the largest prisoner’s strike in the history of the United States. For example, if you compare two New York Times articles that came out within a day of each other, you’ll find one long article about the new “problem” of smart phones in prisons (and it does detail the strike). The NAACP recently claimed that there was violent retaliation against striking prisoners which was certainly anticipated by prisoner rights activists, yet this story got one paragraph in the NYT.
Taking these various stories together, and how they were covered by the media makes for an interesting trend that reveals a small bit of ideology that dominates our conversations here. The cases of Cornelius Dupree, Jr. and Bradley Manning received more attention than the Georgia prisoner’s strike. Why is this the case? One part of the answer can certainly be traced to ideology: when an individual is treated poorly by the system, this is a miscarriage of justice that simply needs to be corrected. When prisoners from across an entire state come together and challenge the system itself, this calls into question the system itself. The strike also defied stereotypes of prisons divided along racial lines, when all prisoners of different races worked together to demand better conditions. This ideological reasoning can at least help us understand why events like the Georgia strike are not emphasized by the media.
There are many problems about the American prison system. The United States has the largest prison population on Earth (in terms of raw numbers and as a percentage of our population); the United States has increasingly allow private corporations to run prisons for profit, which includes free labor from their inmates (which some people rightfully equate to modern day slavery); Racism continues to play an important roll . And the biggest problem of all: There is not a national debate about this, these issues are not constantly being discussed on CNN every night, we’re not having town hall meetings about it.
This is an important issues, especially in the US South where prison populations seem to be particularly large (For example, New Orleans having the biggest incarceration rate in the World). It’s time we start reframing these issues and start organizing.
YouTube Clip – Angela Davis discusses Prison Industrial Complex
YouTube Clip – Prison Industrial Complex (clip from documentary)