Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

There’s No Place Like CounterPunch

There's no place like CounterPunch, it's just that simple. And as the radical space within the "alternative media"(whatever that means) landscape continues to shrink, sanctuaries such as CounterPunch become all the more crucial for our political, intellectual, and moral survival. Add to that the fact that CounterPunch won't inundate you with ads and corporate propaganda. So it should be clear why CounterPunch needs your support: so it can keep doing what it's been doing for nearly 25 years. As CP Editor, Jeffrey St. Clair, succinctly explained, "We lure you in, and then punch you in the kidneys." Pleasant and true though that may be, the hard-working CP staff is more than just a few grunts greasing the gears of the status quo.

So come on, be a pal, make a tax deductible donation to CounterPunch today to support our annual fund drive, if you have already donated we thank you! If you haven't, do it because you want to. Do it because you know what CounterPunch is worth. Do it because CounterPunch needs you. Every dollar is tax-deductible. (PayPal accepted)

Thank you,
Eric Draitser

End the Prison-Industrial Complex, Now!


Most readers probably know the outline of this story: beginning in the 1970s the incarceration rate in America, the proportion of the population sent to prison, started to rise exponentially. The rate of incarceration in America is now the highest in the world. And in absolute numbers the U.S. has gone from having around 300,000 citizens in prison in the late 1970s to about 2.3 million as of last year. This doesn’t include those held in immigrant detention facilities, a number that has also risen exponentially, particularly in the last four years.

Two trends begun in earnest in the 1980s are behind the rise. The ‘war on drugs’ has nominally produced the incarcerated and the privatization of the prison system provides the economic motive for increasing the number of those incarcerated.

In her book The New Jim Crow, Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness author Michelle Alexander lays out the racial politics behind the ‘war on drugs.’ In essence, in the 1980s and 1990s political opportunists appealed to white fears and racialized the public health problem of drug abuse for political gain. In so doing, they (re)demonized black America and gave cover to the idea that this county’s legal, penal and policing systems are to prevent ‘crime,’ rather than to produce, legitimize and enforce racial and class oppression.

In fact, drug abuse in America is broad based and racially diverse. White Americans use illegal drugs in approximate proportion to black and brown Americans. The reason why black and brown Americans go to prison for drug violations while white Americans don’t is because of explicitly racist policing such as New York’s ‘stop and frisk’ policy that (illegally) targets black and brown youth and men.

There are no similar policing practices in rich, white suburbs, and therefore no similar rates of drug arrests. Additionally, for those arrested for drug offenses, sentences differ between black and white because of an urban / suburban divide by drug form (e.g. crack versus powder cocaine) that has been racialized.

The privatization of America’s prisons makes explicit the economic basis for the racial and class divide that has led from the ‘founding’ of this country on race-based slavery and genocide to the original Jim Crow laws in the post-civil war South (and ‘soft’ racism everywhere else) to today’s “prison industrial complex’ and ‘New Jim Crow.’

Private prisons are built and run by politically connected capitalists whose profits increase with the number of imprisoned and with the amount of unpaid labor that they are able to extract. This system has replaced slave ‘ownership’ with captive labor that faces social (legal) sanction under the legitimizing strategy of punishment for ‘crimes’ committed. However, if the laws are racist and policing is racist then the system is racist (and classist).

Were ‘crime’ suppression behind the increase in incarceration rates the enthusiastic prosecution of Bush and Obama administration officials for war crimes, torture, false imprisonment, murder and illegal surveillance would be accompanied by near endless prosecutions of Wall Street for financial crimes and industrial leaders for environmental and myriad other crimes. The complete and utter immunity that America’s economic and political elite has from criminal prosecution is clear evidence of the class basis of the legal, penal and policing systems.

In addition to the personal tragedies that the prison industrial complex produces; wasted lives, stolen labor, social exclusion, lost family and community ties, permanent impoverishment, this system is a class crime. Much has been made of the reluctance of Americans to rebel, even under circumstances deemed intolerable. But a large number of Americans who face the material conditions conducive to rebellion are in prison. Maintaining social control in the face of a wildly bifurcated economy where a few live off of the labor of the many is a clear purpose of this system.

The American state is no neutral actor in the political economy. As Ms. Alexander articulates, investigation of the facts finds few ‘accidents’ in the construction of this racist legal, penal and policing system. Seeking redress through ‘official’ channels is, as Malcolm X put it, a diversion. And at this point in history, one’s view of the appropriate solutions is very much a function of one’s analysis of the problems.

The prison industrial complex is a moral and political crime. It is a class crime. It is also a microcosm of the broader systems of capitalist domination, exploitation and control. It ties to declining wages for labor in the face of rising corporate profits. It ties to rising unemployment and the declining proportion of the population in the work force. It ties to increasing indebtedness in the face of more onerous legal repayment requirements. It ties to the increasing discretion of the political elites to imprison us. It ties to increasing surveillance. It ties to racist wars for the economic benefit of the few. In a system based on exploitation, the prison industrial complex is just one more mode of exploitation.

When (former Black Panther) Angela Davis was asked about political violence some decades ago (Swedish television interview) she made the point that black America was the victim of political violence, not the perpetrator. Racist and classist legal, penal and policing systems are the perpetrators of systematic political violence. Self-defense against this political violence is an entirely legitimate political and moral tactic. Additionally, this system represents the interests of capitalist exploitation and domination. One is unlikely to be changed without the other.

In both political and moral terms, ending this prison industrial complex system is an imperative. As in the 1950s and 1960s, we must organize, mobilize and go into the streets. The existing system is the problem, not the solution. And it will be the facts on the ground that matter, not the chatter from politicians and designated leaders (Democrats). This racist, classist prison system must be ended now.

Rob Urie is an artist and political economist in New York. (Check out Rob Urie’s work at the CounterPunch Online auction.)

Rob Urie is an artist and political economist. His book Zen Economics is published by CounterPunch Books.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 25, 2016
David Swanson
Halloween Is Coming, Vladimir Putin Isn’t
Hiroyuki Hamada
Fear Laundering: an Elaborate Psychological Diversion and Bid for Power
Priti Gulati Cox
President Obama: Before the Empire Falls, Free Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal
Kathy Deacon
Plus ça Change: Regime Change 1917-1920
Robin Goodman
Appetite for Destruction: America’s War Against Itself
Richard Moser
On Power, Privilege, and Passage: a Letter to My Nephew
Rev. William Alberts
The Epicenter of the Moral Universe is Our Common Humanity, Not Religion
Dan Bacher
Inspector General says Reclamation Wasted $32.2 Million on Klamath irrigators
David Mattson
A Recipe for Killing: the “Trust Us” Argument of State Grizzly Bear Managers
Derek Royden
The Tragedy in Yemen
Ralph Nader
Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think
Norman Pollack
Centrist Fascism: Lurching Forward
Guillermo R. Gil
Cell to Cell Communication: On How to Become Governor of Puerto Rico
Mateo Pimentel
You, Me, and the Trolley Make Three
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians