FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Desire to Imprision

by RON JACOBS

Every day, the role of incarceration in the business of our nation becomes more noticeable. In California, thirty thousand prisoners are conducting a hunger strike demanding (among other things) an end to long-term solitary confinement, group punishment and for better food and medical care. In Vermont and other states, there is an ongoing campaign against private prisons and the shipping of Vermont prisoners to other states. Immigrants across the land are being thrown into detention facilities just because they are immigrants, often without papers. The desire to imprison overrides almost any other function of law enforcement in most localities, while the number of laws requiring imprisonment is constantly increased with no regards to the damage such laws inflict. It can be reasonably argued that this drive towards incarceration is occurring due to the incredible amounts of profits this dynamic creates for a few well-connected corporations. It can also be reasonably argued that the fact that most of the prisoners and detainees are people of color is directly related to a history of enslavement and control of that population in the United States.

A new book, Beyond Walls and Cages: Prisons Border and Global Crisis, utilizes both of these arguments as the basis for its examination of the role the prison-industrial-complex plays in the modern US corporate state, while also looking at movements working to change the system. A collection of essays, articles and reflections by prison abolition activists, immigrant rights workers and former detainees, Beyond Walls and Cages uses the concept of prison abolition as its foundation. By doing so, it rips away the idea that prisons can be reformed. After all, a reformed prison is still a prison. Their existence represents the perceived need by the power elites to control the poor and disenfranchised.

Nowhere is this more true in today’s world than in Washington’s current policies regarding immigrants. The only reason these people are detained is because they are immigrants. Most have committed no crime. Even among those who have been convicted, the majority of the convictions are for what most citizens consider minor offenses. Of this latter group, most have been naturalized and are only detained because of changes in immigration laws that were designed with no other purpose but to detain them. It is worthwhile to ask, is the detention of those only because of their immigration status really much different than the detention of Japanese Americans during World War Two only because of their family’s ethnicity? Most Americans now consider the latter policy to have been wrong. How long will it take for its current manifestation to also be considered as such?

When it comes to the current immigration policy of “catch and return,” it is clear that the motivation behind the policy is twofold: to punish and to make money from that punishment. As the essays in this book make repeatedly clear, this is what motivates the entire system of imprisonment and virtually every element associated with that system. As this book also makes clear, this is a bipartisan effort. Like Washington’s policy on imperial war, there is little dissent among mainstream politicians and authorities over the necessity for war and incarceration, only over how best to prosecute them.

Walls and Cages provides example after example of how central the business of incarceration is to the US power elites in the twenty first century. From the denial of voting rights to the criminalization of migration; from the focus of law enforcement and prosecution on poor and mostly non-white communities to the media representation of immigrants and others as innately criminal. This is a radical book that strips away any pretense that prisons and policies designed to place as many people as possible in them can be humane. The writers herein issue a clear and thoughtful call to reconsider the entire concept of prisons that US society and its institutions have based their approach to dealing with the poor, non-white and others with little power in their midst.

Ron Jacobs is the author of the just released novel All the Sinners, Saints. He is also the author of  The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden.  His third novel All the Sinners Saints is a companion to the previous two and is due out in April 2013.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press.  He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

More articles by:
June 28, 2016
Jonathan Cook
The Neoliberal Prison: Brexit Hysteria and the Liberal Mind
Paul Street
Bernie, Bakken, and Electoral Delusion: Letting Rich Guys Ruin Iowa and the World
Anthony DiMaggio
Fatally Flawed: the Bi-Partisan Travesty of American Health Care Reform
Mike King
The “Free State of Jones” in Trump’s America: Freedom Beyond White Imagination
Antonis Vradis
Stop Shedding Tears for the EU Monster: Brexit, the View From the Peloponnese
Omar Kassem
The End of the Atlantic Project: Slamming the Brakes on the Neoliberal Order
Binoy Kampmark
Brexit and the Neoliberal Revolt Against Jeremy Corbyn
Ruth Hopkins
Save Bear Butte: Mecca of the Lakota
Celestino Gusmao
Time to End Impunity for Suharto’’s Crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste
Thomas Knapp
SCOTUS: Amply Serving Law Enforcement’s Interests versus Society’s
Manuel E. Yepe
Capitalism is the Opposite of Democracy
Winslow Myers
Up Against the Wall
Chris Ernesto
Bernie’s “Political Revolution” = Vote for Clinton and the Neocons
Stephanie Van Hook
The Time for Silence is Over
Ajamu Nangwaya
Toronto’s Bathhouse Raids: Racialized, Queer Solidarity and Police Violence
June 27, 2016
Robin Hahnel
Brexit: Establishment Freak Out
James Bradley
Omar’s Motive
Gregory Wilpert – Michael Hudson
How Western Military Interventions Shaped the Brexit Vote
Leonard Peltier
41 Years Since Jumping Bull (But 500 Years of Trauma)
Rev. William Alberts
Orlando: the Latest Victim of Radicalizing American Imperialism
Patrick Cockburn
Brexiteers Have Much in Common With Arab Spring Protesters
Franklin Lamb
How 100 Syrians, 200 Russians and 11 Dogs Out-Witted ISIS and Saved Palmyra
John Grant
Omar Mateen: The Answers are All Around Us
Dean Baker
In the Wake of Brexit Will the EU Finally Turn Away From Austerity?
Ralph Nader
The IRS and the Self-Minimization of Congressman Jason Chaffetz
Johan Galtung
Goodbye UK, Goodbye Great Britain: What Next?
Martha Pskowski
Detained in Dilley: Deportation and Asylum in Texas
Binoy Kampmark
Headaches of Empire: Brexit’s Effect on the United States
Dave Lindorff
Honest Election System Needed to Defeat Ruling Elite
Louisa Willcox
Delisting Grizzly Bears to Save the Endangered Species Act?
Jason Holland
The Tragedy of Nothing
Jeffrey St. Clair
Revolution Reconsidered: a Fragment (Guest Starring Bernard Sanders in the Role of Robespierre)
Weekend Edition
June 24, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
A Blow for Peace and Democracy: Why the British Said No to Europe
Pepe Escobar
Goodbye to All That: Why the UK Left the EU
Michael Hudson
Revolts of the Debtors: From Socrates to Ibn Khaldun
Andrew Levine
Summer Spectaculars: Prelude to a Tea Party?
Kshama Sawant
Beyond Bernie: Still Not With Her
Mike Whitney
¡Basta Ya, Brussels! British Voters Reject EU Corporate Slavestate
Tariq Ali
Panic in the House: Brexit as Revolt Against the Political Establishment
Paul Street
Miranda, Obama, and Hamilton: an Orwellian Ménage à Trois for the Neoliberal Age
Ellen Brown
The War on Weed is Winding Down, But Will Monsanto Emerge the Winner?
Gary Leupp
Why God Created the Two-Party System
Conn Hallinan
Brexit Vote: a Very British Affair (But Spain May Rock the Continent)
Ruth Fowler
England, My England
Jeffrey St. Clair
Lines Written on the Occasion of Bernie Sanders’ Announcement of His Intention to Vote for Hillary Clinton
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail