The law enforcement system of the United State is breathtakingly corrupt, cruel, and unjust. This is not a new claim, either in general, or on this blog. I personally want to work towards prison and police abolition. Many “offenses”, like drug use, don’t need to be offenses, and simply decriminalizing them would go a long way to reduce the “need” for a lot of our policing and prisons. Likewise, guaranteeing food, shelter, and health care would remove most crimes of necessity. Someone’s not going to steal coats or televisions to re-sell to avoid eviction if there’s no danger of being evicted. Someone’s not going to start making meth to pay for cancer treatment if there’s no requirement to pay. Sadly, while I’m sure many would say “that sounds nice in theory”, fewer are willing to actually work towards that, particularly within the halls of power. The enraging reality is that locking up and enslaving people makes a number of capitalists very wealthy at taxpayer expense, and at the cost of immeasurable suffering.
That’s why, while I support the effort to remove the profit motive from the USian so-called Justice System, I’m worried that those with the power to change things actively oppose that change. I know that Biden has made some noise about it, but he also played a major role in creating this problem in the first place, so forgive me if I doubt his intentions. Whether or not I turn out to be right, it’s important to make the case that doing it is possible. It can build the case for change, and if that change doesn’t happen, it can support the case for more radical action, in the face of a corrupt government that doesn’t represent the will of the people. All that being said, I’m glad to hear that a couple advocacy groups have released a “blueprint” for ending the use of private prisons in the United States:
To end the era in which prisons have become what Worth Rises executive director Bianca Tylek called “a business—one that is threatening our families, communities, and public safety,” the Biden administration must dismantle an industry that “has worked itself into every corner of the carceral system as incarceration has exploded over the past 40 years,” said the group.
“This is a pathway forward to a more just criminal legal system that does NOT put profits over people,” tweeted Color of Change.
The recommendations in the groups’ policy blueprint, Bearing the Cost, include:
- Prohibiting for-profit healthcare in prisons, providing medications and hygiene products at no cost, and requiring better reporting on medical care;
- Setting basic standards for food and commissary goods and preventing bundling of the services;
- Making communication free and accessible and strengthening antitrust oversight;
- Eliminating fees for money transfers and debit release cards and directing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to strengthen regulations for financial services for incarcerated people;
- Conducting a comprehensive review of electronic monitoring of incarcerated people nationwide; and
- Supporting the Abolition Amendment to end the use of unpaid labor in prisons.
“Over the last 40 years, the carceral system has grown into a vast network of corporations that use public-private partnerships to profit from the incarceration of our grandparents, parents, siblings, children, and other loved ones,” said Tylek. “They have created a carceral crisis and collected the windfalls on the taxpayers’ dime while the rest of us suffered. This policy blueprint provides the clearest roadmap for fulfilling the promise of justice that the Biden-Harris administration made and many expect it to meet.”
The blueprint was released a month after Biden signed the Martha Wright-Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act of 2022 to empower federal regulators to ensure that charges for calls from correctional and detention facilities are “just and reasonable.” Currently, incarcerated people are charged as much as $9.99 for a cellphone call and $5.70 for a 15-minute landline call.
See, that last bit worries me – I don’t think there should be any charges for prisoners to talk to their families. Locking someone up, and then charging them for contact with the outside world is neither just nor reasonable. It feels more like an effort to force them into debt, in a society that seems to make it harder to get out of debt every year. Aside from the fact that constant debt payments and extortionate interest rates funnel a lot of money upward from the working class, debt also acts as an additional burden on people, making them more desperate for any income they can get, and therefor more likely to accept low pay and bad conditions.
I’ll just have to hope that my cynicism is unwarranted. It sounds like the communications act mentioned above is a step in the right direction, even if it’s not a big one, so I’ll absolutely take that as a win. Dismantling an entrenched industry is another matter entirely, but I’d love to see the Democrats prove me wrong about them by taking on that fight.
Alan G. Humphrey says
We need to use the tools of capitalism and the tax code to create untaxed nonprofit corporations that provide the services needed at no cost to the prisoners. Specialize in one service per corporation and start in one place where the local laws and culture are conducive to success, then expand from that success. Must be kept separate to reduce the amount of corruption because it seems that all USAian organizations become corrupt.
Abe Drayton says
Why should corporations be involved at all?
John Morales says
Timeframe. When did he make that noise, when did he play the role?
Alan G. Humphrey says
Because, unfortunately, the corporation is the tool of choice in getting most things done in the USA. Would you part with a million dollars – assuming you had it of course – if just anyone said they were going to put it to use for enabling prisoners to freely communicate with loved ones? But if the same person showed you that they represented a nonprofit that does that, shows you the incorporation documentation that specifies that function and only that function is their remit, tells you the million dollars would be tax deductible, and insists the check only be made out to the corporation, then you’re more likely to do so. Many public entities are organized as corporations that most people think are not, such as public school districts, public libraries, state colleges, municipalities, and even churches. Recall those PBS ads that mention being part of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting? That one was created by Congress. They are everywhere, and they are useful when dealing with large amounts of capital and want a clear tracking of it in this capitalist society.
I see what you did there. https://i.kym-cdn.com/photos/images/original/000/711/947/788.jpg
Is it just and reasonable that I, a free person who has never been arrested, much less charged, convicted and imprisoned, have to pay for contact with my family? Because the phone company seem to think it is, given the amount they had to spend setting up and maintaining the systems that allow me to make those calls. Charging prisoners for phone calls seems perfectly reasonable, assuming the charges themselves are reasonable and not price-gouging a literally captive market.
I think your attention is on the wrong, and indeed in any sane world least enraging part of the problem. Indeed, it’s baffling that you seem to have skipped lightly over the truly scandalous bit – the last bullet point. Why the fuck is it last on the list, after shit like “make the food nicer” and “strengthen financial services regulation”.
Hey, USA – how about you fucking ABOLISH SLAVERY like every other civilised country did over a century ago??? You pretended to, oh yeah, but you made sure to include some bullshit loopholes. It absolutely amazes me that anyone can look at the US prison system and find anything to talk about that isn’t FUCKING SLAVERY IS LEGAL EVERYBODY, THIS HAS TO STOP.
You make it so that prisoners have to be paid for their work like human beings, then it becomes reasonable to charge them for phone calls. They literally get to have agency and choice and start learning to take some responsibility.
And obviously you don’t charge them for healthcare because only a shithole would do such a thing to anyone.
But Christ on a bike ABOLISH SLAVERY, properly, then start talking about how prisons should be run. It seems incredible this isn’t the top of everyone’s agenda.
Abe Drayton says
@sonofrojblake I wouldn’t say I “skipped” that stuff, so much as I’ve talked about it in other posts, and this is where I went with this particular post.
And as to you, as a free person, having to pay- the difference is that you, as a free person, have the ability to work for what are laughably called fair wages (though I hope you make more than minimum). I think that those costs are often too high, and that communication should be run as a non-profit, as should other utilities. You have to pay for food as well – do you think we should be charging prisoners for their food? I don’t.
As I’ve said before, I don’t think that we should have prisoners, but I also recognize that repeating that over and over again, while important, doesn’t help those who are currently locked up, and I also support efforts to provide more immediate improvements to conditions.
I’m assuming that you don’t believe this is all or nothing, right? You’d like for prisons, since we’re going to have them at least in the short term, should be made less hellish? It’s like how I want police abolition, but I also support less “extreme” efforts to defund them, disarm them, increase accountability, and so on. I’ll always say it’s not enough, but ending something like Stop and Frisk, or civil asset forfeiture, or armed traffic stops, is going to save a lot of lives, and improve a lot of lives, so those are also worth fighting for.
@sonofrojblake: There is at least one good argument for giving criminals some free communications, it reduces recidivism. Helping criminals to stay connected to the world outside prison makes them less likely to immediately go back to crime when let out.
I don’t think unlimited free communications are a good idea though. Something graduated that gives them some free communications and then a sliding scale of cost as they use more. Not because it bothers me that prisoners have something I don’t but rather because unlimited services could easily be abused.
@6, yeah, sorry, it just still bakes my noodle every time I think about it that the USA hasn’t abolished slavery.
Well yes… that was my point. Pay prisoners like human beings, and have them pay for their comms out of what they earn, like human beings.
I don’t think we should have rapists. I don’t think it’s worth pursuing that line much further, because I think we’d probably disagree quite strongly and I have no wish to, given how strongly I agree with most of what you’re on about.
Possibly. Indeed, probably. You know what I’d really like? For prisons to work, i.e. for them to perform the purposes for which we have them which are, in no particular order:
1. deterrence – hard to determine. I don’t speed in my car, I’m ashamed to say, mainly because of the deterrent effect of the fines, rather than the amorphous concept of safety for me and others. The deterrent effect of prison, however, is not what’s stopping me from raping or murdering, and it’s not obvious to me that prison works as a deterrent for those things for anyone else.
2. punishment – well, it’s not nice in there, and I wouldn’t want to go, and there’s a certain sense of satisfaction in knowing the people in there aren’t having a good time… assuming they’re there for good reasons. Good reasons do not include using drugs, having a broken taillight, or being skint. But if you’ve burgled my house, or beaten your wife and kids, or whatever, well I hope you have a horrible time inside. Except see (4).
3. security – this is the one for me. While the scrotes who burgled my house are locked up, they’re not burgling anyone else’s house. The likelihood they’ll burgle someone when they get out leads me to the logical argument that in that case they shouldn’t be let out, which brings us onto
4. rehabilitation and the prevention of recidivism. The problem with this is that the things that appear to provably work, to actually reduce reoffending, are deeply unpopular with the sorts of hang’em’n’flog’em types who like to be tough on crime because they appear soft. Education, treating people like human beings and so on. Scandinavian prisons are famously more like hotels… and Scandinavians are famously contented with their low crime and recidivism rates.
I’m a sucker for evidence, and the evidence is punitive prison regimes don’t benefit society – don’t benefit me, even if I’m a hang’em’n’flog’em type (which I’m obviously not). So yes, I’d like them to be made less hellish, not because I have any sympathy for the people inside them, but because I’d prefer those people, if they get out, to be inclined to stay out. But that’s not how the system works in the US.
Like I said – I’m a sucker for evidence. Citation needed, but I’ll stick my neck out and say I believe that provisionally without evidence, and agree it would be a good idea, if it works. Also agree that it should be very limited, but then we’re into details.
Abe Drayton says
I also get angry about it. One of the reasons I’m able to write about this stuff without burning out on it, is that I allow myself to cover things incompletely, because this is a blog, not a scholarly publication or a book on the subject. Trying to cover everything just means I end up not finishing anything.
When it comes to the question of serial predators, killers, arsonists, yes of course their freedom must be restricted for the safety of others. That doesn’t necessarily mean having an institution whose sole purpose is locking people up. It may, but I don’t think we should start with the assumption that that’s the best option.
Nor do I think it should be just up to me.
On deterrence, I think one distinction that needs to be made is between crimes of necessity, crimes of “passion”, and crimes driven by pathology. Nobody is proposing that we close all the prisons and jails, fire all the cops, and change nothing else about society. I think you know that.
So for those who are unclear – prison and police abolition do mean some immediate changes, like an end to “proactive” policing and armed traffic stops, but the initial focus would be on eliminating factors – like the unnecessary poverty caused by the correct functioning of capitalism – that drive most low-level theft (reminder that MOST theft in the US is committed by employers and police, either deliberately underpaying workers even based on the unfair terms on the contracts, or in the case of cops, outright stealing from people). Reducing those stressors will also reduce murder, though obviously it won’t end it entirely.
Likewise, working to actually dismantle rape culture and proactively teach consent would neither work immediately, nor completely. I think it would, however, reduce sexual assault considerably, especially in conjunction with other changes.
And, of course, decriminalize all drugs and end the drug war, and stock locking people up for not being in the country with the right papers.
Part of the reason I focus on the need to end capitalism is that brutal policing and bloated prisons are required as part of maintaining order in a system that forces so many people to put everything they’ve got into merely surviving, without any space, time, or resources to really live.
The goal of all of this is to eliminate, to the greatest degree possible, the need for prisons
I’m sorry. I missed the session where we passed out the secret decoder rings, because you literally just said that in this thread.
I don’t think that we should have prisoners
I want police abolition
I honestly don’t know what you mean.
Oooh, I see. You really believe in a feasibility Utopian society without cops and prisons if there was just the right social supports in place? Jesus.
Abe Drayton says
The point is to work as far towards that as possible.
And if there are people who are pathologically unable to not hurt others, then how much is that their fault? I want them prevented from doing so, but not really as a punishment. I don’t know that the current concept of “prison” applies.
And as to protecting communities, the idea is that communities would do that themselves. This shouldn’t be that big of a stretch for you given how little cops do to protect people now.
Abe Drayton says
Also seriously? Decoder ring? You’ve been reading this blog, and others on this network for how long?
Did you just completely ignore everything said by people supporting the Defund movement? Did that somehow just pass you by?
I am not a mind-reader. I think that some people do believe in the nonsense feasibility of a radical restructuring of society which leads to a Utopian society without police or prisons. It’s not my fault that you’re using extremely unclear language and being a poor communicator.
The fact that some people do believe in the possibility of a Utopia without police or prisons means that using the phrase “defund the police” is intrinsically an exercise in poor communication, doubly so when you also say, verbatim:
“I don’t think that we should have prisoners”
“I want police abolition”
Don’t put this blame of bad communication on me good sir.
Abe Drayton says
I’m blaming you for your lack of curiosity, more than anything.
Abolishing police, as I’ve said a number of times before, does not mean abolishing first responders, or even armed first responders. It means eliminating duties that don’t need to be performed (like the drug war), shifting duties like mental health calls to people trained for that purpose, taking steps to eliminate the motives for crimes of necessity, and having communities defend themselves when needed. There would still be people to investigate crimes, and to enforce laws, they just wouldn’t be a class of people set above the general population. Again, this is a concept that’s been talked about many times in many ways over the last three years, and somewhat less so in the decades prior. I’m pretty sure I’ve talked about it on this blog as well, but you seem to have missed that.
Either that or you’re just ignoring what you’ve heard to focus on names. You wouldn’t be just ignoring or forgetting explanations would you? Of course not. That means that after reading this comment, you won’t be focused solely on names, right? You’ll have a notion of what the actual proposal looks like?
Likewise, prison abolition doesn’t mean there are no measures to keep the public safe, or to control those who can’t stop themselves from hurting others. It means we don’t have institutions whose sole purpose is locking people away. Again, as with police abolition, nobody is suggesting we just open the prisons. Start with ending the drug war, for example. There are a lot of people locked up who just don’t need to be because of that alone. It also makes it easy for cops to plant drugs on people to get an excuse to lock them up, as we’ve seen them do many, many times. Another part of things would be the work I mentioned above about eliminating criminogenic conditions like artificial scarcity.
Phase out prisons by ending their over-use and decreasing the societal demand for them, and re-assess as we go.
Does that clarify? Is this somehow the first time you’ve encountered this perspective?
Edit – sorry if I’m being too harsh, it’s just that it seems like you’re more interested in using the inherent simplicity of a slogan as a rhetorical tool, rather than considering any of the ideas behind the slogan.
Ok. Mea culpa. My fault in at least part. So, “police” means only a specific sort of government armed law enforcement agents.
I still think you’re being silly saying that we can get rid of places whose primary purpose is confinement.
Abe Drayton says
Cool beans. The point is to work in that direction as long as we can see the way to do it.
Right now there is clear evidence that we can make society considerably safer by drastically reducing the prison population, along with the laws designed to funnel people into those institutions.
I totally agree to that.