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Prison the New Jim Crow

The present prision system is a form of repression inflicted on a specific group of people, specifically people of color. A system that was once designed to rehabilitate through repentance has become a system purely driven by profit and racial prejudice.

To control a person one must control their thinking; control their mind and you control them. Our society has been led to believe certain practices are acceptable. Our way of thinking has imprisoned most of us, but a more inhuman act of imprisonment is occurring to our fellow human every day. National, state, and local government policies are allowing the wholesale imprisonment of Americans, and due to our mind set and prejudices, we cannot see what is happening before our eyes.

America has become the number one incarcerator of citizens among all industrialized nations. This is producing a cast system of people, who are becoming a permanent underclass. When you look at the prison system it appears that more people are imprisoned on drug and drug related crime than any other classification. This imprisonment is accepted and deemed appropriate by way of the War on Drugs. One could ask is the War on Drugs a real war or is The War on Drugs a war of propaganda?

Some have suggested that the "War on Drugs" was launched in conjunction with what is known in race politics as the “Southern Strategy” an effort to appeal to poor white voters who felt threatened by the gains of the Civil Rights Movement. Statistics would suggest when President Regan started the so-called "War on Drugs" drug related crimes were on the decline. Still it is war accelerated by the common fear of crime, and drugs. The War on Drugs provided the means for the mass incarceration of the unemployed, poor, and homeless and appears to be aimed at the social outcast or those without the political or economic power to defend themselves. These individuals could not hire lobbyist to write laws to protect them, nor could they fund the campaigns of elected officials. This group became the easiest prey to blame for societal ills. It became very easy to rally support for this initiative. There has been massive public support for the War on Drugs because it is thought to target violent offenders, or drug lords and king pins but that is not the case. Michelle Alexander claims, 80% of drug arrest are for marijuana use; and in 2005, 4 out of 5 people were in jail for possession and had no violent record. Black and Latina males are 2 to 3 times more likely to be stopped and searched for drugs; even though white males are 4 times more likely to have to drugs on them on the occasions when they are searched. White men are 1/3 less likely to be searched but more 4 times more likely to have it on them.

If one looks at incarcerations in the United States as it pertains to drugs, our society has made a direct correlation between being black, Hispanic, poor and drugs. So therefore, when this war was declared it was declared on poor, black people and people of Hispanic decent. When one looks at a chart created from a “Prison House of Nations” the projected rate of incarceration for black males born in 2001 is 32.2 %, whereas the rate for whites is 5.9%, and Hispanic males is 17.2%. Especially in inner cities, graduation from high school is often the exception, legal work is scarce, and incarceration rates are increasing even as crime rates decrease.. The War on Drugs is waged exclusively on poor colored communities; even though studies show that colored people are not more likely to use or sell drugs than white people.

Drugs markets are typically regulated by race; whites sell to whites and blacks sell to blacks. However, the War on Drugs changed how society imagines a drug user and dealer. The new image is of a poor black young boy of color. Ironically, few people of color own ships and planes that deliver these drugs for distribution, or banks that actually process the funds derived from drugs distribution.

This claim could sound somewhat of a conspiracy, what would be the need for this mass incarceration? The fact is the prison system is one of the fastest-growing industries in America. It has been established that the prison system supplies a massive work force. The prison worker has little or no rights, the taxpayer supplies his or her basic needs, and companies have a ready supply of cheap labor when it is needed. It is ironic because the people who typically support this prison industrial complex, are against typical welfare but do not see this as economic welfare for capitalist corporations. It is estimated that the international drug trade produces over 500 billion dollars per year and approximately “60 percent of the funds are processed through United States banks. . .and then goes to offshore tax havens”.

The international drug trade and its economic and social impact are rarely discussed. Instead of dealing with the root of the problem, which is the monetary profit by large companies and our government from illegal activity, our leaders focus on what they believe people can identify with which is the incarceration of a “young, black kid smoking weed”.

Let’s look at official government policy relative to incarnation of drug users and commerce of drugs. In one aspect the government targets drug users but they also facilitate drug use. For example, Chomsky explains that in Columbia the United States participates in a program called “food for peace” aid. It ultimately destroyed wheat production by giving food to Columbia for distribution; and the end result is the farmers had to turn to coca production on their lands to sustain themselves.

In essence, Unites States polices increase drug production and distribution . The Federal Governments official policy has led the state and local level to be driven by a motive of profit. For example, local prisons and police stations are often given incentives to maintain the high incarceration of drug offenders. They are awarded for reaching certain quotas and often times are allowed to keep 80 % of all seized cars, homes and property. There is a direct monetary interest, and “the results have been predictable” . We now have a work force that is often the result of official government policy on the national, state and local levels. It can be concluded that the winners in this system are the major companies and the government and who are the losers? I would argue our communities, because some of our most productive citizens are lost in a system that robes them of their inalienable rights.

This targeted imprisonment has a tremendous impact on the black individual and the black community. According to the book, Lost Generations? Or Left Generations?: “there are more black men in prison ages 16 to 45 than attend colleges today; and over one million black men are in jail today”. America’s young black men are locked behind bars, and have been deemed felons for the rest of their life. As felons, once they are released they are not allowed to vote, are excluded from juries, legally discriminated against as it pertains to employment, housing, and educational benefits. These people are thus deemed second-class citizens. These problems are typically overlooked due to the fact that a small segment of the black community has achieved success on a grand scale. For instance, the election of President Barack Obama, many believed signaled the end of the Jim Crow era. Black men now attend some of America’s most prestigious universities and a handful are now CEOs in cooperate America. These few instances create an allusion of progress and mask the racial reality; which is a large segment of the black community is under the control of prison systems, parole boards, and are felons. The reality of the situation is that young African Americans are labeled as criminals at young ages, and “locked into an inferior status by law”. These young men have been excommunicated from society for “the same drug activity that occurs in the middle and upper middle class communities” .

Imprisonment can be a personal death. Felons should be fairly pursued and convicted, and once they have repaid their debt to society they should not be ushered into a second-class citizenship. Instead they should be warranted the same inalienable rights that is given to every man at birth. After they have served their time, they should be allowed to re-enter society with the same privileges that they had when they left. These men are cut off from their families and friends but it is also a cultural death. When they emerge out of the prison system their lives are not the same. Their potential hopes, and dreams are no longer available to them; because society has declared that they are not merited to have these things. This in essence is a premature death that these men are subjected to.

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