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Industry: Angela Davis speaks against for-profits.

From the Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA)
Industry feeds prison proliferation
Wednesday April 02, 2003
Lolis Eric Elie

In 1961, in his farewell address to the nation, President Eisenhower employed the term "military-industrial complex" to describe the sector of the economy that profited from the nation's need for defense.

"The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist," he said.

Prison reform activists have employed a parallel term to describe the increased power of the incarceration industry: the prison industrial complex.

So many companies make so much money opening private prisons or selling goods and services to correctional facilities that they have a vested interest in society locking up more people. In Louisiana, two private correctional facilities, the Jena Juvenile Justice Center and the Tallulah Correctional Center for Youth, have been models of cruelty and mismanagement.

"Those of us who are active in the campaign against the prison industrial complex see similarities with the military industrial complex," said Angela Davis, a professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz.

"It's not a question of putting away people who have committed dangerous crimes. "It's a question of a profit machine that relies on human bodies as raw material for the production of that profit," Davis said.

Davis to speak

Davis will speak Friday in New Orleans as part of Critical Resistance South: Beyond the Prison Industrial Complex, a free conference designed to analyze the workings of the criminal justice system.

"The expansion of the prison system creates the very conditions that are responsible for the continued expansion of the prison population," she said.

"As resources are shifted from education, housing and community services to the correctional community, people who might otherwise have had the opportunity to pursue more productive paths end up being shut out of jobs and education."

Post-Civil War roots

As Davis sees it, the growth of this industry dates back to the end of the Civil War and comes with stark racial implications. "Quite a number of studies have made the point that in the aftermath of the abolition of slavery, the racial composition of prison populations dramatically changed," Davis said.

She cites the example of Mary Ellen Curtin's book "Black Prisoners and Their World: Alabama, 1865-1900." Curtin writes that in the aftermath of slavery, the prison population went from 95 percent white to 98 percent black.

Most of those black prisoners were leased out as laborers and thus were subjected to a new form of slavery, Davis said. It is this sort of re-examination of the meaning and methods of incarceration that Critical Resistance South seeks to foster.

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