Black Agenda Radio Commentaries
News, analysis and commentary on the human condition from a black left perspective.
The Black Prison Gulag in the Age of Austerity

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford

The financial crisis is fast stripping California and other states of services and amenities. But, for many citizens, the pending release of a fraction of the prison population is too painful to bear. “Democrats and Republicans alike resist letting their prisoners go, as if the gods of California and the United States must be constantly fed more Black and brown bodies.”

The Black Prison Gulag in the Age of Austerity

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford

The states can no longer afford to indulge in their depraved luxury of choice: Black and brown mass incarceration.”

The general economic crisis has pushed the finances of many state governments over the cliff. State services of all kinds have been cut beyond the bone, with devastating effects on the quality of life for working people and the poor. The crisis has also brought into sharp focus a nightmare of the states’ own making: the Black Prison Gulag. For two generations, states have eagerly diverted hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to constant expansion of their prison systems, in a kind of institutional and fundamentally racist mob frenzy to lock up as large a proportion of their non-white populations as possible. In grotesquely expanding numbers, African Americans paid the social cost for prison fever, a mass white pathology that is unrelated to actual rates of crime, but which has devastated Black American society like no other affliction since slavery, itself. One out of every eight prison inmates on planet Earth is an African American – a self-evident crime against a specific portion of humanity.

Now the states can no longer afford to indulge in their depraved luxury of choice: Black and brown mass incarceration. California is the most dramatic case in point. Federal courts this month ordered California to divest itself of 40,000 prison inmates it can no longer afford to cage like animals in facilities designed to hold only half those currently locked up. But despite being a financial basket case, the state clings to its captives like Pharaoh to the biblical Hebrews. Democrats and Republicans alike resist letting their prisoners go, as if the gods of California and the United States must be constantly fed more Black and brown bodies so that the American “way of life” will continue to exist. On the lips of such wild-eyed, hysterical Americans, the term “Law and Order” sounds like a savage religious incantation in a ceremony demanding the sacrifice of captives from another tribe.

The state clings to its captives like Pharaoh to the biblical Hebrews.”

California’s poverty and the judges’ order mean the state must reconsider what it will do with all the juveniles its justice system is warehousing, at a yearly cost of more than $200,000 each. This new crop of inmates is supposed to graduate to the grownup penitentiaries of the future. California had planned to have many of these kids caged for life. Instead, the state has been commanded to set loose these youngsters’ older brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, and grandparents. There may be no room at the penitentiary when the juveniles become men and women. What is the California dream coming to?

That dream seems to require Black mass incarceration for the emotional comfort of a majority of white people, not just in the Golden State, but every last one of the United States. Not to mention the local economies that have become dependent on a steady flow of Black and brown captives into out-in-the-boondocks white prison towns. There are indications that the guards who live in these towns are instigating prison disturbances to dramatize both how dangerous the inmates are and how much they, the guards, are needed. Downsize education and health care, roads and sanitation, but dare don’t touch the prison industrial complex.

Americans will watch many of their dreams die in the ongoing economic decline, and that is profoundly sad. But it is deeply sick that a society would cling so desperately to a nightmare: a prison system from Hell.

For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. On the web, go to www.BlackAgendaReport.com.

Direct download: 20090826_gf_GulagInAusterity.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:25pm EDT