Category Archives: Prisons

Racism, Mass Incarceration, and the United States “Justice” System

The Progressive Cynic

© Josh Sager – October 2013


Picture by CNV

The United States has the dubious distinction of being the country which imprisons a larger percentage of our population than any other country on earth. Out of every 100,000 Americans, 716 are currently in jail—to put this into perspective, here are imprisonment statistics for several countries that have regularly been demonized for their repressive governments:

  • Cuba: 510 inmates per 100,000 citizens
  • Russia: 475 inmates per 100,000 citizens
  • Iran: 284 inmates per 100,000 citizens
  • Zimbabwe: 129 inmates per 100,000 citizens

The United States is not a small country by any means, thus our high incarceration rates translate to truly staggering numbers of people in jail. According to the most recent estimates, nearly 2.2 million Americans are currently serving time in the federal, state and local prison systems—in addition to those who are serving time, approximately 5.8 million Americans are on probation, on…

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Transnational Anti-Imperialism and Middle East Women’s Studies

Transnational Anti-Imperialism and Middle East Women’s Studies

“While teaching courses in US Women of Color Feminisms and American Studies on the one hand and Middle East Women’s Studies on the other, I have run up against the limitations of area-studies divisions that continue to predominate within Middle East Women’s Studies—such as the framing of American Studies (including US Women of Color and Native American Feminist Studies) and Middle East Studies (including Middle East Women’s Studies) as separate fields and the United States and the Middle East as geographically bounded regions. Such divisions obstruct the possibilities for engagement with important questions such as whether and to what extent racist/classist/heterosexist US prison structures have anything to do with the US war on terror. In fact, a particular strand of feminist scholarship that I will refer to here as Anti-Imperialist Transnational Feminist Studies (AITFS) has been asking such questions for decades, and these questions are now more imperative to Middle East Women’s Studies than ever before.”

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How to really end mass incarceration

How to really end mass incarceration

“But this is no time to rest. Those who seek a fairer criminal justice system, unclouded by racial bias, must at a minimum demand that the government eliminate mandatory minimum sentences, which tie judges’ hands; rescind three-strikes laws, which often make no distinction between, say, armed assault and auto theft; amend “truth in sentencing” statutes, which prohibit early release for good behavior; and recalibrate drug policies, starting with decriminalization of marijuana possession and investment in substance-abuse prevention and treatment. Federal aid to state and local agencies, like the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant and the Community Oriented Policing Services, must prioritize diversion and rehabilitation over arrest and incarceration.”

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Invisible women: The consequences of forgetting Sybrina Fulton

Invisible women: The consequences of forgetting Sybrina Fulton

“We talk often of the criminalization of black boys, and point to the school-to-prison pipeline as an example, but fail to mention the ways it affects black girls, as Monique W. Morris laid out in her report for African American Policy Forum in March of this year. According to Morris: ‘Black women and girls continue to be over-represented among those who are in contact with the criminal and juvenile justice systems. Black girls continue to experience some of the highest rates of residential detention. Black girls represent the fastest-growing segment of the juvenile justice population, and they have experienced the most dramatic rise in middle school suspension rates in recent years.’ Yet, the problem continues to be framed as a nearly exclusive to black men and boys.”

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Schools and the New Jim Crow: An Interview With Michelle Alexander

Schools and the New Jim Crow: An Interview With Michelle Alexander


“I think this mythology—that of course we’re all beyond race, of course our police officers aren’t racist, of course our politicians don’t mean any harm to people of color—this idea that we’re beyond all that (so it must be something else) makes it difficult for young people as well as the grown-ups to be able to see clearly and honestly the truth of what’s going on. It makes it difficult to see that the backlash against the Civil Rights Movement manifested itself in the form of mass incarceration, in the form of defunding and devaluing schools serving kids of color and all the rest. We have avoided in recent years talking openly and honestly about race out of fear that it will alienate and polarize. In my own view, it’s our refusal to deal openly and honestly with race that leads us to keep repeating these cycles of exclusion and division, and rebirthing a caste-like system that we claim we’ve left behind.”

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[Video] Brilliant Daily Show interview of Dawn Porter!

Watch this! Dawn Porter on her documentary on the Constitution and the problems of the American legal system.

With 2.3 million people incarcerated in the US, “80% of people charged cannot afford lawyers. 90-95% plead guilty.” “If 95% of people are pleading guilty, it means only 5% are going to trial.”

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I Was Almost a Victim of the Student-to-Prison-Pipeline

I Was Almost a Victim of the Student-to-Prison-Pipeline

“How are students to trust schools have student safety or education in their best interest when schools are facilitating student criminalization? How are students supposed to feel safe when their schools resemble a prison?”

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California Budget: More money for prisons, less for the UC system and higher education

The University of California system was founded in 1868 and has become one of the most prestigious educational systems in the world. There are 10 campuses that focus on programs of technology, humanities, law and medicine. UC is an institution that engages in research, education and public services and each has its own funding. UC tuition is now about $13,000 a year. It has skyrocketed 62% since 2007, and this doesn’t include books, health insurance and other school necessities. When all of those necessities are factored in, it costs about $32,000 annually. These costs are for California residents, non resident’s costs are double, or about $55,000. Jerry Brown acknowledged the soaring costs of attending a UC and stated, ‘with respect to higher education, cost pressures are relentless. Many students cannot get the classes they need. Tuition increases are not the answer. I will not let students become default financiers of our colleges and universities.’

UC  budget cuts and prison funding

UC funding comes from many different sources, but most are restricted to specific uses and cannot be applied for other purposes. Almost three-fourths of UC’s revenue is restricted by the funding source. This means that UC cannot legally transfer funds and use money to cover cuts in state funding.

According to K-12 and higher education receive the largest portion of funding (more than half) of State General Fund Expenditures, Health and Human Services receives about one-third, and corrections one-tenth. Although higher education used to receive far more than corrections, higher education now receives slightly less than corrections.

Over the past 30 years higher education’s share of the state budget has consistently been declining, while corrections’ share of the budget has been increasing over the same period. Prison guard salaries have been subject to periods of sustained increases while faculty salaries saw only weak growth during the 80s and 90s and then experienced a real decline during the 2000s. While spending on higher education has decreased by 13%, spending on prisons has skyrocketed 436%. Although corrections’ funding has even increased during some downturns, higher education has always experienced cuts in state funding during those periods. After the most recent recession both saw a decline in state funding. In a state of 38 million, the inmate population has been the key factor for increased spending on corrections.

When Gov. Schwarzenegger was in office, he and the Democrats thought it would be best to revise California’s sentencing laws to reduce the number of people being sent to state prisons. The costs of housing 167,000 state prison inmates were more than educating 226,000 students in the UC system. Reasons for the high costs of prisons have been tougher sentencing, like the three-strikes law. Also, rising salaries and more hires for the prison staff are a factor. Darrel Steinberg, a Democrat from Sacramento stated, ‘In what civilized state of country do you spend more on prisons than on higher education? That’s a compelling argument to vote reform.” Between 2000 and 2008 the state’s correction budget doubled to $10.8 billion. UC President Mark Yudof said that he didn’t understand how California managed to build 24 prisons in the 25 years but only one additional research university.

The University of California recently wrote that state disinvestment has affected nearly every part of the university. Over the past five years campuses have laid off more than 4,000 employees, eliminated or left unfilled 9,500 positions and deferred faculty hiring. Also there have been cuts to academic programs, elimination of courses, increased class sizes, and cuts in student services like library hours and counseling.

UC’s 2012-2013 core funds operating budget sources are: state general funds ($2.38 billion); student tuition and fees ($2.98 billion); and UC general funds ($848 million). UC’s 2009-2010 state-funded budget was $2.6 billion a 20% decrease from 2008-2009. Even before that the state’s per-student funding for UC education had fallen 54% since 1990. In 1990, the state contributed $16,430 per student, or 78 percent of the total cost of education. By 2009-10, that figure had fallen to $7,570 per student, or 48 percent of the total cost. In 2009 UC faced at minimum a $1 billion gap in state funding.

Larry Gordon reported in The Los Angeles Times that in 2011 the total amount that UC students pay in tuition surpassed the funding the public university receives from the state. Larry writes, “Propelled by budget crisis in California and elsewhere, the burden of paying for education at a public college or university, once heavily subsidized by taxpayers, is shifting to students and their families.”

Dianne Klein, a spokesperson for the UC Office of the President, states that there has been nearly a billion in cuts since 2008.

California’s disinvestment in higher education

According to the Public Policy Institute of California tuition increases are because of state disinvestment and state officials. It is the California Legislature that has the sole authority to set student fees at college. Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education, stated, ‘There’s no question that California has had the most emulated public universities in the nation, and for the rest of the world. What we are seeing is the abandonment of the state’s commitment to make California’s education available to all citizens.’

It is not so much the poor or the rich who become marginalized because of budget cuts, but the middle class who don’t qualify for much financial aid. While I attended UC Riverside in 2010 it was not uncommon to hear people say they would have to drop out because of not being able to pay for tuition. Even for people who did get to stay in school they graduated with an incredible amount of debt that leaves them as indentured servants once they graduate. Many would have to attend community college before going on to a university in order to save money. I should note that budget cuts have affected all higher education in California–that means community colleges (the California Community College system is the largest system of public higher education in the nation) and Cal States also. Now I understand some people don’t see a problem. Many believe that higher education is not a right, but a privilege that one must work for and that students are not owed an education. That if you want higher education, then you must work for it. At the same time though, how could there be more money for prisons and correction officers, but not money for people to go to school or for professors? Realize that this renders education only for those that are privileged. And make no mistake, higher education and more educated Californians is good for everyone. Education contributes to a better society, brings down poverty and brings down the crime rate. It leads a country to progress not only economically, but also socially and enriches society. Unfortunately though, education is not just being slashed in California, but also in Chicago, New York, New Jersey and other states. Chicago is seeing many school closures, up to 49, mostly in black neighborhoods.

Education should be a priority

The fact is that if America really cares about education then it needs to make it a priority. We have a country where schools are closed and prisons are wide open. We have a country where you have to be increasingly financially wealthy in order to go to school and even to find a job because of the proliferation of unpaid internships. What does that say about our country? How does this not undermine our commitment to education and equality? What does it say when correction officers make more money than professors? Is it any wonder why America’s rankings in education have fallen? How could it be that we are the richest country in the world and we don’t have money for education? This is embarrassing. We rank 17th in global education, but number one in defense. Legislators keep talking about deficits and how there’s no money for healthcare, or social services, but the military never goes without. I’m not saying it is going to be easy, I know it is not so black and white, but there are definitely things we can do. We can start by looking at our prison sentencing (not all of those in jail are violent offenders), we can start to look into prison costs and where we can cut, we can start to take more money from our bloated defense, any many other things if we are really serious. And for those who don’t care about the growing number of prisoners, if you care about education and the money that’s being taken away by prisons then there’s a reason for you to start caring. I’m with Robert Fulghum, “It will be a great day when our schools have all the money they need, and our air force has to have a bake-sale to buy a bomber.”

If you’d like to get more involved go here. It is a link to the nonprofit Student Debt Crisis, which works on legislation to help solve the student debt crisis. There you can sign the petition for the Student Loan Fairness Act.

-Marina Espinoza

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