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Inequality

Lawyers, Jails, and the Law’s Fake Bargains

Assume that Canada and the Western European countries have about the right number of people in jail. Assume that the social problem of crime is not terribly different in those countries than in the United States. Understand that our incarceration rate is five to eight times that of those other countries. If these assumptions, and this understanding, are even nearly valid, 80 percent of the people in American jails should not be there | more…

Cruel but Not Unusual

The Punishment of Women in U.S. Prisons: An Interview with Marilyn Buck and Laura Whitehorn

After years of neglect, the issue of women in prison has begun to receive attention in this country. Media accounts of overcrowding, lengthening sentences, and horrendous medical care in women’s prisons appear regularly. Amnesty International—long known for ignoring human rights abuses inside United States prisons and jails—issued a report, two days shy of International Women’s Day 2001, documenting over 1,000 cases of sexual abuse of U.S. women prisoners by their jailers. However, we seldom hear from these women themselves. And we never hear from women incarcerated for their political actions | more…

Disablement, Prison, and Historical Segregation

The story of disablement and the prison industrial complex must begin with a trail of telling numbers: a disproportionate number of persons incarcerated in U.S. prisons and jails are disabled. Though Census Bureau data suggest that disabled persons represent roughly one-fifth of the total population, prevalence of disability among prisoners is startlingly higher, for reasons we will examine later. While no reliable cross- disability demographics have been compiled nationwide, numerous studies now enable us to make educated estimates regarding the incidence of various disability categories among incarcerated persons. Hearing loss, for example, is estimated to occur in 30 percent of the prison population, while estimates of the prevalence of mental retardation among prisoners range from 3 to 9.5 percent | more…

Teaching in Prison

If prisons were places people who have committed serious crimes were sent to pay a debt to society, and to be rehabilitated to return to society as healthy members of it, then at least the following things would be true. First, people who had not committed serious crimes would not be in prison at all. Drug users and persons with mental illnesses would receive treatment and would live in their communities, either at home or in safe and hospitable facilities run as public entities. Those who had committed minor criminal offences, such as shoplifting, would be given non-prison sentences involving counseling and community service. As much as possible, communities would be involved in both setting the penalties and organizing and participating in the treatment. Ironically, this was typically the case in American Indian communities, now so ravaged by the U.S. criminal injustice system | more…

The Queer/Gay Assimilationist Split

The Suits vs. the Sluts

“I’ll say it loud; I’ll say it proud: I love drug companies,” HIV-positive Andrew Sullivan recently boasted in The New York Times Magazine. As one of the most visible gay journalists in the nation, the statement spoke to a core dilemma within a gay and lesbian movement split between gay assimilationists, such as Sullivan, and social justice minded queers. The question was, how had this free-market loving Tory Thatcherite become a spokesman for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) movement? Sullivan’s cavalier boast neglected the point that ACT UP, the pro-queer AIDS direct action group, had not only spent almost fifteen years fighting to get expedited approval for life saving medications, but had put their bodies on the line to get drug companies to lower prices so people could actually afford them. | more…

Subverting A Model

Vijay Prashad,The Karma of Brown Folk(University of Minnesota Press, 2000), 248 pages, $25 hardcover.

The Karma of Brown Folk is essentially addressed to two audiences and is surprisingly successful in being readable by both. Its primary audience is the “desi”—men and women of South Asian descent living in the United States. This widely dispersed group of some fifteen million first and second generation immigrants is often referred to as a model minority—untroublesome, hardworking, entrepreneurial, conservative, clannish, and family oriented. In approaching these countrymen the author’s freely avowed purpose is a subversive one. He wants to destroy the image by re-forming the fact behind it | more…

Capitalism and Crisis

Creating a Jailhouse Nation

Lockdown America: Police and Prisons in The Age of Crisis by Christian Parenti.

By the time I was captured in 1981, the prologue to a life sentence, I had twenty years of movement experience—both above and underground—under my belt. So I thought I had a good understanding of the race and class basis of prisons. But once actually inside that reality, I was stunned by just how thoroughly racist the criminal justice system is and also by the incessant petty hassles of humiliation and degradation. As political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal aptly noted in Live From Death Row, there is a “profound horror…in the day-to-day banal occurrences…[the] second-by-second assault on the soul.” The 1980s became the intense midpoint of an unprecedented explosion of imprisonment. Since 1972, the number of inmates in this country, on any given day, has multiplied six-fold to the two million human beings behind bars today. Another four million are being supervised on parole or probation. The U.S. is the world leader in both death sentences and incarcerations. With just 5 percent of the world’s population, we hold 25 percent of the prisoners. | more…

Race and Class in the Work of Oliver Cromwell Cox

Oliver Cromwell Cox’s Caste, Class, and Race was first published in 1948 by Doubleday, which, in line with the anti-leftist imperatives of the time, almost immediately let the book go out of print. Fortunately, it was reissued in 1959 by Monthly Review Press, which has enabled subsequent generations to read Cox’s extraordinary text. Indeed, I discovered Cox through Monthly Review’s Modern Reader paperback edition in 1970; coincidentally, that was also the year of the only occasion on which I heard him speak, at the annual meeting of the Association of Social and Behavioral Scientists, the black social scientists’ group | more…

Journalism, Democracy, … and Class Struggle

Socialists since the time of Marx have been proponents of democracy, but they have argued that democracy in capitalist societies is fundamentally flawed. In capitalist societies, the wealthy have tremendous social and economic advantages over the working class that undermine political equality, a presupposition for viable democracy. In addition, under capitalism the most important economic issues—investment and control over production—are not the province of democratic politics but, rather, the domain of a small number of wealthy firms and individuals seeking to maximize their profit in competition with each other. This means that political affairs can only indirectly influence economics, and that any party or individual in power has to be careful not to antagonize wealthy investors so as to instigate an investment strike and an economic collapse that would generally mean political disaster  | more…

Capital Crimes

The Political Economy of Crime in America

American politicians have been declaring victory in the war against crime at least since Richard Nixon said in 1972 that “[c]rime…[is] finally beginning to go back down…[because] we have a remarkable record on the law-and-order issues, with crime legislation…and narcotics bills.” In other words, crime declines because the government passes laws and spends money; larger prisons, more police, fewer civil liberties, and tougher punishments are winning the war on crime  | more…

SNCC: What We Did

2000 marks the fortieth anniversary of the southern sit-in movement, the emergence of the civil rights struggle of the 1960s, and the founding of its most dynamic component, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). We believe it is important to look back at the achievements of those courageous men and women, both to celebrate their struggle and to learn from their experience. The following article is adapted from a talk originally given last summer at a seminar far college and university teachers, on the history of the civil rights movement at Harvard’s W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for Afro-American Studies.—Eds. | more…