Recommended Reading: Angela Y. Davis’ “Are Prisons Obsolete?”

are prisons obsolete

Spoiler alert: yes.

Chapter 5 of Are Prisons Obsolete?, titled “The Prison Industrial Complex,” begins with this quote:

For private business prison labor is like a pot of gold.  No strikes.  No union organizing.  No health benefits, unemployment insurance, or worker’s compensation to pay.  No language barriers, as in foreign countries.  New leviathan prisons are being built on thousands of eerie acres of factories inside the walls.  Prisoners do data entry or Chevron, make telephone reservations for TWA, raise hogs, shovel manure, and make curcuit boards, limousines, waterbeds, and lingerie for Victoria’s Secret, all at a fraction of the cost of “free labor.”

-Linda Evans and Eve Goldberg, “The Prison Industrial Complex and the Global Economy

Angela Y. Davis’s Are Prisons Obsolete?* refutes the idea that incarceration is the natural result of crime.  Like many wrongs we don’t hear about when the media is obsessed with whether Kanye West likes butt pleasures, the reason we are locking people up in record-setting, exponentially-growing numbers is so that the right people can get rich.

That traditionally voiceless, powerless groups like women and people of color are the ones getting locked up comes as no surprise (unfortunately).  It explains why more people aren’t enraged by the racial disparities in our justice system.  The surprise is that the ultimate motivation behind increasing our prison population by 408% in the last 40 years is not racism or sexism but greed.  Racism and sexism facilitate the process, but it’s profit pushing it forward.

If you’re looking for something which won’t make your blood boil, then this is not the read for you.  But if we want to move our culture forward, then we need to redirect  all the ire and attention over true crime stories like Making of a Murderer or The Jinx to something worthwhile.

*special thanks to Green Apple Books of San Francisco’s Staff Recommends display

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