Blog #12: H.R. 4080 (What the Hell?!?)

“(1) A total of 2.2 million American adults are incarcerated in state and local prisons and jails, a rate of about 1 out of every 100 adults.

(2) State spending on corrections has increased over the last 20 years from approximately $12.6 billion in 1988 to more than $52 billion in 2008. According to “Public Safety, Public Spending: Forecasting America’s Prison Population 2007-2011,” State and Federal prison populations are expected to increase by 192,000 over that 5-year period, at an additional cost of $27.5 billion.

(3) Between 2000 and 2008, jail populations increased from approximately 621,000 to 785,000 inmates. The 3,300 jails nationwide process approximately 13.5 million inmates each year, 4 million of whom are repeat offenders.

(4) The number of persons on probation and parole in state correctional systems has been increasing. Approximately 5 million Americans, or 1 out of every 45 adults, are on probation or parole, an increase of nearly 300 percent since 1980.

(5) Policy makers have insufficient access to detailed, data-driven explanations about changes in crime, arrest, conviction, and prison and jail population trends.

(6) In the face of ever-increasing correctional costs, with bipartisan leadership, governors and legislative leaders in Texas, Kansas, Rhode Island, Vermont, and other states around the country have initiated data-driven criminal justice reinvestment strategies that increase public safety, hold offenders accountable, and control Corrections spending.”

The bill goes on to inform its purpose “… is to provide grants for criminal justice reinvestment strategies.” A data-driven program; however, it seems the $35 million to be appropriated by the bill is sorely misappropriated. In fact, the above statistics offer sufficient data-driven information to inform any reasonably intelligent policy maker that the “prison industrial complex” is driven by high finance. It is a money-maker, an employment opportunity program, and a tool for social control of “minorities” and the poor.

Beyond that, there are a plethora of data-gathering institutions offering statistical information on the P.I.C., enough to prohibit this kind of wasteful duplication. For example, the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) consistently releases information dissecting every aspect of the P.I.C.; the Sentencing Project and the ACLU continuously make and issue reports on the P.I.C.; this includes the NAACP reports. The various states make statistical analyses of their prisons, if for no other purpose than budgeting and spending concerns.

Therefore, a closer look at this bill may conclude this is just another spending mechanism in support of the P.I.C.; essentially to fund another institution, statistics-gathering nonprofits and businesses in the service of the P.I.C. It is certainly obvious this bill is not seeking to lower minimum sentences, reduce impediments to the granting of parole, or the actual closing of prisons.

Rather, the greater probability is that this bill seeks to further refine the criminal justice mechanism to further target specific groups of Americans for incarceration, further refining the “New Jim Crow” laws, now that Michelle Alexander has raised the racist foundation of the P.I.C. into the national debate. Hence, we must be vigilant in opposing policy makers’ “double-speak” when they attempt to appropriate funding for data-driven studies that will ultimately target our communities and our youth. They are certainly NOT seeking solutions that serve to direct resources to our community that will lessen the incarceration of our youth and ultimately deny the P.I.C. the human resources its multi-billion dollar industry depends upon.

As Michelle Alexander warns: “It is fair to say that we have witnessed an evolution in the United States from a racial caste system based entirely on exploitation (slavery), to one based largely on subordination (Jim Crow), to one defined by marginalization (mass incarceration). While marginalization may sound far preferable to exploitation, it may prove to be even more dangerous. Extreme marginalization, as we have seen throughout world history, poses the risk of extermination. …” (page 207)

If this thought is not diabolical enough, then consider the rider bill attached to the original H.R. 4080.

The second H.R. 4080 of 2/17/12, “The Unknown Slave” bill, is to “solicit bids and enter into an agreement for the creation of a statue of “The Unknown Slave,” which is “for permanent display in Emancipation Hall in the Capital Visitor Center.”

A statue to immortalize America’s inhumane history of African chattel slave trade fails to capture the reality that slavery has not been abolished; it has been institutionalized, pursuant to the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, in the prison system. Prisoners are slaves of the state in accord with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Ruffin v. Commonwealth, 62 Va. 790, 796 (1871), a precedent which reads in part:

“For a time, during his service in the penitentiary, he is in a state of penal servitude to the state. He has, as a consequence of his crime, not only forfeited his liberty, but all his personal rights except those which the law in its humanity accords to him. He is, for the time being, a slave of the state. He is civiliter mortuus; and his estate, if he has any, is administered like that of a dead man.” (The New Jim Crow, page 31)

Therefore, there is no “Unknown Slave”; in fact, there are over 2 million very documented slaves across the United States. Rather than immortalizing the slave trade with a statue, let’s continue the fight to end slavery in the United States by putting an end to the new Jim Crow, demanding the abolishment of the Prison Industrial Complex. Call your Black Congressional Caucus representative and tell him/her “NO to the Unknown Slave statue” until all forms of slavery have been abolished in the United States!

In Fierce Struggle,
Jalil Muntaqim
3/22/12