Tuesday, February 9, 2010

"Slavery by the Backdoor" Not-so-Funny British Take on America's Prisons

Stephen Fry talks about the rate of imprisonment in the USA.

This recent clip from comedian Stephen Fry’s television panel game show, “QI” (Quite Interesting), took a humorous but disturbing look at America’s prison system.

From the clip, after Fry asks, "where are one percent of American adults?":

"When talking about contraband, is that, you’re not allowed to bring anything into the country that’s made by forced labor or prisons. But, in America, you can almost say, if you were so minded, that they’ve re-invented the slave trade. They produce, for example, 100 percent of all military helmets, ammunition belts, bullet proof vests, ID tags and other items and uniforms, 93 percent of domestically-produced paints, 36 percent of home appliances, 21 percent of office furniture, which allows the United States to compete with factories in Mexico because of course obviously the workers can’t refuse to work for 25 cents and hour."

No Laughing Matter:

According to The Sentencing Project, more than 60% of the people in prison are now racial and ethnic minorities. For Black males in their twenties, 1 in every 8 is in prison or jail on any given day. These trends have been intensified by the disproportionate impact of the "war on drugs," in which three-fourths of all persons in prison for drug offenses are people of color


The United States is the world's leader in incarceration with 2.3 million people currently in the nation's prisons or jails -- a 500% increase over the past thirty years. These trends have resulted in prison overcrowding and state governments being overwhelmed by the burden of funding a rapidly expanding penal system, despite increasing evidence that large-scale incarceration is not the most effective means of achieving public safety.
Prison costs in the city, state and nation are already staggering thanks to tough-on-crime laws enacted over the last 30 years. With some 2.3 million prisoners, the U.S. leads the world in imprisoning its citizens. The population has grown from about 450,000 in 1979, regardless of increases or decreases in crime rates.

While the number of drug users imprisoned increased 1,100 percent between 1980 and 2005, six in 10 people in state prisons on drug offenses have no violent history or high-level drug selling activity. And marijuana possession accounted for 42.6 percent of all drug arrests in 2005, according to The Sentencing Project, a liberalprison reform group, which used FBI statistics.

Last year, U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., introduced a bipartisan bill that would set up a national commission dedicated to studying how to reduce prison overcrowding, prison violence and recidivism. Webb, who favors an end to federal mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes, supports alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders. Perhaps reviewing slave labor practices within the prison system might lead to more aggressive overhaul.


vavaughn@vlaimid.com said...

This is an open secret that has haunted the nation unaddressed for mutiple decades. In 1966 point 9 of the the Black Panther's 10 point "10 point program" was

We want all Black men … to be tried by a jury of their peer group or people from their Black communities as defined by the constitution out h U. S. ( Black Panther’s “ten point program” 1966 from Thomas Shugrue’s Sweet Land of Liberty, 2008). Lest that be written of as just the radical ramblig of a militant fringe group, this predated the explosive expansion of America's prison population that began in the 1970s, and explosion that further widened the dispotionate numbers gap between minority and White prison prisoners.

Randy Newman addressed it in his 1974 song Rednecks in this way.
Now your northern n******'s a Negro
You see he's got his dignity
Down here we're too ignorant to realize
That the North has set the n****** free

Yes he's free to be put in a cage
In Harlem in New York City
And he's free to be put in a cage on the South-Side of Chicago
And the West-Side
And he's free to be put in a cage in Hough in Cleveland
And he's free to be put in a cage in East St. Louis
And he's free to be put in a cage in Fillmore in San Francisco
And he's free to be put in a cage in Roxbury in Boston
They're gatherin' 'em up from miles around
Keepin' the n******s down
It is his way of saying quit patting yourselves on the back because you aren't bigots like the folks from Dixie. The oppression of large segments of the population are common to all areas of the country and have been glossed over for many years. Shugrue's book is subtitled "The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North". It illustrates how "forgetting" can lead to the continuing deception that racism or racialism (as described in Devided by Faith, Emerson and Smith's 2001 study of racial division in the evangelical church) is over there and not in my back yard.
The prisons are incubators of multiple maladies that are becoming epidemic in our country yet we continue to stuff them with new bodies that will become infected and then released to spread the epidemic in the "free" world. Then we will blame the "free world" for causing the proble. Chicken or egg? Neither, it isn't about animal husbandry, it is about human relations and until it is addressed as a human issue between human beings, the solutions will continue to exaserbate the problem.

Sylvester Brown, Jr. said...

Wow, Van, you never cease to amaze me with your depth of compassion and knowledge. I have never heard or seen this song by Newman. Not quite as bouncy as "you Got a Friend in Me" but it speaks to the almost ignored phenomenon of modern day slavery. Thanks for sharing.