A frequent question lobbed at anarchists is what we would do about crime without prisons? While that’s one hell of a question, and many solutions could be offered (such as restorative justice systems, or addressing the social roots of crime), it has to be noted that there’s a big problem with the question. It assumes that prisons solve the problem of crime. But do they? If so, why is the United States, which locks up more prisoners than any other nation on earth, even China, so much more dangerous to live in in? Their incarceration rate is many times that of any other industrialized nation, yet despite decades of “get-tough-on-crime” crackdowns and lockups, one is still many times more likely to be assaulted, raped or murdered there. Could it be, perhaps, that cultures of racist police occupation do not encourage black, hispanic or native ghetto residents to have faith in law and order? Or that nonviolent criminals who do stints in prison with gangsters and serial killers will probably be less “socially adjusted” when they come out than when they went in? Every time I hear some cop in a police drama tell a recently convicted criminal “not to drop the soap” or “they’re gonna love you in prison”, I want to puke. Since when are beatings and gang-rapes an enlightened approach to society’s ills?

Time in prison does as much or more to create and promote criminal subcultures as it does to keep them away from society at large. It’s where 18-year-old shoplifters and pot-smokers get to hear glorious war-stories of crack-dealing or extortion rackets. Every social relation, with guards or other prisoners can present an immediate chance of severe physical violence, and if you ain’t tough as nails when you go in…you will be when you come out.

If only McMaster or Mohawk prepared people this well for the real world. And given how hard it is to get a job with their degrees these days, how easy do you think it’s going to be for this year’s Barton St. graduates to make an honest living instead?

The Prison Industrial Complex 101, by Diego Hernandez, touches on all the major important topics in the American Justice – immigration, racism, overcrowding, women, the drug war, privatization and the role of politicians, and contains wise words from well-known experts like Angela Davis and Mumia Abu Jamal.

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