||by Karen E. Hempstead
Within the last few decades, the United States has gradually shifted from being a military industrial complex to a prison industrial complex. Having pulled out of Vietnam, no longer threatened by the former Soviet Union's communism, and without being engaged in any other major war requiring foot soldiers, the US has significantly altered its economic course. Equipped with technologically superior wartime capabilities, instead of directing a major portion of the country's production of goods and services toward sustaining an armed military, the US economy is now being energized through the building and maintaining of prisons.
On the state's horizon now is Welfare Reform. Many households receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) will soon face substantial decreases in their already below poverty level income. Single mothers and fathers, caring for adolescent youth, will undoubtedly encounter more parenting challenges. No longer able to afford activities, purchase the expensive tennis shoes, cool clothing styles, and pay for their children's everyotherweek personal grooming expenses, these parents will find their already tenuous situations exasperated by the decrease of income. Keeping their poorly educated and media mis-guided sons and daughters respectful, honest and out of trouble (prison) will be difficult, indeed!
Reaping profits from incarcerating people has become big business in America. Investments in penitentiary construction and associated enterprises are high. Suburban dwellers have business related employment. Corporations now reap benefits from contracted out inmate labor. As other countries fight to ward off recessions, the US - prison industrial complex - economy is robust.
Part of an overall systemic master plan, this modern day form of enslavement is clearly on the rise. A case in point can be seen with the state of California. Since the mid 1980s, California has built more than 20 penitentiaries and only one university. Authorities recognized long ago the failure of the state's educational system to prepare students for higher learning. Instead of making changes to produce a trained and skilled populace by adopting measures supporting school reform and/or financially investing in basic education, California leaders chose to incarcerate. Using the media to mislead the public so that voters would ignore building and funding schools, as well as, avoid budgetary spending on preventative community activities, their so called war on crime effort has simply been the increased policing and detention of the population.
An unconscionable three strikes law is in full effect in California. For engaging in petty theft and similar crimes, people have been sentenced to serve 25 years in prison. Able to warehouse young people during their prime working years, and having a functionally illiterate, unskilled and increasingly impoverished citizenry, avaricious businessmen(women) are strategically positioning themselves to gain from an expanded prison industrial complex.
Most people aware of and dissatisfied with the growth of this hellish economic system feel powerless. While there is much discussion and concern about its development, no serious mass effort has been made to stop it. From old established organizations there has hardly been a peep. Perhaps confronting leaders in business, politics, education, the courts, and the media, seems a bit too overwhelming for them. One can only imagine if, during the initial stages of the African, Jewish and other holocausts, there existed the same level of passivity. People knew, even had loved ones taken, yet, remained uninvolved.
Upon the dawn of the new (Greco/Roman) millennium, critical decisions have to be made. We must resolve to make a positive difference. We must commit to actively help those who are less fortunate. It is imperative that we force a change in the system. Everyone must participate by supporting progressive people and organizations. We must network and form coalitions, register voters, and shake up the status quo. Finally, we must create opportunities for living. Just as over time the prison industrial complex has been building, in time, together, we can take it down. A people, united, can make that happen. Do your part starting today!
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