MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Daily, the politicians and think tanks promote improving our nation's large city public education by turning them over to profiteering operators of charter schools. There's a lot of money to be paid in modern plantation educational contracts.
And that's what vast stretches of urban America have become: plantations for harvesting poor blacks and Latinos for educational corporations and for a vast prison-industrial complex whose tentacles reach out throughout the desolation of neighborhoods whose most common denominator is the lack of economic hope or opportunity. The impoverishment has been that way for decades.
Well there is one source of private funds in these vast areas of destitution: the drug industry. It is capitalism distilled to its essence, with the corner teenager who sells crack as a modern day Fuller Brush Man.
Of course, no public officials are talking even remotely about providing jobs to these financially blighted areas.
But the status quo government/corporate alliance has figured out how to exploit the residents of these areas to make a profit by creating non-union schools that often perform below the comparable public school level in similar locations.
And then – inextricably intertwined with the so-called failed public schools -- there is the prison-industrial complex that makes a financial killing off of the war on drugs, a conflict so immersed in racial prejudice and legal profiteering of the law enforcement/judicial/attorney/prison system that you can call it the war for making a lot of people richer at the expense of multi-generational impoverishment of people of color trapped in place.
This is made clear in the moving and informative documentary by Eugene Jarecki, "The House I Live In." Told through personal stories with statistics added through titling, "The House I Live In" provides insight into the devastation of institutionalizing drugs within communities in order for others to profit. (Whites who are poor and have mental health needs also get victimized by the non-violent offender penalization machine.)
Truthout writers Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese provide additional background on this topic in an April 3 article:
The poison fruit of the massive security state apparatus in the United States is mass incarceration. The United States, with 5 percent of the world's population, has 25 percent of the world's prisoners, meaning one out of four incarcerated people are in the "land of the free." According to the World Prison Population list, the United States has the highest prison population rate in the world, 743 per 100,000 of the national population. The next closest is Rwanda at 595. More than half the countries and territories in the world (54 percent) have rates below 150.
Incarceration is only part of the criminal justice supervision system. When probation and parole are included, 7.3 million Americans are "in the system"; that is, 1 out of 34 Americans is either incarcerated, on probation or on parole. The rate of African-Americans under supervision (prison, probation or parole) is 1 in 11…..
Indeed, the mass incarceration system is very expensive. According to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2010, state corrections institutions spent $37.3 billion to imprison a total of 1,316,858 inmates. BJS estimates that the mean expenditures per person were $28,323. The federal government fiscal year 2013 budget for the Bureau of Prisons totals $6.9 billion. Imagine the result if those dollars were invested in communities instead.
When incarceration is looked at through a racial prism, the racially disproportionate impact is striking. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, "In 2011, blacks and Hispanics were imprisoned at higher rates than whites in all age groups for both male and female inmates. Among prisoners ages 18 to 19, black males were imprisoned at more than 9 times the rate of white males."
When I interviewed Michelle Alexander on Truthout about her extraordinary book, "The New Jim Crow," she pointed out, "A massive new penal system has emerged in the past few decades - a penal system unprecedented in world history. It is a system driven almost entirely by race and class."
Drugs are a way of keeping poor black and Latinos permanently confined to the plantation, while using them as pawns in a profit-making scheme, including the new rapidly developing private incarceration corporations.
As Alexander told Truthout when I talked with her:
The war on drugs has been the engine of mass incarceration. Drug convictions alone constituted about two-thirds of the increase in the federal prison population and more than half of the increase in the state prison population between 1985 and 2000, the period of our prison system's most dramatic expansion. Drug convictions have increased more than 1000% since the drug war began. To get a sense of how large a contribution the drug war has made to mass incarceration, consider this: There are more people in prisons and jails today just for drug offenses than were incarcerated for all reasons in 1980.
This makes no sense in terms of making the nation more secure and safe. In fact, Alexander reminds us, it increases our vulnerability because non-violent offenders consume law enforcement and tax dollar resources:
Less than 8 percent of federal prisoners are violent offenders - most are convicted of drug or immigration offenses. More important, though, that kind of statement obscures the fact that the overwhelming majority of people who have been arrested in the era of mass incarceration have been arrested for non-violent offenses. What defenders of the system typically fail to acknowledge is that the reason violent offenders comprise a fairly large percentage of the state prison population is because they typically receive longer sentences than non-violent offenders. Because they stay longer, they comprise a larger share of the prison population than the millions of nonviolent offenders who are cycling in and out, trapped in a cycle of perpetual marginality that has been deliberately constructed through our legal system.
It's not hard to see how all the DC and local large city schemes to allegedly improve our schools without changing the economic viability of communities is a tragic farce.
When a child leaves a dysfunctional home to walk to school through gang turf and face armed guards and metal detectors, and return home passing the only economically viable big business in the community: teens selling drugs on the street, charter schools are a joke. They take tax money that could be spent in the community for jobs and give it to corporations who cut the salaries of teachers and reduce resources. It's a scam of the status quo.
As Flowers and Zeese conclude:
If the United States were really concerned about security, it would create a strong social infrastructure that provides quality education, affordable health care and housing, and full employment at a living wage. But such policies would lead to an empowered population that would resist Wall Street's efforts to profit from everything no matter the cost to people and the planet.
Between Wall Street and urban neighborhoods of long-term poverty, entrenched interests know how to turn a profit and ensure that the blighted communities produce new fodder for the profit of those who benefit from the prison-industrial complex mill – and the national and local governments are just fine with that, it appears.
There's little money for employment and social rehabilitation, no jobs beyond the corner convenience stores that overcharge, and only a caul of despair suffocating any ember of hope.