April 18, 2019
Where life is precious, life is precious
New York Times Magazine published a profile of Ruth Wilson Gilmore yesterday. Gilmore is long-time activist in the prison abolition movement, working for years to educate and organize folk to challenge new prison construction, while also working toward the kind of society where violence is not endemic. Gilmore was instrumental in the launching of the Prison Moratorium Project in California, and later helped to found Critical Resistance.
The article is also full of insights about the need to be more careful in how we frame issues surrounding incarceration.
Gilmore has come to understand that there are certain narratives people cling to that are not only false but that allow for policy positions aimed at minor or misdirected — rather than fundamental and meaningful — reforms. Gilmore takes apart these narratives: that a significant number of people are in prison for nonviolent drug convictions; that prison is a modified continuation of slavery, and, by extension, that most everyone in prison is black; and, as she explained in Chicago, that corporate profit motive is the primary engine of incarceration.
In speaking of equating imprisonment with slavery, Gilmore asks, “Why do we need that misconception to see the horror of it [incarceration]?”
The scale of the problem of mass incarceration is enormous. Most people by now know that we have the largest population of incarcerated people on the planet - standing at over 2 million. The number of people who have a record of arrest or conviction in the United States is 70 million. Gilmore says,
The key point here, about half of the work force, is to think not only about the enormity of the problem, but the enormity of the possibilities! That so many people could benefit from being organized into solid formations, could make certain kinds of demands, on the people who pay their wages, on the communities where they live. On the schools their children go to. This is part of what abolitionist thinking should lead us to.
Read the full article here. It is worth spending some time with.
Confronting the Bail Industry
The impact of bail on incarceration numbers is enormous. There are 465,000 people in local jails who have yet to be convicted of a crime, many simply because they cannot afford bail.
The United States and the Philippines are the only countries in the world that have commercial bail industries, and the companies involved in this industry are very committed to keeping pre-trial release conditioned on the payment of bail. The ACLU provides an overview of the bail industry as part of their work to end the practice:
The commercial bail industry profits off people faced with the impossible choice between sitting in jail or entering coercive contracts with bond agents. Furthermore, the industry fortifies structural racism. People of Color—particularly Women of Color—suffer the worst financial harms. And these companies exact further harms by serving as a roadblock to positive change: employing lobbying groups like the American Bail Coalition to spread fear-mongering misinformation, attempt to stymie reform, and to preserve their fiscal bottom line. Only the United States and the Philippines allow a commercial bail industry to exist.
The exploitation insurance companies perpetuate depends on our abusive money bail system. And our punitive, dysfunctional bail system is the key driver of our mass incarceration crisis. The truth is we don’t need profit motives to ensure a fair and safe pretrial justice system. In fact, actual “fugitive” status is incredibly rare, and the majority of people present no threat of violence if released pretrial.
Read the full report here