Rise in White Prisoners Doesn't Change Innate Racism of Prisons
Date:  04-30-2019

Dan Berger asserts prisons just don't house victims of racism, but they also produce them
From Truthout:

Writing from Attica prison shortly before the infamous 1971 rebellion Sam Melville wrote to a friend that prison had changed him. “One thing is for certain,” he wrote, “when I emerge [from prison] … I won’t be a honky anymore.” Melville, who was incarcerated for bombing a number of U.S. military and corporate installations in New York City, had thrown his lot in with the Black and Puerto Rican radicals at Attica upon his arrival there. New York State Troopers shot him in the chest and let him bleed to death when they brutally retook Attica on September 13, 1971.

Melville’s ruminations suggest a broader reimagining of how we understand the role of white prisoners in a system whose central feature seems to be its racism. Prisons are inescapably racist. Prisons do not just house victims of racism. Rather, they produce racism. Prisons use racism to govern and suppress their captives. Racism remains a strategic tool to ensure that prisoners distrust or attack each other rather than the institution itself. The centrality of racism to punishment has been the most salient feature of popular critiques of mass incarceration, including Ava DuVernay’s documentary, 13th, and Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow.

Yet the mainstreaming of a liberal antiracist critique of prisons fails to explain how mass incarceration both works and changes over time. The statistical disparity between the number of Black and white people incarcerated has shrunk in recent years. Tepid reforms to the drug war and a growing leniency among many urban district attorneys to some nonviolent offenses have lowered the number of African Americans going to prison — even while Black people, as of 2016, remain incarcerated at more than five times the rate of white people

Meanwhile, the opioid crisis, with its suburban and rural geography, and hardline prosecutors in rural counties have contributed to a rise in the number of white people — especially white women — going to prison and jail. And nearly every single one of the 2.2 million people in prisons, jails and detention centers comes from the poor and working class. All of this is taking place in the context of stagnating wages and that particularly impact people of color but have lowered the standard of living for all Americans. Continue reading >>>