Sunday, February 11, 2007

Prisons

I've just read Angela Davis' Are Prisons Obsolete? (2003):

"Consider the case of California, whose landscape has been thoroughly prisonized over the last twenty years. The first state prison in California was San Quentin, which opened in 1852. Folsom, another well-known institution opened in 1880. Between 1880 and 1933, when a facility for women was opened in Tehachapi, there was not a single new prison constructed. In 1952, the California Institution for Women opened and Tehachapi became a new prison for men. In all, between 1852 and 1955, nine prisons were constructed in California. Between 1962 and 1965, two camps were established, along with the California Rehabilitation Center. Not a single prison opened during the second half of the sixties, nor during the entire decade of the 1970s.

"However, a massive project of prison construction was initiated during the 1980s--that is, during the years of the Reagan presidency. Nine prisons, including the Northern California Facility for Women, were opened between 1984 and 1989. Recall that it had taken more than a hundred years to build the first nine California prisons. In less than a single decade, the number of California prisons doubled. And during the 1990s, twelve new prisons were opened, including two more for women. In 1995, the Valley State Prison for Women was opened. According to its mission statement, it "provides 1,980 women's beds for California's overcrowded prison system." However, in 2002, there were 3,570 prisoners and the other two women's prisons were equally overcrowded.

"There are now thirty-three prisons, thirty-eight camps, sixteen community correctional facilities, and five tiny prisoner mother facilities in California. In 2002 there were 157,979 people incarcerated in these institutions, including approximately twenty thousand people whom the state holds for immigration violations."

(pp. 12-13)

* * *

I'm going to do some more reading on this, myself, but here are websites to resources listed in the back of the book: Critical Resistance: Beyond the Prison Industrial Complex, Human Rights Watch, Incite! Women of Color Against Violence, Justice Now, The National Center on Institutions and Alternatives, Prison Activist Resource Center, Prison Legal News, Prison Moratorium Project, The Sentencing Project.

7 comments:

Tuwa said...

Yes, and many of the people imprisoned are there for nonviolent drug offenses, an arguably victimless crime.

Andy Rector said...

GOLDEN GULAG: PRISONS, SURPLUS, CRISIS, AND OPPOSITION IN GLOBALIZING CALIFORNIA by Ruth Wilson Gilmore just came out and it is an incredibly detailed and passionate account of the political economy of prison industry in CA.

Ryan B. said...

Eric Schlosser's next book is about the "Prison-Industrial Complex." The book is supposed to expand on articles he did a while ago for the Atlantic. This article http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/prem/199812/prisons is very good, though I suspect it might echo the Davis book. And unfortunately it's only viewable by Atlantic subscribers...j

Zach Campbell said...

Tuwa, you're right--and decriminalization of drugs is one of the issues Davis explores in her book. Andy & Ryan, thanks for bibliographic tips, duly noted.

Tuwa said...

You might also be interested in the Shattered Lives Project, though its book is dreadfully depressing. I read it years ago and there are two cases that have stuck with me: in one, a woman's grandson who was living with her was selling drugs; she didn't know about it but the government seized her house and kicked her out. In another, a woman answered the phone and looked up a phone number from a roommate's address book to give to the person on the phone. She didn't know anything about the person but she was convicted of conspiracy and sent prison.

Tuwa said...

I found this discussion on rape in prisons fascinating.

Andrew said...

I taught a class on the Prison Industrial Complex last year, and that was the only full text I used. Such a good introduction! And appropriately wide-ranging across issues of race, class and gender. I've got a syllabus built around that book I could send you if you'd like...