Prisons in America

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Golden Gulag

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              California’s state power is embodied by its golden gulag. Their prison industry is well hidden from its society. The massive system of prisons is tucked away in the mountains and deserts, far away from civilization. However if the taxpayer looks at California’s annual budget it becomes obvious that they exist. It is easier for people to lose sight of the humanity of the people being warehoused. Billions of dollars have gone to prison guard’s salaries and much into its death dealing medical services. Ruth Gilmore’s Golden Gulag describes the journey from the rehabilitative agenda to the political economy of incarceration.

                The state prisoner population grew 500 percent between 1982 and 2000. California has crammed 173,000 convicts into the nation’s largest prison system designed to house at least one third less. Their prison suicide and recidivism rates approach twice the national average. California costs taxpayers about the same as the state spends on higher education. California’s boom of prison started in 1984, the state has erected over 43 penal institutions making it a global leader in prison construction.

                Golden Gulag attacks the clichés about crime and punishment. The all too common claim that prisons reduce crime is questionable because of the fact that California’s crime rate was already decreasing before the prison boom in the mid 80’s. The argument about prisons being another form of slavery designed to provide cheap labor according to Gilmore is far- fetched because few prisoners work for anyone while their locked up. Gilmore makes it a point to say that in order for us to understand the prison system, we must understand the four interconnected developments.

                First, most prisons were built on old farm land where regions were trying to resuscitate their economies. Second, the state benefited landowners and construction companies by borrowing from public funds to finance the prison boom. Third, the changes in California’s economy have left many people mainly African Americans and Latinos without jobs. Finally, California’s sentence enhancing legislation and the three strikes policy helped fill up the prisons rather quickly. In conclusion, California’s economy, weakening of labor, and shifting patterns of capital investment have been key to prison growth within California. 

Written by jennyjo3

April 13th, 2009 at 4:17 pm

Golden Gulag

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Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s book, Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California, relates the prison boom in construction and prisoners to a social and economic crisis created by the end of the “golden era of American capitalism.”

Gilmore makes interesting claims as to the larger causes behind the prison construction boom. She introduces the idea that dehumanization of social groups, a by-product of 20th century age of genocide, continues to haunt social policy in the 21st century. Understanding this concept is important to answering the question of why we are not bothered by the massive numbers of American citizens who are incarcerated. Gilmore claims that dehumanization has combined with racism to help create non-biological classification system that is linked to our current political culture. The dehumanization of Muslims in the wake of September 11 is an example of how the idea of an enemy can be linked with an “allegation of unshakeable heritage.” Looking at prisoners in this way makes it easier to understand how we are not upset at the denial of human rights on such a large scale. The “criminal class” is a group that is seen as subhuman in many American’s eyes.

Gilmore’s conclusion offers ways to combat the increase of prisons as an answer to America’s social and economic problems. She claims that an “anti-state,” which is based on idea that government should not be responsible for the social well being of it citizens, is being constructed on a foundation of the prison system. The first way to attack prison would be economic. She suggests that we use our roles, as taxes payers to question how state debt is being spent and to make sure taxes are being applied equal across social classes. The second way to slow prison growth is through activism that reaches across the spatial divide of urban and rural America. This activism would focus on economic and environmental justice as keys to anti-racism that fuels our criminal justice system.

Gilmore is arguing for the creation of grass roots activism that is focused on rights of the criminal class. This solidarity with prisoners is based on the idea that most lower and middle class American’s have similar economic and social interests with prisoners. A grass roots movement would also help force the criminal spotlight away from the individual to the larger social issues that influence criminal activity. The process of “individualizing criminality” to single individuals seems to be one of the major methods for a pro-prison argument pushing for the continued construction of prisons in America.  Refocusing crime away from individuals to a larger social level where the factors of economic social status are considered will help in the fight against prison growth.

Gilmore’s book argues that California used its excess resources of capital, land, and labor to help its transformation from a “welfare-warfare” state into a “workfare-warfare” state. She also argues that California chose prison construction as the major project to handle the state’s economic surplus. Gilmore explains the planning process of constructing a prison in rural California and she shows how pro-prison advocates overstated the expected financial gain to local economies. She examined the organization of activist in urban communities who protested the “de-development” of their communities, as their children are put in prisons as the surplus part of California’s new economic equation.

Written by rthomps2

April 13th, 2009 at 3:04 pm

The Golden Gulag

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McKenzie L. Cusick

The Prison Gulag

April 13, 2009

 

The Prison Gulag

 

            The purpose behind The Prison Gulag by Ruth Gilmore offers an exploration of the reasons why the state of California transformed into a state of mass incarceration.  The author also raises important questions asking by in the first half of the century only 12 prisons were built and in the period following 1980 that number doubled.  The author also asks the question of why the political leaders of California allowed for such rapid growth of the prison system.

            The answers to both are not to place blame entirely on the political leaders but on the public as well.  Public outcry for referendums on crime and tougher legislation of crime resulted in the prison boom in California and elsewhere in the United States.  Perhaps legislators took public outcry a step further and further instituted class and racial divides by the laws they imposed.  Whatever the reason, the prison system in the United States, particularly California as the books explores, have seen dramatic increases in the numbers of people who have been forced to take up permanent residence in these facilities.

            It is also important to note that the author points out that when crime rates began to fall in the 1990’s all of a sudden there was a new criminal boom.  Lawmakers then revamped the system, toughened up on laws and succeeded in expanding the prison system even further.  Gilmore also points to economic reasons as the motivators behind the new prison expansion.  Gilmore points out that the prison system expanded from over 20,000 to 170,000 in this new prison incarceration boom.  These numbers are astounding.  It also raises the question of how could so many people all of a sudden be committing crime sprees to create such significant increase in numbers of prison inmates.

            The answer to that is, as Gilmore points out, economics.  As the country was enduring a decrease of economic expansion California was seeking to create new jobs and state dollars.  This caused state lawmakers to take a new look at gangs.  Laws were toughened on gang related crime.  This also raises another important question as to whether or not lawmakers were taking on the issue of race and class with a hidden agenda.  It is a known fact that the majority of the prison population is made up of underprivileged people, particularly black males.  Can that many people be truly criminal or is the legislative system figuring a way to clean up the streets of an undesired population of black men and doing so in a way to criminalize the black population?

            While this theory is hard to prove, it is not hard to assume that is what is happening.  Prisons have also seen an increase in the number of Latino’s in prison.  This can also be seen as a result of public outcry over immigration and wanting restrictions placed on immigration.  While this may work for future purposes, lawmakers still have to deal with over 10 million illegal already in the country.  What better way to deal with the problem law makers create than by revamping the laws and ensuring Latinos are incarcerated.  Problem solved or so they think.  With each increase in inmates overcrowding becomes an issue as well as the burden placed on tax payers to pay the tab for the overflowing prison system.

            Gilmore does a good job of addressing these issues in her book and educating the reader on the reasons, other than crime, that people are imprisoned in the United States, especially California.

Written by mcusick

April 13th, 2009 at 2:19 pm

Connecting Rural to Urban through the Prisons

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California is home to the largest prison system in the United States, and the state has become a prime site for studies of the prison system. Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s book Golden Gulag looks specifically at the California prison system, but the scope of the analysis is not confined only to the prisons. Gilmore investigates the varying factors that contributed to California’s encouragement of an unprecedented boom in prison construction. Where Gilmore’s study stands apart from most work on prisons is her connection of the plight of urban communities, who supply most of the inmates, to the depressed rural communities which end up as sites for prison construction. Gilmore’s aim is to connect these groups, which on the surface would seem to have disparate interests, in an effort to foster grassroots activism to stem the explosion of prison growth. By connecting communities which have been exploited and ignored, Gilmore hopes to build a coalition that can combat the prison system on many different fronts.

Gilmore’s study in Golden Gulag shows how factors totally unrelated to crime have fueled the prison boom in the last few decades. In the face of surplus land and workers, the catch-all solution in California became the construction of prisons. As the defense contracts which fueled the economy in California during WWII and the Cold War began to dry up, Gilmore argues that the state faced a crisis. The old economic system was considered a “warfare-welfare” state, as the economy was essentially a highly disguised form of welfare, relying on government funds in the form of defense jobs. Thus, when the defense spending began to dry up in California, the state was forced to reconcile their primary surpluses: land and labor.

Gilmore argues that prisons became the solution, not in some conspiratorial manner, but rather because it was an easy way to utilize taxpayer dollars to fix the crisis. Playing off of fears of urban crime and immigrant competition for jobs, California began enacting harsh penalties like “three-strikes” laws and abolished indeterminate sentencing. This practice solved the crisis of what to do with thousands of poorly educated individuals by simply sending them to jail for extended terms. A surplus of land was created during this period as the strength of the dollar made the fertile Great Central Valley less profitable for its agricultural production. Thus, undeveloped land was available for prison construction. As the prison boom accelerated, urban surplus labor was fused with rural land surplus, which, as Gilmore argues, tied these depressed communities together.

To combat the exponential growth of California’s prison system, Gilmore believes that a concerted effort must be made at the grassroots level. The group Mothers ROC acts as a successful model for spreading knowledge of the criminal justice system to communities which are exploited in addition to pressuring government officials. Gilmore makes her most compelling point in the connection she recognizes between rural and urban communities. She argues that for California to make any changes in its prison policies, efforts need to be made to tie both of these communities together. Each community has to deal with few job prospects and poor education systems. Although prisons were argued to provide jobs and economic stability to the rural communities, prison construction in Corcoran showed that most economic benefits actually left the area. In the urban communities, rather than improve education and job opportunities, surplus labor is shipped out to prison on charges that in previous generations would not have merited such punishment.

To fix this problem, Gilmore notes that these two communities need to work together. Both areas would benefit from government investment in public sector jobs design for social good. Rather than utilize the political capital inherent in appealing to fear which leads to more prisons and greater police surveillance, Gilmore argues that government funds should be directed towards schools, parks, museums and mass transit. Rather than use government funds to exploit surplus, efforts should be made to put those surpluses to use in ways that are not dehumanizing like prisons. When prisons become the catch-all solution in a society, Gilmore argues that dehumanization of different races of people is necessary. Ultimately, Golden Gulag helps to show how prisons become interwoven in factors that have nothing to do with crime, and how shortsighted it is to use prisons as a solution for problems of surplus.

Written by bmull

April 13th, 2009 at 1:53 pm

Golden Gulag

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When one thinks of California, visions of beautiful sunsets on the Pacific Coast immediately come to mind.  California’s diverse landscape also includes deserts, mountains, and agricultural countryside.  It is here, off the beaten path and out of sight, one sees what puts California on the global map; California is ahead of the world in prison construction.

In her book Golden Gulag:  Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California, Ruth Wilson Gilmore points to the 90 penitentiaries that are dotted along 900 miles of California highway.  Billions of tax payer’s dollars are dumped into these human warehouses.  A shameful budget comparison is the fact that funding for California’s prisons closely matches that of the state’s higher education figures.  The state crams 173,000 convicts in buildings intended for approximately 114,000.  Gilmore reports that California leads the national average two-fold in prison suicides and recidivism rates.  Prison is a death sentence or a revolving door from prison to the free world and back to prison.

Additionally, valuable dollars are diverted to these human warehouses.  Of course, education and other health and human services programs are sacrificed.  Yet, the money dumped into prisons is obviously a waste.  Rehabilitative programs were done away with in the 1970s.  In 1977, the legislature passed the Uniform Determinate Sentencing Act declaring:  “The purpose of imprisonment for crime is punishment.”  Beginning five years later through 2000, California’s prisoner population grew a whopping 500%.  The only winners in the state’s mass incarceration frenzy have been landowners, corporate farmers, and construction and utility companies.

Gilmore compares the “law‘n’order” craze to that of an infectious virus.  It has passed from the politicians of the 1980’s to present-day politicians.  There was the 1988 Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act, an anti-gang measure that increased sentences with virtually no evidence.  Then, the war on drugs devoured tens of thousands into the prison machine.  The next legal scheme was the Three Strikes Act of 1994.  It was intended to lock up violent criminals.  However, when crime and violence became one and the same, the majority of those returning to jail were incarcerated for crimes against property or drug charges.  Furthermore, Gilmore reports the demographics of third-strike convicts from March 1994 through January 1996 were as follows:  43% African-American, 32.4% Latino, and 24.6% Caucasian.  The people who have suffered the greatest as a result of California’s love affair with mass incarceration are impoverished minorities.

Gilmore’s book is not all doom and gloom.  Her chapter “Mothers Reclaiming Our Children” speaks to the unsung heroes who are advocating for the lives of their children and families like them by challenging the California penal system.  It is a story of hope and promise that the collective action of committed individuals can help inspire the reform of a broken system and put California on the map again for its sunsets.

Written by chet

April 13th, 2009 at 1:28 pm

Gold by: bear cramer

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Gold

By: Bear Cramer

Golden Gulag examines the extraordinary rise of the prison population in modern California as a lens to explore the trend throughout the whole United States. Ruth Gilmore delves into the economic and political forces that have combined to produce a five hundred percent increase in the prison population in California over two decades. Titled for the way in which California’s prisons are hidden away out of sight from the average citizen, much in the same way Soviet Russia’s infamous gulags were constructed on the barren Siberian steppes. She details the great economic expense of the massive industrial prison system to the state of California, and how that expense was sold to tax payers as the cost for wide scale crime fighting. With the war on drugs, and three strikes legislation of the 1980s and 90s, the state has found a way to deal with the immense population of minority and impoverished citizens; super-incarceration.

Riddled with statistics Golden Gulag does incorporate a selection of ten theses on how to remedy the political and economic situation which instigated the development of the prison complex. These theses provide a very practical outlook for the opportunity to change based on the successes and failures of particular programs and institutions in recent years, and how the have affected the landscape of the prison population.

Written by be1cramer

April 13th, 2009 at 12:43 pm

Posted in amst 450,Prisons

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Golden Gulag

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Golden Gulag by Ruth Wilson Gilmore explores the California prison system. The Californian prison system is the largest prison system in the nation. Gilmore explores the prison system in California and it’s dramatic growth beginning in 1984. The state has built forty-three penitentiaries since 1984. This brings the total to about ninety prisons in California. Although Gilmore’s book can be confusing at times, it effectively demonstrates how the prison boom in California was created not to stop crime, but to boost the economy in California. Gilmore discusses who benefitted  and who were victimized by the prison boom.

The recession of 1969-1970 hit the state of California hard. The reason it hit so hard in California is because the recession cut spending for the military. This made the unemployment rate in California double. At this time, California Governor Ronald Reagan pushed for law and order to stop crime. By 1982, the unemployment rate was 10.5 percent. To drop the unemployment rates, the state decided to build penitentiaries. With the new idea of “law and order,” it would be easy to fill prisons. This benefitted the state, because it helped them lower unemployment rates and it put many unemployed people in prison.

The group that has been victimized the California prison system are minorities. Specifically blacks and hispanics. These two groups make up two-thirds of the prison system in California. Most of these people imprisoned are there for non-violent crimes such as robbery or drugs. Many of these prisoners need rehabilitation, but in 1977 the Uniform Determinate Sentencing Act declared that crime was for punishment, not for rehabilitation. This was another method that kept the prisons full. This form of punishment encouraged recidivism.

How else did California get so many people behind bars? First, they increased the severity of crimes. Burglary, domestic assault, drug laws, and gang violence all became felonies. They believed that if they kept people in prison, they would prevent crime. Their real motives were to keep the prisons full. In 1988, the Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention (STEP) act allowed police to track members of gangs. If these members were ever charged with a crime, their sentencing would be increased because they belonged in a jail. The “three strikes” campaign also increased the amount of prisoners. These law was passed in 1994. The government used the of the public anxiety of crime as a scapegoat to the increasing amount of prisons being built and the increasing amount of people who were ending up behind bars.

It is clear that the government of California is benefiting from the prison boom and minorities are beginning victimized. The prison system of California needs to be challenged and reformed. Minority working women have already begun to challenged the prison system. These women are tired of seeing their husbands and sons spending increasing amounts of time in prison. The motives of the government in California are selfish and corrupt. Something must be done to stop the prison system from growing even more in California.

Written by mlurie

April 13th, 2009 at 10:53 am

Golden Gulag: The final word on America’s prison boom

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The goal of this course over the past three months has been to examine the motivations and intentions behind the growing phenomenon of mass incarceration that exists in this country. We have researched this question from various vantage points by referencing historical, sociological, political, economic, and philosophical data. Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s study, Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California, integrates each of these approaches to studying the issue of prison expansion in California during the 20th Century. This study attempts to uncover why and how the state of California went about the biggest prison building project in the history of the world. Gilmore suggests that prison is a geographic solution to the political and economic crises that the state creates. Through extensive interdisciplinary research, Gilmore proves that the issue of mass incarceration is the result of inter-institutional strife of a nation that has failed to meet the needs of all its citizens.

First, Gilmore establishes the intentions of a prison system as well as possible explanations for its extensive growth over the past forty years. She references three possible explanations for the booming prison population. The first is increased public concern about crime rates and social deviance, which sparked tough on crime policies. Second is the drug epidemic and threat to public safety posed by the unrestrained use of illegal substances. The third explanation is the structural changes in employment opportunities that have forced people out of jobs and into illegal ways of making money. Historically, prisons go about solving problems such as these by deterring crime in four ways: retribution, deterrence, rehabilitation, and incapacitation. The generally accepted goal for prisons today is incapacitation. The prison system solves problems caused by social deviance by isolating a target population and thus incapacitating further crime.

The state of California presents an interesting case because of its unique history and societal structure. California’s diversity in land, industry, and population has created a differentiated labor force, meaning workers separated starkly based on race, ethnicity, gender, locale, and citizenship. The inequalities that exist in California today are not conspiracies; rather, they are rooted in historically uneven development of the state in multiple arenas that began in the 1930s with Great Depression stimulus reforms and extended into the turmoil of the mid-1960s. Uneven development created excessive surpluses, which in turn stimulates crisis. California experienced surpluses in land, labor, finance capital, and sate capacity, which lead to quick-fix policies that helped some yet harmed others. Prisons are aimed at fixing these problems of instability and inequality. Prison building is not the only way to absorb these surpluses, but it did use a lot of idle land, get capital invested into a public institution, and take more than 160,000 low-wage workers off the streets. The development of the prison-industrial complex and the privatization of prisons for profit have further expanded the prison movement.

Gilmore does a very thorough job of explaining why California presents an ideal case for the explosion of prisons. She examines the case from a historical, economic, sociological, and political standpoint. However, the most powerful statement proving that the prison boom is worthy of questioning came from a philosophical viewpoint: “If the 20th century was the age of genocide on a planetary scale, then in order to avoid repeating history, we ought to come to grips with dehumanization” (243). The prison system is the ultimate example of state-sanctioned dehumanization in America today. Instead of dealing with social problems created by inequality, we choose not to deal with them by locking up those who “create” these problems. We do not see these individuals worthy of rehabilitation. This is an extremely dehumanizing practice. When did we decide that certain members of our society are not worthy of the basic protection of the fundamental rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? It would also be naïve to ignore the stark racial inequalities represented in the prison population today. Those who are at the “bottom” of the socioeconomic ladder, primarily minorities, are those termed “deviant”, and thus targeted for imprisonment. In any society, social stratification will occur. Social stratification presents problems in employment, electoral politics, equal earnings, and community development. Instead of coming to terms with these problems and searching for innovative ways to solve them, the prison system slaps a band-aid on these wounds when reconstructive surgery is needed. This process can only begin when we as a nation recognize that all members of this society are capable of input in our democratic system and ultimately, worthy of basic human rights.

Written by nicolemarie

April 11th, 2009 at 5:12 pm

Golden Gulag: The final word on America’s prison boom

without comments

The goal of this course over the past three months has been to examine the motivations and intentions behind the growing phenomenon of mass incarceration that exists in this country. We have researched this question from various vantage points by referencing historical, sociological, political, economic, and philosophical data. Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s study, Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California, integrates each of these approaches to studying the issue of prison expansion in California during the 20th Century. This study attempts to uncover why and how the state of California went about the biggest prison building project in the history of the world. Gilmore suggests that prison is a geographic solution to the political and economic crises that the state creates. Through extensive interdisciplinary research, Gilmore proves that the issue of mass incarceration is the result of inter-institutional strife of a nation that has failed to meet the needs of all its citizens.

First, Gilmore establishes the intentions of a prison system as well as possible explanations for its extensive growth over the past forty years. She references three possible explanations for the booming prison population. The first is increased public concern about crime rates and social deviance, which sparked tough on crime policies. Second is the drug epidemic and threat to public safety posed by the unrestrained use of illegal substances. The third explanation is the structural changes in employment opportunities that have forced people out of jobs and into illegal ways of making money. Historically, prisons go about solving problems such as these by deterring crime in four ways: retribution, deterrence, rehabilitation, and incapacitation. The generally accepted goal for prisons today is incapacitation. The prison system solves problems caused by social deviance by isolating a target population and thus incapacitating further crime.

The state of California presents an interesting case because of its unique history and societal structure. California’s diversity in land, industry, and population has created a differentiated labor force, meaning workers separated starkly based on race, ethnicity, gender, locale, and citizenship. The inequalities that exist in California today are not conspiracies; rather, they are rooted in historically uneven development of the state in multiple arenas that began in the 1930s with Great Depression stimulus reforms and extended into the turmoil of the mid-1960s. Uneven development created excessive surpluses, which in turn stimulates crisis. California experienced surpluses in land, labor, finance capital, and sate capacity, which lead to quick-fix policies that helped some yet harmed others. Prisons are aimed at fixing these problems of instability and inequality. Prison building is not the only way to absorb these surpluses, but it did use a lot of idle land, get capital invested into a public institution, and take more than 160,000 low-wage workers off the streets. The development of the prison-industrial complex and the privatization of prisons for profit have further expanded the prison movement.

Gilmore does a very thorough job of explaining why California presents an ideal case for the explosion of prisons. She examines the case from a historical, economic, sociological, and political standpoint. However, the most powerful statement proving that the prison boom is worthy of questioning came from a philosophical viewpoint: “If the 20th century was the age of genocide on a planetary scale, then in order to avoid repeating history, we ought to come to grips with dehumanization” (243). The prison system is the ultimate example of state-sanctioned dehumanization in America today. Instead of dealing with social problems created by inequality, we choose not to deal with them by locking up those who “create” these problems. We do not see these individuals worthy of rehabilitation. This is an extremely dehumanizing practice. When did we decide that certain members of our society are not worthy of the basic protection of the fundamental rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? It would also be naïve to ignore the stark racial inequalities represented in the prison population today. Those who are at the “bottom” of the socioeconomic ladder, primarily minorities, are those termed “deviant”, and thus targeted for imprisonment. In any society, social stratification will occur. Social stratification presents problems in employment, electoral politics, equal earnings, and community development. Instead of coming to terms with these problems and searching for innovative ways to solve them, the prison system slaps a band-aid on these wounds when reconstructive surgery is needed. This process can only begin when we as a nation recognize that all members of this society are capable of input in our democratic system and ultimately, worthy of basic human rights.

Written by nicolemarie

April 11th, 2009 at 5:12 pm

These posts are from a weekly journal I have Kept

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I will be posting them in bunches due to the fact that I was having computer problems earlier in the term

Written by briandeal

April 7th, 2009 at 6:45 pm