Tag Archives: Prison Industrial Complex

Related Reading: Policing the Planet – Policing and the Criminal Justice System

Earlier this week I posted my thoughts on Policing the Planet edited by Jordan T Camp and Christina Heatherton. Are you looking for more books on similar topics? Check out these other great titles (links lead to old reviews):

Urban Injustice: How Ghettos Happen by David Hilfiker – An examination of how economics, policies, and racism created and shaped inner city ghettos. (FIVE STARS)

It is also true, however, that we tend to punish the kinds of crimes committed by the poor more severely than similar ones committed by affluent people. Compare, for example, shoplifting and “fudging” on an expense account. Each is a nonviolent crime against business. Since neither source of income is usually reported to the Internal Revenue Service, each is a federal crime. Yet the shoplifter is much more likely to be prosecuted than the executive manipulating his expense account.

Rape New York by Jana Leo – Leo examines development policies and crime especially as it intersects with her own rape. (FIVE STARS)

Introducing crime into an area is part of a crude development strategy. The more sophisticated and perverse approach is to simultaneously clamp down on street crime while forcing it into specific buildings targeted for speculation. Containing crime in specific buildings reduces their value so developers can purchase them inexpensively.

Unruly Women: The Politics of Confinement and Resistance by Karlene Faith – A look at women in the justice system (in Canada!) and the ways in which the justice system is but the latest in a long line of efforts which have been used to keep women in their places. (FIVE STARS)

The continuum, then, does not follow deterministically from victimization to criminalization. Rather, social victims en masse serve as the very large pool from which the anomalous woman, who sells sex, steals or hurts people and gets caught, is a candidate for prosecution. These unruly masses are the target of criminal justice as well as the target of other dominant regulatory institutions in bureaucratized societies. The continuum from victimization to criminalization is arbitrarily drawn according to power relations as constructed through racially divided and class-based social structures, in tandem with the authority of law and other dominant discourses such as medicine, social sciences and welfare, which all serve selective law enforcement practices.

Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Davis – One of (if not the) first book I read on the US prison industrial complex. Davis discusses the history of prisons in the US as well as the criminalization of groups and communities which has led to the current state. She ends by providing options and alternatives. (More on Angela Davis coming in a post at some point in the near future.)

Thus, if we are willing to take seriously the consequences of a racist and class-biased justice system, we will reach the conclusion that enormous numbers of people are in prison simply because they are, for example, black, Chicano, Vietnamese, Native American or poor, regardless of their ethnic background. They are sent to prison, not so much because of the crimes they may have indeed committed, but largely because their communities have been criminalized. Thus, programs for decriminalization will not only have to address specific activities that have been criminalized – such as drug use and sex work – but also criminalized populations and communities.

More great reads that I haven’t reviewed but which provide more context and history on policing or the justice system:

  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander – a history of racial injustices and how they are a continuation of Jim Crow systems of justice. (FIVE STARS)
  • The Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces by Radley Balko – a history of how we got to the current state of the militarized police force and the results of this on how they interact with those they are supposed to protect and serve.
  • Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson – memoir by a lawyer who works with the wrongfully convicted, children, domestic abuse survivors, and others. It discusses the injustices built into the justice system.
  • Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice by Adam Benforado – Benforado is fully on the reform bandwagon, but in this book he does a great job of examining many issues (biases and injustices) built in to the current justice system.
  • Injustices: The Supreme Court’s History of Comforting the Comfortable and Afflicting the Afflicted by Ian Millhiser – an examination of the Supreme Court since the Civil War that shows how the rulings go more often against justice, despite a few recent historic rulings.
  • Racial Reckoning: Prosecuting America’s Civil Rights Murders by Renee C. Romano – while this book isn’t as related, it is still interesting and I make the case that it provides a great lens through which to view the police and the justice system. Through examinations of the more recent prosecutions of civil rights atrocities we see the limitations of the justice system.

Have you read any great books on policing or the justice system that my list is missing? Please let me know so that I can search them out!

Thoughts on Policing the Planet Edited By Jordan T. Camp and Christina Heatherton

Policing the Planet: Why the Policing Crisis Led to Black Lives Matter is a collection of 22 incredibly intersectional and deeply researched essays on policing in the US and internationally. The collection is edited by Jordan T. Camp and Christina Heatherton and contains a poem as well as numerous essays by and interviews with activists and scholars.

I don’t know where I first heard about this book, but it’s been on my wishlist since around the time that it was published last year. Mid-January my boyfriend gifted it to me, because clearly I picked an amazing partner. Now all I want to do is push it on everyone – seriously, it’s that good.

Cover image for Policing the Planet

How policing became the major political issue of our time

Combining firsthand accounts from activists with the research of scholars and reflections from artists, Policing the Planet traces the global spread of the broken-windows policing strategy, first established in New York City under Police Commissioner William Bratton. It’s a doctrine that has vastly broadened police power the world over—to deadly effect.

With contributions from #BlackLivesMatter cofounder Patrisse Cullors, Ferguson activist and Law Professor Justin Hansford, Director of New York–based Communities United for Police Reform Joo-Hyun Kang, poet Martín Espada, and journalist Anjali Kamat, as well as articles from leading scholars Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Robin D. G. Kelley, Naomi Murakawa, Vijay Prashad, and more, Policing the Planet describes ongoing struggles from New York to Baltimore to Los Angeles, London, San Juan, San Salvador, and beyond.

Broken Windows Policing, also sometimes called Community Policing, is the idea that by cracking down hard on small crimes such as littering, graffiti, loitering, public drunkenness, and et cetera with a zero tolerance policy people will be dissuaded committing major crimes. In other words, by showing that the police care about and enforce all rules punitively, it will theoretically scare people away from the idea of larger or more violent crimes. It was developed originally in 1982 in The Atlantic Monthly by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling, and has been embraced hugely since then.

The problems with this theory are legion, but a key point raised throughout the book is this – who defines community? Because certain people get identified as being “outside” of the community (the homeless, the racialized poor people, LGBTQ and gender-nonconforming people, Native people, immigrants, drug users) it is considered acceptable if they are harmed by the police in order to maintain “order” and “safety” for those considered within the community. This harm can come through increased stops, increased fines and arrests, and increases in prison populations. All of these harms then appear on a person’s record which leads to further cascading harm as they are shut out of what remains of the social net, in many cases. The policy can lead to “cleanup” of neighborhoods, increasing property value and enabling further gentrification in neighborhoods people have lived in for years.

A second main problem, raised again and again, which is tied to the first, is the way that the policy targets and disorders individuals and behavior as opposed to issues and crimes. For example, the homeless are arrested and / or fined and /or removed from the area, but there is no action taken against slum landlords who aren’t maintaining their properties. And no action on actual broken windows on bank owned foreclosed homes. As another example, people of color are routinely stopped and frisked in certain neighborhoods because they are seen as not belonging but there is no action against discriminatory hiring practices and stealing of tips.

Abolition of policing is provided by many as the true solution to the problems. Many essays discuss the history of policing and about its beginning in the days of slave patrols and its continued use throughout history to maintain separation and penalize difference. While some activists point to short term solutions, it is important to look intersectionally at all facets of the situation to ensure that existing structures and issues aren’t maintained. Although broken windows policing originated in the United States, it has been exported around the world as some of the essays discuss. The issue is a global one and many organizations are working together for justice.

An example of the definition of community and of how activism can sometimes provide limited gains while leaving the underlying structures in place is given in Christina B. Hanhardt‘s essay “Broken Windows at Blue’s: Queer History of Gentrification and Policing“. In the essay she talks about the rise of broken windows policing in New York City and the concurrent rise in the acceptability of white gay identity due to investment in gentrifying neighborhoods. The white gay middle class investment in the city was seen as part of the “back-to-the-city” movement and this group started to be seen as increasingly different from poor, immigrant, and non-white gay individuals, as well as from trans or gender non-conforming individuals. They thus because part of the accepted “community” while the underlying structure and problems were left unchanged.

She states:

[…] mainstream gay political claims in the city emerged by expanding the distance – conceptual and spatial – between affirmative gay identity and the broad matrix of so-called deviances often associated with racialized poverty.

They thus because part of the accepted “community” while the underlying structure and problems were left unchanged. As we move forward with advocacy, this is what reform efforts can often lead to and is why we have to think critically about any reforms being proposed.

As Rachel Herzing says in “The Magical Life of Broken Windows“:

We need terms of engagement that don’t root our own survival in the suppression or denial of another’s humanity.

In the coming days I will put up a few related posts on related reading, organizations working on the topic, and other media.