GYC Village

blog posts from GYC's participants, alumni, & staff

Is the Prison Industrial Complex a form of Genocide?

20140226_212952Antoinette Stone

June 2014

Last week, you probably saw three faces of men who were executed. And you probably noticed that they were all black.

To be able to fully enter this conversation, it needs to be understood that the death penalty is just one piece of the larger prison industrial complex. The Prison Industrial Complex as defined by Angela Davis is the “prison construction and the attendant drive to fill these new structures with human bodies have been driven by ideologies of racism and the pursuit of profit.” [1] The Prison Industrial Complex has not only become a way for private businesses to make a profit, but to also incarcerate people of color, specifically African-Americans. As stated by the NAACP, “African-Americans constitute for 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population” [2] The incarceration and killing of these prisoners is genocide.

This aggressive prison system did not unexpectedly emerge, but was a slow and deliberate process. First, the “freeing” of slaves in 1865 led to the rise of a new free labor source. Practices such as convict leasing and chain gangs created conditions that mimicked slavery, but under the disguise that those who were imprisoned were criminals. These criminals had no rights that the state had to respect, as reminiscence of the Supreme Court rule that African-Americans “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” [3]

So, as the Prison Industrial Complex has grown and continued to operate, how does it commit acts of genocide?

The Prison Industrial Complex for African-Americans have put them, “under some form of judicial control (jail, parole, probation) then were enslaved in 1850.” [4] Recent death penalty studies shows that as the years go by more people of color are being executed. Currently almost 42% of the inmates on death row are African-Americans. [5] Those executed since 1976 have been 34% African-Americans. [6] Trends also show that African-American defendants are more likely to receive the death penalty for the murder of a white victim than that of another person of color. Prison has no longer become about incarcerating those that are “criminals” but the death of a set of people seen as surplus. Those that are not on death row face the even greater possibility of being held in solitary confinement.

According to the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide,

Genocide means any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or part, a national, ethnical, or religious group, as such:

1. Killing members of the group

2. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part

3. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group

4. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group[7]

 

Solitary Confinement is usually a small cell about the size of a parking lot where a prisoner is held if they have been exhibiting “bad” behavior. Solitary confinement has moved from being a way to punish prisoners to an outright form of torture. Solitary confinement has been shown to break down the physical and mental state of those being held. Those in solitary confinement are allowed out for an hour of exercise, max–if they are lucky. As those in solitary confinement are taken away from human contact they have been known to commit suicide at higher rates and develop mental illness. [8] This is partly due to the fact that most solitary confinements can go on for long periods of times. More than 80,000 people in prison are held in solitary confinement, under conditions that fit the international definition of torture. Solitary confinement is one of the many example of the mental and physical harm done to prisoners in the Prison Industrial Complex.

One of the major cases of solitary confinement is in the case of three men, Herman Wallace, Albert Woodfox, and Robert King who came to be known as the Angola Three. Herman Wallace spent 41 years in solitary confinement. Albert Woodfox is still being kept in solitary confinement even though his conviction has been overturned three times.Collectively the Angola 3 have spent over 100 years in prison.

The Prison Industrial Complex has grown out of control. It is no longer about the incarceration of those deemed “criminals,” but the genocide of African-Americans through a systematic practice. The execution of prisoners and solitary confinement has become the legal way to commit genocide. It is the killing and harming the mental and physical being of those in the Prison Industrial Complex.

Statistic show that African-American men born in 2001 and after, have a one in three chance of going to jail.[9] These crimes against humanity have not gone unnoticed. I have two brothers who were born in 2001. For myself, and for many others, we have a moral obligation to make sure that my brothers do not become a statistic. This is a call to not just end Mass Incarceration but bring about the destruction of a system that has been committing genocide under the disguise of protecting and serving. October is to be a month of resistance to Mass Incarceration by the Stop Mass Incarceration Network. I call for all of those reading this to hear this call and become a part of it.There is simple things you can do, whether it is spreading the word or organizing a panel. Mass Incarceration is no longer only about those imprisoned, but the genocide of a set of people. After we have said “never again” multiple times, this time stand up and not just say it but shout it.

 

[1]Davis, Angela Y. “Prison Industrial Complex.” Are Prisons Obsolete? New York: Seven Stories, 2003. 84. Prin

[2]http://www.naacp.org/pages/criminal-justice-fact-sheet

[3]http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/60/393

[4] Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. New York: New, 2012. Print.

[5]NAACP-LDF “Death Row USA (October 1, 2013)”

[6] Ibid

[7]http://www.preventgenocide.org/law/convention/text.htm

[8]http://solitarywatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/fact-sheet-psychological-effects-final.pdf

[9]http://www.childrensdefense.org/child-research-data-publications/data/cradle-prison-pipeline-summary-report.pdf

 

Antoinette Stone is a Brooklynite and rising sophomore at Hampshire College in Massachusetts. At Hampshire, Antoinette focuses much of her extracurricular and class time on studying the Prison Industrial Complex and related human rights challenges facing the U.S. During her summer internship with GYC in 2014, Antoinette is focusing on promoting and designing GYC’s October 2014 Human Rights in the USA Program. She is an alumna of GYC’s 2012 Human Rights in the USA Program, during which she engaged with 23 youth from 17 different nationalities and volunteered at Kids Creative on a human rights theatre project for children. Born in Jamaica, Antoinette moved to New York City when she was five years old, and she is a graduate of The James Baldwin High School, where she was active in the mock trial team, poetry writing club and the fairness committee, which gives students and teachers a safe space to talk if they feel one of our schools core values has been violated. Through her work with the organization Global Kids, Antoinette had the opportunity to engage significantly with the Council on Foreign Relations, and travel to Thailand on a five-week program performing community service. In her spare time she likes to read, step, hang with friends and watch movies.

 

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This entry was posted on June 25, 2014 by in Human Rights.

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