by Devon DB
“Prison Industrial Complex” It’s a term that many of us have come across in our lives, rather watching television or reading a book. However, there is only an understanding of the prison industrial complex in a modern-day context. The term was first coined in 1998 by either Eric Schlosser or Angela Davis and has evolved to the point where it is defined today as “the overlapping interests of government and industry that use surveillance, policing, and imprisonment as solutions to what are, in actuality, economic, social, and political ‘problems.’”
However, these “overlapping interests of government and industry” existed before the 1990s. The problem that comes from viewing the PIC as having originated in the past two decades is that it does not look give a full and comprehensive view as to how a prison industrial complex even came to exist. Furthermore, it doesn’t ask the deeper question: Why do prisons even exist? We have become so used to the existence of prisons that we don’t even question why they exist and how they came into being. These are important questions to ask if one wants to have an in-depth examination of the prison industrial complex. As a follow up to the previous question, one must also ask what the original purpose of prisons was. However, in searching for the answer, all points of view must be considered. We must examine the everyday common sense arguments such as “To punish those who have committed crimes” to more intriguing ones such as Michel Foucault’s argument that prisons were being used as a tool of social control.
In addition to this, an examination needs to take place of how prisons have changed over time. Not only in the sense of prison structure, but also in the layout of prisons, guards, the treatment of prisoners, punishment of prisoners, and the change in prisons from rehabilitation to punishment, just to name a few topics. Asking these questions add a greater depth to our knowledge and understanding of how the prison system works and thus may gives us clues on how to fight it. It will also allow for us to see who and/or what shaped and is currently shaping the minds of those who find themselves within the framework of the prison industrial complex.
Going back to the definition of the prison industrial complex, it mentions that there are economic, social, and political problems that prisons attempt to sweep under the rug by caging those who are victims of the current framework of power that favors those individuals with large amounts of wealth. The victims of the complex are usually those lower class individuals and usually people of color and, while usually male, are increasing female. Thus there is a socio-economic, racial, and gender lens to the situation, especially when one factors in the fact that many of those people who are the CEOs of privatized prisons are white upper-class men. There is also a labor aspect to the complex, as those inmates in private prisons are often used as a source of cheap labor by corporations.
Finally, there is the resistance to private prisons. Many people have realized the negative effects of private prisons and are fighting against them. This must also be examined as from there we can begin to conceptualize and articulate a world in which private prisons are not needed and prisons are radically different than they are today
This is what The Prison Project attempts to explain. It is an examination of the history of prisons, how they have changed over time, how they became privatized, the effect of privatized prisons on the US economically, socially, and politically, and the resistance to privatized prisons. It will conclude with an explanation of what it tells about American society that such institutions are allowed to exist. The entire goal is to give a detailed and in-depth view of how the prison industrial complex came to be and its effect on the society at large.