The Final Call Online Edition



WEB POSTED 03-05-2002




Workshop panel discussion:
Profits fuel prison growth

LOS ANGELES, Ca. (�Much of the recent prison upsurge has been attributed to the Three Strikes Law, a sentencing law originally intended to put murderers, rapists and hard-core violent criminals in prison for a long time. Since its universal incorporation in 1994, the three strikes law through its abuse and popularity has expanded to include individuals with minor offenses, virtually locking up tens of thousands of individuals for life for crimes such as drug possession or shoplifting.

During the Prison Industrial Complex workshop held Feb. 15 at the World Saviours� Day 2002 convention, panelists concluded that the growing trend in usage of the law is not an accident.

"We have to educate the public in order to pass an initiative," said Dennis Duncan, of Families to Amend California�s Three Strikes (FACTS) Los Angeles chapter. "You may be able to get it on the ballot, but you have people vote for it. So you have to educate people and let them know what the situation is and how the three strikes law has been abused over these years."

No one denies that prisons are big business in America. Like the military industrial complex, the prison industrial complex is an interlacing of private business and government interests. Its dual intention is one of profit and social control. In public, the rationale is the fight against crime, but the bottom line, the presenters said, is dollars and cents.

"We have to provide a moral solution for our children and our households," said Imam Antar Jannah, who told attendees that sometimes the approach to the problem has to be more than political. "We have to let our children know that they essentially are setting themselves up to go to jail for the rest of their lives. They are setting themselves up to destroy their own communities, lives, and family life. And if they want to take that course, they are going to have to suffer the consequences," he said.

"We have to build coalitions and attack those things that effect our community," said facilitator and the Nation of Islam West Coast Prison Minister Charles Muhammad. "There are a whole lot of innocent people being stretched out with these long sentences for crimes that don�t fit the punishment."

"What we need is to create our own philanthropic network that will fund any project that we want to keep our organizations working for us in this way operable," said Nation of Islam National Prison Min. Abdullah Muhammad. "This is why the Million Family March Economic Development Fund, created by the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, is necessary. Because then we can go to our organizations, inquire about their budget and then put the money in place and make sure they work for us."

Presenters on the panel also included Dr. Donald Evans of NABSIO, Sis. Arisah Muhammad and Sis. Victoria Aguilera.

"Prison labor is what this is really about," said Sis. Sabah Muhammad. "There are so many people in prison for petty crimes, just so that private industry can have labor from 9 cents an hour." "Labor unions can get involved," said Mr. Evans. "Prison labor infringes upon those labor unions and the jobs they used to provide," he told the audience and cited precedence from an Arizona prison where inmates unionized, held a strike, and won their fight for standard minimum wage earnings.

Private correction companies also benefit strongly from the prison growth. Investment firm Smith Barney is part owner of a prison in Florida. American Express and General Electric have invested in private prison construction in Oklahoma and Tennessee. Correctional Corporation of America (CCA), one of the largest private prison owners, already operates internationally, with more than 48 facilities in 11 states, Puerto Rico, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

Under contract by government to run jails and prisons, and paid a fixed sum per prisoner, the profit motive mandates that these firms operate as cheaply and efficiently as possible. This results in lower wages for staff, no unions, and fewer services for prisoners. Private contracts also means less public scrutiny.

"If I own a prison, it�s like a plantation. The state gives me the slaves (prisoners) and I can make them work for me," said Imam Jannah. "This is the fastest growth industry in America. And multiple industries are involved in predicting the future of inmates entering the penal institutions."

�Eric Ture Muhammad

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