The Prison-Industrial Complex

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I was amazed to read the comments at the end of this thread where a number of people offered the black community a ridiculously simplistic prescription to the problem of massive incarceration of black men: get your act together.

So I’ve been motivated to pull out a relevant quote from a 1998 article in The Atlantic entitled “The Prison-Industrial Complex.”

Sixty to 80 percent of the American inmate population has a history of substance abuse. Meanwhile, the number of drug-treatment slots in American prisons has declined by more than half since 1993. Drug treatment is now available to just one in ten of the inmates who need it. Among those arrested for violent crimes, the proportion who are African-American men has changed little over the past twenty years. Among those arrested for drug crimes, the proportion who are African-American men has tripled. Although the prevalence of illegal drug use among white men is approximately the same as that among black men, black men are five times as likely to be arrested for a drug offense. As a result, about half the inmates in the United States are African-American. One out of every fourteen black men is now in prison or jail.

Emphasis mine.

The truth is that going into poor communities, which are disproportionately black, and sweeping up the drug dealers is pretty easy work for cops. It’s a lot easier than hunting white dealers down in universities and suburbs. And for those charged with possession, it’s not hard to imagine that someone with “a good background” is more likely at getting off with rehab and a second chance than someone whose prospects in life look pretty crap either way.

The drug war has ravaged law enforcement too. In cities where police agencies commit the most resources to arresting their way out of their drug problems, the arrest rates for violent crime — murder, rape, aggravated assault — have declined. In Baltimore, where we set The Wire, drug arrests have skyrocketed over the past three decades, yet in that same span, arrest rates for murder have gone from 80% and 90% to half that. Lost in an unwinnable drug war, a new generation of law officers is no longer capable of investigating crime properly, having learned only to make court pay by grabbing cheap, meaningless drug arrests off the nearest corner. – The Wire’s War on Drugs

This is a reality that equates to discrimination if one group suffers more than another. The cops don’t need to target black men but if they’re the easist arrests becasue they do their business out in the open, the effect is the same.

It seems that the old “PC” thinking was to acknowledge there were problems. The new “PC” thinking is that minority groups should be empowered by getting them to take responsibility for themselves and to “stop making excuses for them.”

What BS. It’s not either or. Of course people should take responsibility for themselves. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t acknowledge obstacles which systematically work against certain groups.