Richard P. Burton, Sr., Guest Commentary
– The recent fathers day speech made by Senator Barack Obama, as it relates to dead-beat black fathers, I agree that there is a serious problem and a urgent need for change of all deadbeat fathers. However, we must recognize social ills on all levels and offer up solutions from top to bottom.
The prison industrial complex is one of the root causes of the black family divide and yet one of the least spoken political converstation. Across the United States, many ex-offenders suffer from deteriorating health conditions and must confront a hostile environment where their rehabilitation will be difficult to achieve.
What’s more, the families and communities they are rejoining upon release may have changed significantly during their absence, creating a totally new dynamic for these ex-prisoners to overcome at a time when their circumstances already make them vulnerable.
When America embarked on its aggressive campaign to “get tough on crime” by swelling the nation’s prison ranks, it’s now clear that not enough emphasis was put on creating healthy prison environments or considering the impact that incarcerating so many people would have on the families and communities that they left behind.
Profits, War, Unemployment And The Prison-Industrial Complex
It is the profit motive that creates the built-in incentives for increasing the prison population, for lengthening terms, for extending the terms of those already sentenced and for using all this as the newest feature of capitalist production. Profits are the foundation of capitalism. All the evils of this prison-industrial complex stem from the combination of its profit motive, of its need to enforce racism to divide, and extract super-profits from, the working class. But alongside the profit motive for such a vast operation is the ruling class’s need for social control of the working class to maintain that very profit system.
To strengthen their profit position in their long-rang worldwide fight for markets, resources, exploitation of cheap labor and control over oil supplies, U.S. rulers — especially the dominant Rockefeller wing — must be prepared to go to war, both “small” and big wars. Increasingly this means exercising more rigid control at home, over its own working class. It means militarization of society and a grinding down of workers’ living standards. What better way to accomplish this than to imprison millions (even while, as they themselves admit, “crime” is going down), using them as the absolute cheapest labor force and lowering wages and standards for the entire working class to boot? Given the fact that armed forces enlistments are falling short of minimum quotas, look for them to begin offering prisoners the chance to shorten their sentences by joining the military and “wiping their slate clean.”
Furthermore, the tremendous increase in the jailing of non-violent offenders is a way to “reduce” unemployment, and keep the least skilled, and possibly the most rebellious, behind bars. The Wall Street Journal reported (Feb. 1, 2000): “Prisoners are excluded from employment calculations. And since most inmates are economically disadvantaged and unskilled, jailing so many people has effectively taken a big block of The Nation’s least-employable citizens out of the equation.” What a way to deal with potential rebellions of masses of unemployed, who were a large part of those uprisings in the 1960s!
The Racist Roots Of The Prison-Industrial Complex: How did all this come about, from less than 300,000 prisoners in 1972 to over 2,000,000 in the year 2008 and counting? On Jan. 17, 1971 Nixon declared the war on drugs. Now looking at the 7.2 million people that are either in prison, jail, parol, probation or halfway houses we must realize that the system is broken.
Now, just consider this; twenty million children orphaned (over the almost four decades of this war), with one or both parents are/were serving time for drug related charges. With this in mind, one can easy understand why there are so many so called dead-beat and absent dads and now moms, under a dead-beat criminal justice system.
Prison labor has its roots in slavery. After the Civil War, a system of “convict leasing” was introduced to carry on the slavery “tradition.” Freed slaves were convicted of not fulfilling sharecropper arrangements or of petty theft — guilty or not — and then “rented out” to pick cotton, work in the mines, and build the railroads. In Georgia, from 1870 to 1910, 88% of the “leased convicts” were black. In Alabama, 93% of the “leased” miners were black. In Mississippi, a huge prison farm similar to the old slave plantations replaced convict leasing. The infamous Parchman Farm existed until 1972.
During the post-Civil War period, racist “Jim Crow” laws became the law of the land, mandating segregation in schools, housing, marriage and many other aspects of life. Now a new set of laws, with a marked racist character, enforces slave labor sweatshops in the criminal “justice” system through what has become known as the prison-industrial complex.
Education Not Incarceration and equitable economic and social parity for all people, is a key component needed for family unity and empowerment. By eliminating fear, mistrust and segregation and creating healthy integrated communities, is a key resolve for positive change for families and children. Children must come to the world with a clean slate. They should be free of any domination and repression that restricts their ability to achieve their full potential. Children should be respected, caring, and participating members of society. It is in this type of atmosphere that the spirit of youth can flourish and become quality family leaders, parents, taxpayer, voters and president of the United States of America
I thank Senator Barack Obama for speaking on race, dead-beat fathers and other social ills and encourage he and Senator John McCain as presidential candidates to further address the side effects of race, poverty, the criminal/juvenile system and disparities that further divide families.
“At no time do we condone wrongness on either side of the wall”.
Richard P. Burton, Sr., Director
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