In her book, Are Prisons Obsolete?, Angela Davis connects social inequality to the rise of the prison industrial complex by highlighting the target demographic of American prisons: people of color, specifically African Americans, and women. The prison industrial complex goes hand in hand with social inequality because prison systems abuse their access to vulnerable and captured people and exploit them through manual labor. Prisons benefit by keeping their cells full and maintaining high numbers of inmates.
The New Jim Crow and Are Prisons Obsolete? shared many similarities in the stories they were telling. Both books served the purpose of uncovering the truth about how the criminal justice system targets and terribly mistreats minorities like African Americans and women. The New Jim Crow exposed the truth about mass incarceration and how unbelievably corrupt the criminal justice system and many law enforcement officers are. Are Prisons Obsolete? uncovered how horribly people can be treated inside prisons and there’s nothing that can be done when no ones knows what is truly going on within the prison walls. Both of these books are so crucial and important to start conversations on law and prison reform because the way things are currently are completely unjust.
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A major difference I noticed between the two books, was that The New Jim Crow focused more on African American men whereas Are Prisons Obsolete? focused more on women in the criminal justice system. In The New Jim Crow, there was an entire chapter dedicated to addressing a speech given by President Obama on Father’s Day in 2016. In his speech, he essentially makes the statement that black men need to take responsibility of the children they left behind. President Obama makes assumptions that absent fathers are lazy and afraid of taking responsibility and providing for their families without including another narrative that would uncover where many absent fathers really are: behind bars and under the control of the criminal justice system. Alexander embodies this truth by saying, “”The absence of black fathers from families across America is not simply a function of laziness, immaturity, or too much time watching Sports Center. Thousands of black men have disappeared into prisons and jails, locked away for drug crimes that are largely ignored when committed by whites”” (Alexander 2012).
In Are Prisons Obsolete, Davis dedicates an entire chapter to exploring the way that gender effects the structure of prisons. Davis begins this chapter by noting the many pieces of literature that came from women who exposed what truly goes on in prisons across America. David includes Assata Shakur’s testimony of her time in prison which included isolation from female prisoners, inadequate medical treatment, a lack of ability to exercise, and constant and unending surveillance. She also wrote of a horrible and disgusting search that all women were required to consent to or were faced with more solitary confinement. This search forced women to strip down to nothing while a nurse searched their vagina and rectum. This internal search left women feeling completely violated as it is a form of sexual assault. The biggest difference I found in these two books is their emphasis on gender and how the criminal justice system has treated them.
In the final chapter of her book, Davis explains how dependent America is on the prison system and how crazy it may sound to American citizens to imply that there could be much better alternatives to imprisoning people for illegal activity. Davis includes that two million people occupy jails today and the point of providing alternatives to imprisonment is to reevaluate which offenses are punishable by prison sentences. Davis begins this alternatives conversation by saying, “The first step, then, would be to let go of the desire to discover one single alternative system of punishment that would occupy the same footprint as the prison system” (Davis 2003). There is not just one right way to punish federal crimes even though that has been the way of thinking for so long. She encourages her readers to create a “justice system based on reparation and reconciliation rather than retribution and vengeance” (Davis 2003).
I believe the key to redefining the criminal justice system which gives people the chance to amend crime and atone for their criminal activity is not locking them away in cells where they are forced to do menial labor. Not only is this dehumanizing to the prisoners, but it does not instill hope for a better life outside of their prison sentence. I believe it is crucial to implement programs that support former prisoners in their attempts to assimilate back into society. These programs could include affordable health care, mental healthy services, and revamping education at elementary, high school, and college levels in addition to providing affordable schooling options for people wanting to earn their degree without spending large sums of money. I believe that people become so desperate to provide for themselves and their loved ones that they resort to theft and selling illegal substances in order to survive. I don’t think anyone would willing choose to live that life, but become so desperate in this expensive country that they do whatever it takes to scrape by. I think high prices for food, gas, clothing, and housing in addition to a difficulty finding a good and steady job contributes to crime rates in the United States. These petty and generally harmless crimes do not deserve to be imprisoned in the same manor and capacity that a convicted murderer or rapist would. I think this conversation is such an important topic that our country could seriously benefit from. This type of social justice reform is crucial for the betterment of the American people.
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