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Examining the Prison Industry

They should have made more of this in the political campaigns. Amid all the charges and countercharges—some truth, some lies—about transporting industry jobs overseas, there’s one super-growth industry right here in the United States that nobody said much about: the prison industry. In fact, what used to be a public function now more and more is becoming a private sector industry, as private not-for-profit and for-profit companies compete to take over carceral operations.

And in contrast to campaigns that notably avoided talking about the poor—and especially poor and black—this industry seems to be overwhelmingly biased toward—in the sense of targeting—poor blacks. The system has been characterized as “the new Jim Crow,” equivalent in its motives and effects to the legal institution of slavery in the South in the 19th century. Only now extended into all the states.

A seminal recent text on the subject, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by legal scholar Michelle Alexander, will be the topic of a panel discussion at 7pm on Wednesday, November 14, at St. Joseph’s University Church, 3269 Main Street. Panelists will be Buffalo City Court Judge James A. W. McLeod, attorney Terrence D. McKelvey, and Chuck Culhane, a board member of the Western New York Peace Center and the prisoner dignity organization Prisoners Are People Too. Rod Watson, Buffalo News columnist and urban affairs editor, will be the moderator.

“The United States now has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, dwarfing the rates of every developed country, even surpassing those in highly repressive regimes like Russia, China, and Iran,” Alexander writes. And “the racial dimension of mass incarceration is its most striking feature…The stark and sobering reality is that, for reasons largely unrelated to actual crime trends, the American penal system has emerged as a system of social control unparalleled in world history...”

The panel discussion is free and open to the public.

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