Verso, pages Review by Paul Wright The government is by no means a neutral agent dedicated to the welfare of all its citizens. Instead, it stands first and foremost to protect the interests of whatever class happens to hold state power at the time. In the United States at the close of the millenium this is the wealthy class. The essential government element that maintains the economic and political status quo is its coercive apparatus: police and prisons. The last three decades have seen a dramatic rise in paramilitary policing as well as the exponential explosion of the American prison population.
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Verso, pages Review by Paul Wright The government is by no means a neutral agent dedicated to the welfare of all its citizens. Instead, it stands first and foremost to protect the interests of whatever class happens to hold state power at the time. In the United States at the close of the millenium this is the wealthy class. The essential government element that maintains the economic and political status quo is its coercive apparatus: police and prisons.
The last three decades have seen a dramatic rise in paramilitary policing as well as the exponential explosion of the American prison population. In Lockdown America Christian Parenti shows the economic crises that have led to the current police and prison state policies that have so dramatically changed the American political landscape over the past 30 years. A more accurate name for the book might be "class war by criminal justice. A shortcoming with many otherwise good books about police and prisons is that while they may convey a sense of what is happening, they are incapable of explaining why it is happening and who benefits from this state of affairs.
Not so with Lockdown America. Anyone interested in learning not only how the criminal justice system in America works, but who benefits from it and who it works for, will find this book useful. The main impact of these changes was to make it more expensive to do business in the US by cutting into corporate profits. Faced with a devastating political and military defeat in Southeast Asia, the American ruling class was in no position to mount an immediate counterattack.
But mount it they did. This was accompanied by deindustrialization as American businesses went overseas in search of lower labor costs i. In its wake, this shifting of wealth and deindustrialization left shattered human cultural and social debris in its wake. This surplus population is characterized by some sociologists as "social junk": those with shattered minds and spirits who have little will to fight: the mentally ill, alcoholics, drug addicts and elderly; and the "social dynamite": the low wage, impoverished, working class, unemployed youth whose spirits are not broken and who remain combative.
As Parenti points out: "Social dynamite is a threat to the class and racial hierarchies upon which the private enterprise system depends. This group simply cannot be swept aside.
Controlling them requires a defensive policy of containment and an aggressive policy of direct attack and active destabilization. They are contained and crushed, confined to the ghetto, demoralized and pilloried in warehouse public schools, demonized by a lurid media, sent to prison, and at times dispatched by lethal injection or police bullets.
This is the class--or more accurately the caste, because they are increasingly people of color which must be constantly undermined, divided, intimidated, attacked, discredited and ultimately kept in check with what Fanon called the language of naked force. What began with Richard Nixon in is still going strong and shows no sign of abating. Parenti delves into the political impact and significance of "zero tolerance" policing, which was popularized by criminologist James Wilson.
The theory goes that small acts of lawlessness: window breaking, evading bus or subway fares, vending without a license, etc. Suppress the petty "quality of life" offenses, goes the theory, and the major crime rates will go down as well. As New York City police commissioner William Bratton is best known as the implementer of "zero tolerance policing" in that city, or as Parenti calls it "the science of kicking ass. Making the cities safe for profit making and capital accumulation is the driving force behind zero tolerance policing.
When Rudolph "Benito" Guiliani became mayor of the city in , he appointed Bratton police commissioner. Bratton swiftly brought zero tolerance policing to the entire city. In practice, zero tolerance policing meant rounding up the homeless, graffiti artists, sex workers, panhandlers and other social undesirables who polluted the urban landscape and pushing them out of sight. Zero tolerance policing has little to do with crime control and everything to do with controlling the poor, dangerous classes and keeping the cities safe for capital and its servants.
SWAT teams represent the militarization of policing combined with counter-insurgency concepts. Originally conceived in Los Angeles to deal with urban rioters and political radicals, it has become a common fixture across the nation. In Fresno, California, the local SWAT team carries out "the criminal justice equivalent of search and destroy missions. Fresno is unique in that its 30 member SWAT team of armored vehicles, automatic weapons, attack dogs and helicopters are used routinely seven days a week, for regular patrol work.
They kill an average of one citizen every three months, and shoot several more. The author combines first hand reporting with analysis of national trends to paint a comprehensive, detailed picture of not so controlled government repression.
Or, as he calls it, "the spectacle of terror. Spectacle is a fundamental part of how the state controls poor people. The Border Patrol, increasingly deployed in the heartland, far from borders, acts in collusion with the businesses who employ illegal immigrants in order to summarily deport workers who attempt to organize or otherwise rock the economic boat.
This includes the meat packing houses, food processing plants, agriculture, garment making and other industries. Parenti analyzes how INS raids support the class interests of employers in general by ensuring agricultural labor remains inexpensive, unorganized and inefficient. Thus, criminalizing workers due to their immigration status allows police terrorization to keep them working in the fields at low wages. Lockdown America describes a Border Patrol raid in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where agents and local police "swept through town, snatching Latino workers from the kitchens of 25 restaurants, rousting them from their homes and literally grabbing them as they rode by on bicycles.
Fifty of the prisoners were United States citizens or legal residents who were eventually released. The rest were placed into manure strewn cattle trucks and shipped off to detention centers. By allowing impoverished peasants and workers to flee from crisis ridden countries like El Salvador, Mexico, Guatemala, etc.
While the focus of Lockdown America is the United States, immigration policy is very much an issue of the global economy. As prisoners struggled their quality of life modestly improved with the introduction of law libraries, and rules on grooming, visiting, censorship and clothes being loosened. Parenti makes a convincing argument that, at one level, mass imprisonment is a rational strategy for managing the contradictions of a restructured American capitalism, but at another, it is simply a useful policy by product of electoral strategies by right wing politicians using crime and punishment issues to get elected.
Prisons are accurately described as extensions of the public spectacle of terror embodied in SWAT team policing. Parenti describes the official terror of guards gunning down dozens of California prisoners for sport and how it serves the empire building dreams of prisoncrats to foment violence in prisons, then use the statistics to get more money from the legislature.
Lockdown America contains the best analysis of prison gangs that has been printed to date, which cuts through the myths and mythology. In the past I have commented that if prison gangs did not exist prisoncrats would have to invent them. The history, origins and evolution of the gangs are detailed. Parenti observes that while prison gangs create violence and social pathologies in their wake, they also "render penitentiaries governable and justify increased repression, surveillance and control.
It is refreshing to see a candid description of how prison officials overtly nurture and perpetuate racism by racially segregating programs and activities as well as encouraging race wars among prisoners.
Gangs are thus summed up: "They are a form of organic, decentralized, self fueling social control, a cultural system of indirect rule that simultaneously oppresses from the inside while justifying repression from the outside. Parenti dismisses the notion that prisons will ever replace military spending as an engine of Keynesian spending and technological spin offs. At best, some local, rural communities benefit from prison payrolls but prison jobs are simply no substitute for industrial enterprises and the attendant high wage jobs.
If it were not for the two million people locked up in prisons and jails, and the more than , people employed to look over them, the American job market would not be as tight as it is now and the American unemployment rate would rival that of European countries. The main economic role of prisons, at this point in American history, is to suck would be workers out of the job markets and keep them out of it by imprisoning them or hiring them to watch over the kept. He notes that only 72, of almost 2 million prisoners have industrial jobs and that virtually all state run prison industries are heavily subsidized by the state as monuments to waste and inefficiency.
The author concludes "Prison labor is actually a small, not very profitable, part of the American gulag. The main role of prison slave labor is political: the working prisoner is the ultimate conservative revenge fantasy. Extensively footnoted, well researched and written in an easy to understand, flowing style Lockdown America gives a detailed, comprehensive look at how police and prisons keep the poor in line while maintaining the economic and political status quo.
The radical, class based analysis sets it apart from, and above, similar works. See page 31 for details. As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content. Already a subscriber? Login More from this issue:.
LOCKDOWN AMERICA PARENTI PDF
His talk is about the thirty year explosion in prisons in the United States. A rough transcript is included below the mp3. And thanks for the great talk, Ramona. To the audience Thanks for getting up so early. As opposed to just critiquing it from the point of view of specific corporate interests. Is the enemy nasty corporate practice or is the enemy a whole society that is a specific stage of historical economic development that has, as a system, a logic. Basically the U.