Incarceration Nation

The Walking Dead

By Mumia Abu-Jamal

(Explanation: I am not discussing a TV show)

The subject today is the tens-of-thousands, indeed, over several-hundred-thousands of men, woman and juveniles who are doing life sentences in American prison.

In Pennsylvania, the largest juvenile lifer population in the world exists—in the world.

As I wrote in my first book, Live From Death Row, the fury and governmental rage fueling the unprecedented level of mass incarceration during the ’80s, would deplete state budgets, and prove unproductive.

Today, even conservative voices are echoing some of those concerns, driven, no doubt, by declining state budgets, rather than humane concerns.

During the ’80s, ambitious politicians launched the toxic rhetoric of more and more prisons, longer and longer sentences, and tougher, meaner prisons.  Of course, such positions cost more and more tax dollars.

Many of these politicians are gone now, out of office or out of existence; and the bills are becoming due. States can no longer foot the bill without drastically slashing other public services, like education.

This long, bitter and expensive path could’ve been avoided, if only reason had prevailed over ambition; but it did not. That’s because the politicians of the ’80s used fear to push their punitive programs, something Americans are always susceptible to.

Scholar/activist Angela Y. Davis has long argued that political elites, deprived of the boogey-men of communism (especially after the fall of the Soviet Union), focused on crime to establish new systems of state repression.

Fear sells—again.

Remember conservative scholars and critics, foaming at the mouth about juvenile so-called “Super-Predators?”  It was sheer nonsense, of course, but it opened the door to political support for life sentences—and death sentences—for juveniles.

The lesson? Fear works.

At least until the fever breaks., October 16, 2013