Drug War Christmas
By Mark Harrison, TNC contributing
It's that time of year again.
Sleigh bells ringing, chestnuts roasting on an open fire
and all that, but sadly, not all the children are singing. Hundreds
of thousands of drug war orphans are deprived of having their
mothers and fathers home for the holidays this year. The grinch
stealing their Christmas is the prison-industrial complex consuming
non-violent drug law violators at an unprecedented rate in an
insatiable hunger for raw material, the live bodies of imprisoned
In the Chicago Board of Trade way of thinking, prisoners are
the 'commodities' for the profitable industry. They are the 'assets'
that guarantee a bright and commercialized Christmas for shareholders
in publicly offered prison firms such as Corrections Corporation
of America (CCA). They are likewise the markets for manufacturers
of prison-ware, and in many prisons captive workers are the makers
of prison 'blues' for outside markets.
With no demand to rehabilitate anyone, it seems prisoners are
valued least as the mothers and fathers of about 1.5 million
children who are home without their parents for the holidays.
The prison-industrial-complex is a huge cash cow for special
interests. And like the military-industrial complex which thrives
on international conflict and resultant military spending programs,
the prison complex can only thrive by putting more people behind
bars, justified or not. The military-industrial complex consumes
$320 billion per year of public money, more than was spent during
the cold war when the USSR was a major nuclear superpower. Today,
we have created the largest military in the history of the world,
and for what? To defend ourselves against a few 'rogue states'?
But without 'rogue' Islamic or Asian countries and 'narcotrafficking
banana republics' there would be no justification for awarding
colossal military contracts to build an unlimited supply of war
machines for endless wars.
Likewise, the flourishing prison industry needs criminals - deserving
of the harsh sentence or not - to justify its extravagant spending.
In 1970, before the drug war began in earnest, there were less
than 200,000 adults behind bars. These numbers were too low for
the gluttonous prison-industrial complex and its very conscious
and motivated planners. Something had to be done, in a labor
market sense, to discipline the excess numbers of young, black,
brown and poor, unemployed people.
Drug warriors repeatedly place profits over people, political
careers over real leadership, prisons over prevention, and, we're
reminded during this normally bright and cheery time of year
- drug war spoils over the plight of its consequential prisoners
and their dependent children, young and grown alike.
Now, thirty years later and with nearly 500,000 non-violent drug
offenders behind bars, and over 2 million people in prison overall,
the prison-industrial complex has become self-perpetuating, a
government-supported employment program, a spending spree, and
those who make the laws may have the most to lose when the system
slows down. Politicians receive millions in campaign contributions
from companies that make billions from the booming prison industry.
Corrections Corporation of America is the largest privatized
prison firm in the country (others are Cornell, Wackenhut, e.g.),
and bids competitively for entire state penal contracts to house
and control prisoners. Since its founding in 1984, CCA has expanded
unabated to 75 facilities in 21 states. According to The Tennesseean
newspaper, CCA is the largest political contributor in that state,
dropping $100,000 to State legislators for political contributors
in anticipation of landing a state-wide penal contract.
Prison-ware is also big business. Festive trade shows for the
industry display sundry products from the $3.75 Tranzport Hood
- "the fast, easy way to protect you and your fellow officers
from the uncomfortable feeling of being spit on." There's
also the $2,290 restraint chair, where at least 11 US prisoners
have died from suffocation and countless others tortured. So
far, efforts to ban or restrict the use of the chair have been
thwarted, though Amnesty International has called for an "urgent
national inquiry." Meanwhile, sales are brisk, and though
manufacturers decline to publicize the exact amount of chairs
sold, they number in the thousands.
Tough-on-crime rhetoric that suggests "criminals" deserve
what they get may sound fair and just to the uninformed citizen,
but looking behind rhetoric about stopping crime, and following
the money trail, the drug war is easily seen to be about greed,
power and ill-guided intentions. While stockholders paid by the
prison-industrial complex will undoubtedly enjoy lavish Christmases
with their families, they will be doing so at the expense of
drug war prisoners and their children 'celebrating' Christmas
apart for another year, perhaps years to come if we don't end
this cash cow drug war.