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12.1: Introduction

  • Page ID
    196283
    • Ulysses Acevedo & Kay Fischer
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    Understanding the Carceral System through Ethnic Studies


    A dark, repressive trend in the business field known as “corrections” is sweeping the United States, and it bodes ill both for the captives and for the communities from which they were captured. America is revealing a visage stark with harshness. Nowhere is that face more contorted than in the dark netherworld of prison, where humans are transformed into nonpersons, numbered beings cribbed into boxes of unlife, where the very soul is under destructive onslaught.

    -Mumia Abu-Jamal, 1996, p. 73


    In one of her many seminal works, Are Prisons Obsolete?, activist, former political prisoner, prison abolitionist, professor, and writer, Dr. Angela Y. Davis, reminds us that the abolition of slavery took one hundred years and that it took the Civil War to legally end this institution. She makes this point, because so many of us in the 21st century can’t imagine a society without the current carceral system. She and many activists and scholars have tied slavery, Jim Crow and the current mass incarceration of African Americans to white supremacy. Davis argues that the U.S. punishment system is entrenched in antiblack racism, and other racialized histories of minoritized people, including Native Americans, Latinx, Asian Americans, and more recently the Muslim and Arab American communities targeted by post-9/11 detention and deportation.

    This chapter is organized into distinct themes in order to gain a well-rounded understanding of the carceral state in the U.S. Section 12.1 is a quick introduction to the chapter. Section 12.2 will define mass incarceration and the prison industrial complex (PIC). This section will also help the reader understand how the growing PIC organically created a demand for cheaply run private prisons in the name of profit. This section will also answer the question: "what does modern prison labor look like and where does it come from?" Section 12.3 will focus on the origins of policing and how it is connected to colonialism, western expansion, and slavery. Section 12.4 will contextualize whether policing is inherently racist. To this point, Davis asks, “Are prisons racists institutions? Is racism so deeply entrenched in the institution of the prison that it is not possible to eliminate one without eliminating the other?” (2003, p. 26). In this section, we’ll examine the ways that our current prison and policing systems are intertwined with white supremacy. Racial profiling, violence against indigenous women, controlling black women, and borderland enforcement will also be utilized in the analysis. Section 12.5 provides a deep understanding of the school-to-prison pipeline and the nuanced interconnections of testing and suspensions, schools as prisons, special-needs students, and the militarization of schools. Finally, section 12.6 introduces hope to this chapter by providing evidence of alternative solutions that are being applied such as: the abolition movement, alternatives to school police, redirecting funding for students to thrive, and restorative justice programs.


    This page titled 12.1: Introduction is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Ulysses Acevedo & Kay Fischer (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative (OERI)) .