Collateral Consequences of the Prison-Industrial Complex

By Mahmood, Marcus | Social Justice, Spring-Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

Collateral Consequences of the Prison-Industrial Complex


Mahmood, Marcus, Social Justice


IN A SKILLFULLY CRAFTED ANALYSIS OF THE EXPANDING PRISON-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX, Sudbury encourages us to connect the dots between a number of economic, political, and social patterns that are traditionally examined in isolation. Although substantial academic and activist attention has been devoted to the growth of the prison-industrial complex in the U.S., very little has been done to examine this trend in its global context, and even less work has addressed the links between mass incarceration, global capitalism, and U.S. militarism. A comprehensive, systematic analysis of these relationships is a daunting, Herculean task and Sudbury provides a framework for doing just that. Sudbury's piece is an important contribution to the relatively recent body of work that insists on broadening the analysis of incarceration policies and practices to a global level. Building on an earlier article (Sudbury, 2000), her work moves beyond a narrow ideological analysis and begins the process of demonstrating the multiple layers of interdependence and symbiotic reinforcement between U.S.-led global capitalism, militarism, and the international growth of the prison-industrial complex.

Sudbury embraces the theoretical framework offered by the concept, "prison-industrial complex," and adopts a "transnational feminist" approach in her work that centers on the lives of women of color and "Third World" women. Arguing that the prison-industrial complex model encourages us to look beyond single-factor explanations for prison expansion, she begins the process of transforming abstract connections between mass incarceration, global capitalism, and imperialism into tangible, empirical relationships. This is of critical importance for effective consciousness-raising and creates a solid platform for continuing activism and resistance.

Drawing on specific examples, Sudbury explores the links between domestic criminal justice and correctional policies (including prison privatization), U.S. military, economic, and political intervention in Iraq and Latin America, with its explicit exportation of the prison-industrial complex model to these areas, and the disproportionate increases in women's incarceration rates internationally. Furthermore, by examining these connections from the perspective of women of color and "Third World" women, whose experiences tend to be rendered invisible in discussions of global imperialism and mass incarceration, Sudbury further expands the analysis of mass incarceration. With reference to life histories of incarcerated women of color in the U.S., Canada, and England, she demonstrates the ways in which women of color are especially vulnerable to the fallout created by these trends, as greater numbers of an already marginalized population get caught in the global prison-industrial web.

Most analyses of expanding mass incarceration focus on the populations manifestly affected by changes in criminal justice policies and practices. Our attention is drawn to the socioeconomic characteristics of the incarcerated population and incarceration rates over time and space. As such, we learn that in 2002 more than two million prisoners were held in U.S. prisons and jails (Harrison and Karberg, 2003), and that by yearend 2002, there were 3,437 sentenced black male prisoners per 100,000 black males in the U.S. compared to 405 white male inmates per 100,000 white males (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2004). Although rates of female incarceration have always lagged far behind rates of male incarceration, the rate of female incarceration has been growing faster than the rate of male incarceration, with the highest increases recorded for black females (Harrison and Karberg, 2003). The U.S. now bas an internationally and historically unprecedented incarceration rate of 702 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents (Mauer, 2003) and racial disparities in incarceration rates continue to expand. U.S. incarceration rates tower above those of any other country in the world, but U. …

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