Lockdown America: Police and Prisons in the Age of Crisis Paperback – Aug 17 2008
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“In the best tradition of investigative journalism, paced like a fine novel, it carries the authority of meticulous academic research.”—Independent
“Exhaustively documented ... deserves a full hearing from anyone serious about ending the often horrific realities of the criminal justice system.”—Washington Post Book World
“Essential reading for those in law enforcement and politics who are attracted by the rhetoric of zero tolerance.”—Times Literary Supplement
“Terrifying, informative and gripping.”—New York Press
About the Author
Christian Parenti is the author of The Soft Cage and The Freedom, and is currently writing a book on Afghanistan. He is a visiting fellow at the CUNY Graduate School’s Center for Place, Culture and Politics, and his articles appear regularly in The Nation. He lives in New York City.
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From 1966 to 1974, profits fell by 30%. Reagan put interest rates up to 16.4% in 1981, causing a slump - ten million people were unemployed by 1982 and wages were slashed by 8%. Real unemployment for African American men has been more than 25% for three decades.
As Alan Budd, an economic advisor to Thatcher, said, "Rising unemployment was a very desirable way of reducing the strength of the working classes." Capitalism creates a surplus population, the reserve army of the unemployed, to drive wages down.
To manage the rising poverty, inequality and unemployment that capitalism causes, the state uses paramilitary forms of repression, segregation and criminalisation. These include paramilitary policing, SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) teams, zero tolerance policing, national surveillance and mass imprisonment. Both crime control and crime keep the people suppressed.
The US imprisonment rate was 100/120 per 100,000 until the 1981 slump. 31% of prisoners are in for property offences, 30% for drug offences, 9% for public order offences, and 29% for violent offences.
Parenti examines the USA's appalling prison industrial complex, which surely provide the rest of us with a model - of how not to run prisons. However, this has not stopped Labour ministers rushing to the USA trying to copy their masters.
Parenti shows how US prison guard unions have often successfully opposed the opening of privatised prisons, which have proved to be even worse than the public ones. Prisons have become ever bigger, with Titan prisons making the problems even bigger as well.
Everyone has to choose whether to blame the system that produces poverty, or to blame the poor. Parenti quotes Lenin, "every state is a `special repressive force' for the suppression of the oppressed class."
Parenti concludes, "My recommendations, as regards criminal justice, are quite simple: we need less. Less policing, less incarceration, shorter sentences, less surveillance, fewer laws governing individual behaviors, and less obsessive discussion of every lurid crime, less prohibition, and less puritanical concern with `freaks' and `deviants'."
Economics and politics are often at the crux of most social problems. Parenti understands this and gives the reader an intellectually fascinating and stimulating journey documenting just how our country has been transformed over the last 30 years into a civil libertarian's nightmare.
As Lockdown America demonstrates, the "social dynamite" and "social junk" must be quartered and corralled by the ruling class, otherwise the economic elites would be forced to routinely put down rebellions and riots. Given this reality, the new American prison boom is dealt with by Parenti along with a myriad of other criminal justice (sic) issues.
As mentioned above, the most astute and gratifying aspect of the book is the manner in which it intelligently ties a politico-economic critique into its analysis of criminal justice (sic).
Go beyond nonsense television programs that purport to deal with crime and society by devouring Parenti's magnificent book.
In fact Parenti expresses in his book the reality that America is now under a state of siege coordinated in the highest levels of Washington and operated on the ground by what used to be our local police agencies.
Consider this quote in reference to the militarized police in one California city: "If you're 21, male, living in one of these neighborhoods, and you're not in our computer, then there's definitely something wrong," said VCSU officer Paul Boyer. The obvious inference is EVERY single male living in one of the 'highlighted' neighborhoods should, by the time he's an adult, be included (with all his personal information) in a federal database. Any male NOT in the database is so immoral, so criminal, that he's managed to avoid the intense police sweeps. Does that sound 'left wing'? Hardly. In truth, there's no real difference for the man (or boy) on the street living under a fascist or communist dictatorship. That Americans can still be sucked into the phony 'left wing bad, right wing good' (or vice versa) paradigm devised by the political and banking opportunists only shows what a fantastic job television and the media has done to confuse and confound Americans.
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