the Criminalization of Communities
By Thomasina W. James, Prisonersolidarity.org
April 14, 2007
The socio-political and socio-economic impact of the prison industry
is a topic of concern to communities across the nation. The adverse
affects of the prison industry within racial/ethnic minority groups
is glaringly apparent. They are the product of the criminal culture
that exists in every prison around the globe.
am an African-American woman from a diverse cultural background.
I am currently serving a prison sentence at Saint Gabriel State
Prison in Louisiana, for a "white collar" crime of sorts.
Prior to my imprisonment I was a tax-paying, law-abiding citizen.
As such, I have been placed in a unique position to view the prison
from the inside.
I have been imprisoned I have seen scores of women, young and old,
from various racial/ethnic groups, some of whose lives have been
saved by the prison industry, and others who have been exploited
by the prison industry. For many communities, this polemic is the
core of the conflict. The women I am referring to are inmates as
well as employees. You cannot consider one group without considering
economically depressed communities, the prisons provide much needed
economic stimulus to the local economy (i.e. jobs, business contracts,
etc.). In struggling communities, if a viable economic industry
is not aggressively sought out and established, the vultures will
gather and exploit the weaknesses of that community--socially and
New Orleans, Louisiana, some of the communities adversely affected
by hurricane Katrina are prime examples. Prior to hurricane Katrina,
some of the communities in the Greater New Orleans area were high
crime areas, with high crime rates among black, white, Hispanic,
and other populations. They were/are economically depressed communities
that have turned to crime-related industries as a resource. The
reasons for making such a
choice are infinite and subjective. The result of making that choice
is inevitable. Communities choose to criminalize themselves, whether
they are aware of the choice or not.
vultures gathered and took advantage of the moral weakness that
exists in those communities. In certain communities in the Greater
New Orleans area, a person cannot get a job, rent an apartment,
or buy certain property without being subject to a background check
that includes a history of one's arrest record (not convictions)
from the local sheriff's department. In most states, a person's
arrest record is not admissible in a court of law. Yet, the arrest
records of applicants is being used in poor communities. The vultures
solution I see to counteract these adverse affects is aggressive
community action to form alternatives which include the building
and construction of community centers, schools, and support for
for-profit business interests and non-profit social enterprises
that can stand alongside of the prison industry, and sometimes replace
it. Aggressive community action for positive change is required--as
it has always been.
are penal institutions whose primary objective is to penalize inmates
for the crimes they have committed, and to provide rehabilitative
mechanisms to avert recidivism. It is unrealistic and unreasonable
to expect the prison industry to serve as a guiding force for social
reform. Many prisoners create an environment that teaches and promotes
criminal behavior, and in many instances the prison employees are
also not immune to the temptation of "easy money." This
circumstance holds true in every socio-economic class.
as a nation, we must move toward a trend of outside community groups
serving as liaisons and working actively with the prison industry
to provide alternative sentencing options to district court judges,
parole officers, etc.
we should provide ancillary services to the local inmate populations.
It is the responsibility of the local communities to take aggressive
action to offset economic depression and positively mobilize themselves
to avert their own criminalization. How do you criminalize a nation?
Cut off its economic resources, sit back, and watch what happens.
Thomasina W. James #485603
St. Gabriel State Prison
PO Box 26
St. Gabriel LA 70776
James would appreciate receiving your comments, in letters written
to the above address.
following link offers tips for writing to prisoners: http://prisonersolidarity.org/TipsForWritingPrisoners.htm