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Election Year Demagoguery

Washington State attorney general Ken Eikenberry has announced that he will be running for the governor's office on the Republican Party ticket. Eikenberry has been attorney general since 1980 and is serving up a typical Republican economic program with regards to turning the state economy around, i.e., no new taxes (where have we heard that one before), easing environmental laws and some vague measures.

Of interest to prisoners is Eikenberry's "anti-crime proposals." Eikenberry is a former FBI agent. He is telling voters he will push for mandatory anti-drug testing in state prisons. Apparently Mr. Eikenberry isn't very familiar with what his office is doing because the Washington DOC already has a mandatory drug testing program and his office defended the constitutionality of that program (and won) before the state Supreme Court in 1987. Could Mr. Eikenberry be preying on the voters fears and trying to capitalize on citizens ignorance of the prison system? Or is he just shooting from the hip?

His other proposals include "creating a board to review early releases of prisoners." This is when the Sentence Reform Act has been the law since 1984 which abolished the parole board and sets a fixed sentence with a fixed release date, so will Mr. Eikenberry try to reinstate the parole board and indeterminate sentencing?

His other big proposal is making prisons self-sustaining with factories and farms inside the prisons. Presumably voters will realize that jobs that come into prison are coming there from somewhere, namely their jobs on the outside. Prior to the 1930's most U.S. prisons were self-sustaining with prison factories and such. That ended when unions and employers complained of unfair competition and the great depression put the squeeze on U.S. capitalism. So now in the midst of another depression Eikenberry would go back to this model. On it's face prison industries sound good, prisoners are forbidden to unionize, can be made to work in unsafe conditions, don't require health or medical insurance, etc. But prison industries are usually not economical because of the excessive amounts that go into "security" costs. As slave owners of old learned, a captive work force is usually not a happy work force.

As the '92 elections draw closer we can expect to see more scapegoating of prisoners and criminal defendants. As the capitalist economy sinks even deeper into the morass of it's own contradictions we well see even greater attempts to distract the citizenry from the reasons behind this economic crisis, especially the role of Reagan/Bush in fomenting it. With the collapse of the Soviet Union as a credible menace there is a need for something to distract the U.S. voter from his economic predicament. In the 1988 election George Bush used the pledge of allegiance and the fact that prisoner Willie Horton had been given a furlough by Massachusetts prison officials during which he raped and killed a woman. This inflamed the fears of white voters against the specter of street crime by the black underclass and shifted the focus from Bush' s economic policies and his role as Reagan's talking head vice president to who was "tougher" on crime.

Recent newspaper columns have taken to analyzing what campaign ads by politicians mean by comparing what the ad says to the facts involved. At PLN we would like to do the same when those ads and campaign promises involve prisoners and prisons. Throughout most of the U.S. we are disenfranchised and cannot vote ourselves (I do not mean to imply that the current electoral system in the U.S. is legitimate and can provide a means for meaningful social and economic change). This is combined with the fact that the vast majority of the corporate media in the U.S. is closed to the views and opinions of prisoners so that most citizens have little knowledge of either the prison or the criminal justice system in this country except for what they are fed through Hollywood and the corporate media, prisoners on the other hand have first hand knowledge of prisons and the criminal justice system. So if you come across a "reality gap" between politicians demagoguery and what's really happening, send us the clipping and article and a short rundown of the actual situation.

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