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Perpetuating Crime, Consolidating Power

Perpetuating Crime, Consolidating Power: The Race & Class Logic of Mass Incarceration

An Interview with Paul Wright

by Janet Stanton

Arthur Stamoulis's (Common Courage Press) audiotaped interview with Paul Wright offers the listener a concise overview of the most disturbing issue confronting our time--the mass incarceration and despicable treatment of Americans by the criminal "justice" system. Paul Wright is a leading expert, his insight stemming not only from his work as editor of Prison Legal News and co-editor of The Celling of America, collecting and culling vast amounts of first hand research, news reports and court documents on a daily basis, but also from his experience as an incarcerated person.

The interview probes all major aspects of mass incarceration and the results for prisoners--results like censorship, lack of rehabilitation efforts, proliferation of control units, dismal medical care, openly racist guards, lack of access to courts, libraries and lawyers, prisoner slave labor and the "third world labor model" it establishes, and private prisons. These are addressed in the interview and are covered in depth in The Celling of America, for which the interview serves as an accompaniment.

The hard-hitting and straightforward analysis of the race and class "logic" are what sets the interview apart from other investigations into prison problems and calls for much more than reform. For example, towards the end of the interview Stamoulis asks "...What do you think people on the outside should be doing to help prisoners... ?" and the response from Wright is that this question is like asking "Well, what can we do to make life nicer for the prisoners in Auschwitz?" It is "asking the wrong question."

Wright argues that public opinion is molded by "bombardment about what to think by the mainstream media," and describes how "the ruling class in the U.S, has largely succeeded in ensuring that poor and working class people view other poor and working class people as the biggest threat to their existence," (i.e., resentment of people on welfare and immigrants propagated by the media). He points out how "prisons aren't just meant to control the one person out of everyone hundred and fifty who is in here [1 out of 150 Americans is incarcerated]... (but) the other hundred and fifty who aren't in prison, and let them know that, yes, this could happen to you."

Therefore, Wright goes on, "conditions of prisoners are always worse than the worst conditions on the outside ...(so) as conditions for poor people on the outside worsen, so, too, do conditions for prisoners on the inside worsen even further."

Wright also points out how effective the media are in demonizing "the criminal," even on the American "left," noting the strong support for Mumia and Peltier who assert their innocence, and lack of support for the hundreds of thousands of warehoused, abused people, denied justice daily--victims of a drug war and race war, but primarily a class war, a war which the ruling class is still winning.

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