In this remarkable book, American journalist and researcher Christian Parenti shows how the USA’s economic and social crisis has produced a huge growth in criminalisation, especially through the war on drugs. He explains how capitalism creates poverty, through both crisis and policy.
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 provides 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’.”
In response to Lockdown America
by Christian Parenti