Interview (Excerpt) with Rosa Clemente, Green Party VP Candidate
Part of your platform focuses on the prison-industrial complex. Can you explain what that means - many people don't understand that term - and describe its economic and social impact? How you propose changing the current system?
It's based off President Eisenhower's use of the term "military industrial complex." It is the idea of corporations and the state - particularly corporations - controlling how prisons are run and operated. It also includes any aspect of policing. The phrase was coined in the early 1990s when organizers like myself began seeing the connection between private corporations owning and operating prisons and the goods and services produced by prison labor in these prisons. Then Bill Clinton passed the Juvenile Justice Crime Bill, which made young people eligible to be sentenced as adults, expanded mandatory minimum drug laws, allowed 16 year-olds to be on death row, and got rid of the right of the writ of habeas corpus for many people in prison to be able to challenge their sentences. This has created a system where at any given time over 3 in 10 African American men and 1 out of every 8 Latino men are either in prison, on probation, or on parole. In this past year, we surpassed 2 million Americans incarcerated. 1 out of 100 Americans are either in prison, on parole, or on probation. I've been intimately involved in that struggle - fighting against the death penalty, stopping mandatory minimum sentencing, and not imprisoning people for non-violent felonies, particularly drug charges.
This is related to NAFTA and CAFTA - it's all interconnected. Once the borders were opened up for "free trade," when manufacturing industries started leaving in greater numbers during the 1980s and 1990s and corporations started shipping jobs overseas, communities became blighted. There were no jobs. So, as a Senator from New York said, if we build the prisons, they will come. Particularly in upstate New York and parts of rural Ohio, prisons provide some of the biggest job opportunities for communities where people lost manufacturing jobs with good benefits and good wages. Now they are working on incarcerating other human beings. Economically, that impacts the communities from which the incarcerated young men and women come from. For example, many in prison come from urban areas, and the Census doesn't count them where they actually live, but instead counts them where they are incarcerated. That helps those rural communities where prisons are built get more money and funding.
Socially, the impact is devastating for probably the next two generations, at least. Young people of color, young men and increasingly girls, are harassed and brutalized every day. When they go to the bus stop, there are police. When they go to school, there are police, and when they leave school, there are police. When they get back on the subway there are police, and when they get home, there are police. For me and my generation, this is the most devastating thing that has happened to us.
Neither party has even bothered to reference the prison industrial complex, or made the correlation between the people who are incarcerated and these larger issues. Young people of color, particularly working class young people, get caught up in the prison industrial complex, and when they come out they can't get jobs that allow them to live. It was like this even before capitalism began falling down around us.
As for how I would propose changing it, I would completely dismantle it. Rehabilitation is necessary in some cases, but in some cases I think the police need to be restrained. In some communities, young people can go and have fun and not be arrested, but black and Latino kids in their communities - doing the same things that white kids in the suburbs are doing - shouldn't get arrested. Neither should the white kids. There's no tolerance, particularly for young men of color, in this country. I think white police officers, at the end of the day, see black men clearly as the enemy. Police are trained to see a black man as their enemy, not as someone they are there to serve and protect.
Where can people dealing with these situations go? What resources are available to them?
One organization is Critical Resistance, which works to stop the prison industrial complex.....