Creating lifelong customers: the school-to-prison pipeline and the private prison industry
By End the Lie
As if the United States did not have a bloated enough prison population – which I think nearly every single American realizes is a painful truth – our school systems are being transformed into yet another way to funnel people into the private prison system.
School systems around the country, but especially Texas, have begun criminalizing what would otherwise be normal childish behavior.
One example given by the British Guardian in a recent fantastic article covering this issue, an overweight and unpopular girl was charged with a criminal misdemeanor after spraying perfume because children in the classroom were teasing her and saying she smelled bad.
That’s right; a 12-year-old girl was arrested for “disrupting class” simply for attempting to appease cruel students.
Unfortunately, this example of the young Sarah Bustamantes is far from isolated. Kids can be arrested for anything ranging from possession of cigarettes, so-called inappropriate clothing and even something as inconsequential as being late to class.
While the Guardian’s article is surprisingly comprehensive, they do seem to be under the impression that this trend is just a natural consequence of misinformed decisions.
I, on the other hand, find that this trend is part of the large-scale growth of the private prison industry which seeks to create an endless supply of customers who they can charge the state for while leveraging said prisoners for slave labor.
Criminalizing the youth is being done at an earlier and earlier age in order to create these consumers as early as possible and lock them in to an inescapable system.
One criminal charge can mean the difference between getting a student loan, a job, or a spot in a competitive academic program.
With the job market as dismal as it is nowadays, a young person with a criminal record is likely going to be passed over for the many other applicants who do not have such a record.
This leads to a vicious cycle: get charged with a crime, can’t get a job, have to resort to crime to survive, get charged with another crime, still can’t get a job, have to resort to crime, etc. ad infinitum.
This cycle can lock someone into the world of crime for their entire life and when this starts at an early age, it is even more likely to be the case.
The Justice Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization which aims to change the public discussion around justice reform while forwarding “policies that promote well-being and justice for all people and communities,” put out a landmark report in June 2011 which dissects the private prison complex.
The report, entitled “Gaming the System: How the Political Strategies of Private Prison Companies Promote Ineffective Incarceration Strategies” breaks down exactly how these companies go about making sure the system is as inefficient as possible in order to guarantee a steady customer base.
In the introduction they write, “While private prison companies may try to present themselves as just meeting existing ‘demand’ for prison beds and responding to current ‘market’ conditions, in fact they have worked hard over the past decade to create markets for their product.”
“As revenues of private prison companies have grown over the past decade, the companies have had more resources with which to build political power, and they have used this power to promote policies that lead to higher rates of incarceration,” they add.
The policies we see in Texas perfectly play in to this by creating a demand from an early age and effectively relegating what should really be behavior to be disciplined by teachers and parents to criminal behavior to be disciplined by the so-called justice system.
The most glaring issue here is that police are actually arresting and charging children for the most ludicrous of crimes (if you can even call them that); all while the law enforcement officers themselves are allowed to get away with murder.
The problem is not just these policies are creating lifetime criminals and clogging up our already bloated prison system, it is that these police officers far too often cross the line in disastrous ways.
One glaring example that springs to mind is the disturbing case of 14-year-old Derek Lopez, who was murdered by a police officer after doing nothing more than punching a fellow student a single time.
“It wasn’t a fight. It was nothing,” the student who was attacked by Lopez later said in a sworn deposition, yet it still got Lopez executed.
Another example is 15-year-old Marshawn Pitts, a special needs student who was brutalized by a police officer for not having his shirt tucked in:
Or 16-year-old Pleajhai Mervin of Palmdale, California, who had her wrist broken and was arrested after spilling some cake during lunch and leaving the crumbs.
Or in 2007 in Chicago when one sixth grader described the following horrific treatment: “The security person grabbed me by me head [sic] and swung me into the door and started hitting me in the stomach. When I fell on the ground, my arm got caught between the door and he kept slamming the door on my arm to stop other students from getting out.”
These are just microcosmic examples of a macrocosmic and wholly destructive trend that is sweeping the United States.
The situation in Texas is a great example of how this is being done at a policy level in order to create lifelong customers for the private prison industry, but many other states have the same thing going on – albeit not as blatantly.
In a 2010 report released by the Community Rights Campaign and the Los Angeles Chapter of Dignity in Schools entitled “Police in LAUSD Schools: The Need for Accountability and Alternatives” it is revealed that reports of police misconduct gathered from over 1,500 student surveys across 18 Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) schools include: “excessive force and restraint, verbal abuse, sexual harassment, intimidation, frequent and indiscriminate use of mace and pepper spray on large numbers of students, racial profiling, handcuffs used on students’ whose “crime” was being late, frequent searches, and more.”
Clearly this problem is greater than just one school district or just one state. This is a national problem which does nothing but create more crime by forcing people into becoming lifelong criminals who provide slave labor to private corporations while said corporations rake in absurd profits from taxpayers.
On an even larger level, this trend is representative of a disastrous epidemic: profiting from suffering. This takes shape in the form of war profiteering, prison profiteering, ineffective and/or harmful pharmaceutical/health industry profiteering and more.
I find this instance to be one of the most troubling because it is shaping the way our young people look at life in the United States.
If you grow up in a prison-like environment, even being arrested for throwing paper airplanes, it is only natural to think that you might grow up viewing the world in a similar manner.
It also classifies our children as criminals and suspects in their most formative years, once again preparing their minds for a life of criminalization, dehumanization and degradation.
Thankfully, this is something that can be approached from the local level – where one person can make more of an impact than anywhere else.
By bringing these issues up and forcing the discussion of the undue criminalization of our children into public debate, some changes very well might be made.
However, if the propaganda and fear is pushed with the apparent effectiveness that it is right now we very well might see the American police state come to every school with disastrous consequences we are only just beginning to see.