IDOC Watch’s political line

“Prison is not a building ‘over there’ but a set of relationships that undermine rather than stabilize everyday lives everywhere.”
– Ruth Wilson Gilmore

What is the prison-industrial complex and why do we oppose it?

At its most basic level, IDOC Watch understands the prison system and its attendant institutions, which together we call the prison-industrial complex (PIC), to be an apparatus of social control, designed to maintain a certain model of society and way of life through violence, coercion, and fear.

The PIC is one of the most overt and powerful apparatuses of social control operated by the state and capital in U.S. society.  Apparatuses of social control not only direct how we relate to one another physically and socially, but limit how we can even imagine relating to one another. The logic of prisons contributes to the ideologies of law, punishment, retribution, “justice,” and the idea that external forces, like police and judges, are necessary for handling  harm and violations of social norms. Implicit in this logic is that legal and illegal are synonymous with right and wrong, ethical and unethical. But we know that laws and punishments for breaking them are not neutral and unbiased; “justice” is not blind. 

Prisons enclose the social space of what  behavior is acceptable. Incarceration destroys social lives, as will be expounded below, by taking people away from their families, friends, and neighborhoods. This removal affects not only the individuals who are removed, but every social environment from which they come, and the places where they are incarcerated. By threatening incarceration, prisons are used to control everyone, not just those who are caged. The possibilities that are available to people  for getting resources to support themselves, challenging oppression, living full and free lives are strangled by the risk of being imprisoned. Each of us and all of us collectively, therefore, are coerced into a narrow range of lifestyles and behaviors by prisons and their attendant institutions of state and para-state violence (the so-called criminal justice system).

If we understand that the prison system is fundamentally an apparatus of social control designed to maintain a certain kind of society and way of life, the next step is to determine more specifically how the prison system operates to fulfill that purpose. IDOC Watch understands that the prison system in the US is a mechanism of genocide and class war that functions as a counter-insurgency apparatus to uphold white supremacy and capitalism.

Racism and genocide

The U.S. is built on the foundation of genocides carried out against the Indigenous peoples of this continent targeted by settler colonialism, and against Africans killed and enslaved to build the nation’s economy. These genocides are ongoing. The settler state has never stopped enforcing its violent theft of Indigenous land and murder of Indigenous people. It has never stopped  exploiting, terrorizing and murdering colonized people en masse. Only the methods have changed. More specifically, the state has absorbed the violent functions that private capital used to carry out directly. Whereas in the past, white capitalists and white citizens incarcerated Black people on plantations and formed militias and lynch mobs to hunt, torture, and kill Indigenous and Black people who stood in their way or disobeyed them, nowadays the state has absorbed those functions, and deploys that same violence through the PIC. 

Through incarceration, the U.S. state suppresses political protest by Black and Brown colonized peoples within its borders, strengthening its political power. Incarceration and the broader genocide of colonized peoples further serve capital by controlling ‘surplus’ labor in a targeted way that not only maintains the capitalist state but makes it more livable for working white settlers by controlling “competing” populations (this will be developed further in the next section). The exploitation of Black labor in the U.S., while it still occurs both in and out of prisons, is no longer as vital a feature of the U.S. capitalist system as it was during the time of chattel slavery, so warehousing and killing this ‘surplus’ population of workers in prisons maintains a relative balance of employment for white workers. Incarceration simultaneously serves the white capitalist power structure by destroying communities of colonized people. Politicians, capitalists, and the media then blame the destruction of communities by the PIC on the communities themselves and use those communities’ disarray to both limit their growth and development and justify historical and current repression.

The U.S. education system teaches the concept of genocide to its students in a calculated way, centered around an interpretation of the Shoah/Holocaust that suggests that in order for a state’s treatment of a nation or ethnic group to be considered genocide, it must follow the same strategies of the Nazi genocide of European Jews. Other historic genocides such as Belgium’s colonial rule of the Congo or more broadly the murder of indigenous peoples across the world are rarely framed as genocidal. The curriculum also frames the U.S. as a force of freedom whose actions alone ended the Shoah once and for all, teaching its students the falsehood that the U.S. is fundamentally a savior of the victims of genocide and could never itself be a nation whose very existence relies on a legacy of genocide. Ultimately, the U.S. education system exploits victims of the Shoah to obfuscate its treatment of Black, Brown and Indigenous people, teaching U.S. Americans from childhood to have pride in their country, and to ignore its genocidal past and present.

In truth, the U.S.’s treatment of colonized peoples both within and outside of its borders today aligns damningly with the widely-used definition of genocide put forward by the United Nation’s Genocide Convention of 1948, leaving the nation clearly culpable of ongoing genocide. The UN Genocide Convention states:

“In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

  • Killing members of the group;
  • Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  • Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  • Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  • Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

What do these criteria describe if not the systematic violence of the U.S. state against colonized peoples through policing, economic, medical, and educational segregation, legal lynchings by police and settler civilians, and incarceration? However, the UN is an organization biased to support the U.S. and other imperialist states, so we cannot rely on it to ever hold the U.S. state accountable for its genocidal actions. In 1951, for instance, the Civil Rights Congress (CRC) presented a petition to UN delegates, “We Charge Genocide: The Crime of Government Against the Negro People,” detailing how the U.S.’s treatment of its Black citizens aligned with the above definition of genocide. The UN denied ever receiving this petition and has since not addressed the U.S.’s crimes against its internally colonized peoples.

Today, colonized peoples are disproportionately targeted by the PIC. New Afrikan and Indigenous revolutionaries are murdered or put behind bars, where their communication with outside comrades is censored, and they are often tortured with solitary confinement, beatings, and medical neglect. Police killings and incarceration separate parents and children from their families. Incarcerated people are routinely denied necessary healthcare despite sweeping illnesses and health needs throughout the nation’s prisons. Prisoners continue to be sterilized and receive little-to-no reproductive healthcare. People of colonized nations are torn from their families and communities, regardless of their citizenship status,  often leaving children without the care of their parents. 

The genocide of the U.S. against colonized peoples within its borders is not something of the past. The U.S. is an imperialist, settler state that is actively committing genocide against peoples both within its borders and abroad, the PIC is part of its machine of genocide. There is no reform of prison conditions or policing that can alter these fundamental facts: racist institutions cannot be reformed to not be racist. That’s one reason we take an abolitionist stance to prison organizing.

Class domination

The PIC is a mechanism of class war, designed, organized, and deployed by economic elites and their representatives in the political class to repress and dominate the lower classes. The elite use the PIC to repress the lower classes in at least three ways that we have identified and consider important to discuss here. 

First, as will be developed further below, the prison system is a central part of the apparatus of neo-colonial control. As such, it is wielded more forcefully against the colonized nations that live within the territory controlled by the United States government. The fact of being more intensely under attack by the PIC serves to both hyper-exploit colonized peoples, and also to divide the lower classes by maintaining divisions among them through racism. That is, the prison system  operates to divide the lower classes both by sorting them into a hierarchy of “kill-ability,” and also by pitting them against one another, much as the plantation system did prior to the Civil War.

Second, the prison system operates as a weapon in the class struggle that the wealthy use against the rest of us because of its function in labor repression. To understand how the prison system is a tool of labor repression deployed by elites to control the working class, it is useful to take a step back and look at what we’re really talking about when we talk about ‘crime.’

What acts and behaviors are labeled as ‘criminal’ is always politicized, because the legal order is designed to maintain hierarchies of class, race, and gender. For example, a huge portion of the acts and behaviors labeled as criminal in U.S. society are simply things that poor people have to do in order to survive (sex work, petty theft, etc.). Another huge portion, drug crimes and immigration crimes, are simply necessary economic activity for many poor people, as well as explicitly criminalized in order to incarcerate and thereby repress communities of color and immigrants. A third huge portion, acts of self-defense by women and gender non-conforming people, are criminalized in such a way as to allow misogynistic and transphobic violence, while prohibiting the violence that gender non-conforming people and women are often forced to use to defend themselves. Gender deviance, in general, is also criminalized and policed in order to maintain heteropatriarchal capitalist gender norms.

Therefore, we recognize incarceration as a mechanism of class repression because it punishes poor people for survival strategies that break the law, because the legal order is designed to maintain class stratification. Meanwhile, rich people who commit horrible crimes and atrocities get off with little punishment, if any, because of the resources and connections they have access to, and because the police don’t target them. 

Incarceration is used to prohibit and punish working class survival strategies, but that isn’t it’s only use in labor repression. The crucial function of labor repression that the prison system accomplishes, which is tightly connected to the criminalization of working-class survival strategies, is the warehousing of surplus labor. In U.S. capitalist society, there simply are not enough jobs available that pay enough for people to live well on their wages. Indeed, in times of recession and depression, there isn’t enough work available at any wage. At any given time, at rates that fluctuate depending on the state of the economy, there are more people who need money than there are jobs. And what jobs there are don’t pay wages that people can live well on – often they don’t even pay enough for people to survive. The inevitable result of this economic dynamic is that people turn to criminalized ways of making money in order to survive and live well. These people are the people we’re talking about in economic terms when we say ‘surplus labor.’ The capitalists don’t need them working, and they become a problem for the capitalists when they begin to find ways to survive outside of waged labor in the capitalist economy. Why? Because capitalists can’t afford to allow the idea to spread that there are other ways to get by besides waged work, or no one would work for them! That is why poor people’s survival strategies outside waged work are criminalized – to force people to accept waged work as the only reasonable survival strategy.

The criminalization of the surplus labor population’s survival strategies, and warehousing that population in prisons and jails, is how capitalists deal with the problems surplus labor causes for them. Warehousing serves the dual purpose of terrorizing the working class with the potential of being incarcerated if they can’t make ends meet by working for wages, and of disciplining people who are incarcerated into accepting any kind of waged work once they’re released, because any job outside prison is better than being incarcerated again. As such, the prison system represses labor struggle because workers who fight for better conditions can be fired and losing a job can easily mean ending up getting stuck in a cycle of unemployment, poverty, and incarceration.

Finally, the PIC is a mechanism of labor repression for people who are themselves locked up. Since the majority of prisoners are idle without pay, and most are poor people with poor families, in prison, having a job is a privilege. The fact that there aren’t nearly enough jobs for everyone incarcerated in any given prison sets up a situation where people in prison are so desperate that they are willing to work for wages far below the outside minimum. Incarcerated people are doing the labor that is necessary to maintain the prison (and their incarceration), barely being paid, because the alternative is to just be idle and have to hustle to survive. The result is that those incarcerated people with jobs are participating in their own oppression and the oppression of all the other prisoners in the facility, by keeping the prison running smoothly. Further, the divisions between incarcerated people who are idle and those who have jobs in a prison make it very difficult for there to be unity across the entire prison population. It becomes nearly impossible for incarcerated workers to struggle to improve their conditions, because there will always be someone who is willing to step into their position if the administration decides to fire them for fighting back. 


In the above sections, we have discussed in detail how the PIC is an apparatus of genocide and class war, both of which are forms of constant counter-insurgency the U.S. government is always carrying out against internally colonized populations and the poor in this country. It is also important to emphasize, however, that the PIC as it exists today literally grew out of the counter-insurgency strategy that the U.S. government deployed against the freedom movements of the mid 20th century, most intensely against the wave of urban insurrections that marginalized Black communities carried out throughout the second half of the 1960s. The policing strategies (police occupation of rebellious communities and extra-legal repressive violence) that were deployed to put down those insurrections were institutionalized in the policing strategies and penal policies of the ‘war on drugs,’ long prison sentences, and harsh treatment of imprisoned rebels. Those policing strategies and penal policies are what filled as many prisons as the state and capital could build for four decades. Similarly, the criminalization of immigration, which in recent years has become a major driver of mass incarceration, is a form of counter-insurgency designed to keep the immigrant labor force terrorized and obedient. We can see in both the emergence of the PIC out of repression strategies the state deployed against freedom struggles in the mid 20th century, and its reinforcement in repression the state is deploying against immigrants, that counter-insurgency is fundamental to the existence and operation of the PIC.

Genocide, class war, and counter-insurgency are the principal purposes of the PIC. Those primary purposes, in the context of the U.S. society and economy, have three outcomes that we feel need to be discussed. 

Maintaining the white supremacist power structure & working-class racism 

Prison gerrymandering is the practice of placing prison facilities in rural areas and filling them primarily with black and brown people who lived primarily in urban areas prior to being incarcerated and counting the bodies of the incarcerated people in the census but refusing them access to the ballot during their incarceration. Prison gerrymandering has the dual effect of increasing the legislative power of the area (usually predominantly white and conservative) where the prison is located because representation in state legislatures is determined by population, while simultaneously decreasing the legislative power of the urban areas that the incarcerated people have been removed from. Prison gerrymandering can be understood as an extension or a reform of the “3/5 Compromise,” which was an agreement reached during the 1787 Constitutional Convention, wherein it was decided that slaves would be counted as 3/5 of a person for the census but refused the right to vote, thereby giving slave states a much larger share of representatives than they would have had if only the “free” population had been counted in the census.

A secondary effect of the placement of prisons in rural areas, with the population of the prisons being disproportionately Black and Brown, is to stoke the racism of the predominantly white working-class people who live around the prisons and work in them.


In popular discourse about the PIC and mass incarceration, much is made of the role that the profit motive plays in the carceral system. As in any other aspect of the capitalist system, profit has been and remains a significant factor in the development and maintenance of the prison system. However, in our view, profit is only a secondary objective of the system. That is, the carceral system has been established and operates for purposes of social control independent of the objective of profiting off of imprisonment itself, but, due to the nature of capitalism as an economic system, corporations and individuals have of course used the opportunities presented by mass imprisonment to make money. People and corporations profit off of incarceration at every stage of the process and every aspect of the system, from the construction companies that build prisons and the banks that finance their construction, to the companies that produce uniforms for prison guards, the companies that provide food, communication and medical services to incarcerated people at exorbitant costs, and the companies that use prison labor at a much lower wage rate than the prevailing minimum wage on the outside, to the prison officials who receive kickbacks from the corporations they sign contracts with for services in the system they operate. Of course, since all of these interests (and many more) make a profit from incarcerating people, they have a vested interest in the maintenance and expansion of the prison system, and they lobby for more taxpayer money to be spent on police and prisons and more and harsher laws, in order to increase their profits. Further, prison officials try to reduce the cost of the prison system to taxpayers by contracting for basic services that the state is legally required to provide to incarcerated people with the lowest possible bidder, while simultaneously offering better versions of the same services at extremely exorbitant rates (this is how commissary works). 

Destabilization and neo-colonialism

The genocidal program of class war and counter-insurgency that the state carries out against working class communities, especially communities of people colonized by the U.S., through the PIC, has terrible effects on communities. It tears friends, families, and neighborhoods apart, taking people hostage and forcing others to pay huge amounts of money to see those people again, killing others and leaving their loved ones with no recourse. Such experiences cause intense trauma. It establishes and reinforces cycles of violence and poverty so that is nearly impossible for people to find a way out. All of this sets up a situation where poor peoples’ lives are extremely unstable and difficult, and their ability to survive is always very precarious. One wrong move, or even just being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and you can spend the rest of your life behind bars or die right away. Further, when people go to prison, they often learn to be more anti-social and violent than they had been before prison, and when they’re released, they behave violently toward their own communities, causing harm and further trauma. Often such violence is gendered, usually in domestic and sexual violence committed by men against women and gender non-conforming people. The instability, trauma, and division caused by the PIC makes it extremely difficult for communities to come together to solve their own problems, which has the effect of reinforcing the power of the PIC, as people are left with no other option than to turn to the police to solve social problems. 

The PIC’s destabilization of the communities it targets most intensely, communities of people colonized by the U.S., is part of a  strategy of neo-colonial control. Neo-colonialism simply a new form of colonialism – a reformed version of colonialism. Under neo-colonialism, the objectives of colonialism (plantation slavery, segregation, indigenous removal, and military invasions/occupations) remain, but instead of being carried out directly by the white power structure, colonized people are employed to carry out the operations of colonialism on behalf of the white power structure. As such, there are now Black, Brown, and Indigenous politicians, prosecutors, preachers, police, and correctional officers doing exactly what white people in those professions did in generations past. The destabilization caused by the PIC’s genocide, class war, and counter-insurgency in communities of colonized people makes neo-colonialism possible by preventing any challenge to the power structure that has truly transformative or revolutionary potential and posing assimilation into the genocidal system as the only possibility for getting ahead.

 Where is the prison system going? What is influencing this? 

The prison system exists in a space determined both by the political economy of capitalism and by the necessity of the U.S. ruling class to maintain a political structure based in the power relations of white supremacy. The prison system mobilizes elements of both these determinations but it is the latter which is primary and the former which is secondary to its object goal. 

Recognizing the prison system as primarily an institutional mechanism of the white supremacist bourgeois class structure, we can interrogate the structural determinations of the system itself, what influences it, and how it will develop. We should not ignore the capitalist economy internal to the system, only recognize that it exists in an overlapping space of many capitals which it helps to sustain without itself being its own capital.

Therefore, the factors which influence the system are not primarily ones of profit, but ones of a determination for class/national supremacy. States and the federal government rely on prisons to contain revolutionary political movements and their leaders, destroy communities of oppressed nationalities, enforce gendered relations between people, and substitute for the social services required by people that have been decimated by neoliberal restructuring. 

All of these factors continue to determine the function and development of the prison system. The first three factors are what might be called the essence of the system, as they have always been its primary motivation and always will remain as long as there is a U.S. empire. What has become increasingly apparent, though, is the reliance on the state to contain the fallout of neoliberalism and the accompanying epidemics of abject poverty, mental trauma, addiction, and several other issues which are becoming ubiquitous across the country. 

We should not see this structural shift as fundamentally altering the role of prisons in the U.S. empire, but instead recognize how it has influenced the institutions which shape prison policy and initiative. Prisoners and their families have recognized how every aspect of daily life in prisons has been monetized and turned into profit for monopoly corporations. This has led some to believe that profits are driving the unprecedented explosion of prison populations and present the case that states and corporations are involved in a plan to perpetuate slavery within the prison camps. No doubt that many prisoners are forced to labor for nothing or next to nothing and that there is an unbroken line between slavery and the U.S. prison system. But the kind of profiteering that we see from corporations like GTL, JPAY, Aramark, etc., are a result of the inflated prison populations rather than its cause. In a capitalist system, wherever there are markets, one will find profiteers, and the prison camps are a growing market for the basic necessities of life, the most lucrative of all businesses. 

There is a contradiction here. On one hand a massive market of millions for all kinds of products ranging from food to health care. On the other, a population so deprived of personal property and wealth so as to be nearly unable to acquire these very same products. In situations of this kind, so common to the historical constitution of capitalism, the only path forward is the expansion of the market. Meaning: more prisoners, a result of more intense and targeted policing of colonized people. New forms of illegality and repression are always constructed to meet the requirements of maintaining the social control conducive to a particular class structure. Methods of conditioning the population to accept increasing incarceration can be expected from the makers of law and policy.

Trends in Incarceration in Indiana

As described above, the overall trend emanating from the state and capital is toward more incarceration. That trend is visible in Indiana in several ways, but before we get into specifics, it is worth noting that Indiana stands out internationally for its overuse of incarceration. Further, colonized peoples, especially New Afrikans, are wildly over-represented in the Indiana prisoner population.Finally, the last few decades have seen a rapid increase in the incarceration of women in Indiana.

Jail expansion

First, and most obviously, there is a massive expansion of jails happening all over the state. A huge number of counties in Indiana are building new jails. The expansion of jails and incarceration overall in Indiana is a product of reforms that were sold as having the purpose of decreasing incarceration.  The Sentencing Reform bill passed by the Indiana legislature and signed into law by then-Governor Mike Pence in 2015, House bill 1006, changed the sentencing laws in Indiana so that people convicted of minor, nonviolent felonies that nonetheless carried a sentence of incarceration, would serve their time in jails, rather than prisons. The existing jail infrastructure in the state could not accommodate the growth in jail populations caused by the sentencing reform (jail populations increased 32% in two years). So, instead of releasing people being held pre-trial, or dropping more charges for minor offenses, counties all over the state have chosen to build new, larger jails to hold more people. “The jail construction projects that are currently underway or have been announced will add 2,149 new jail beds in the state, an increase of more than 10 percent over current capacity.” Overall incarceration (jail, parole, and prison) in the state increased 11% in the three years following the sentencing reform, while the prison population only dropped by 1%.

Dividing the prisoner class

The other crucial aspect of the 2014 sentencing reform was to increase the time people would be incarcerated for crimes deemed ‘violent.’ Whereas previously, the law had been that any person convicted of a crime would serve 50% of their sentence, earning a day of credit time for each day of ‘good time’ served in prison. Under the new law, people convicted of ‘high level’ offenses, deemed ‘hardened criminals’, must serve 75% of their sentences in prison. This has the effect of dividing the incarcerated population into two groups, the ‘hardened criminals’ who are permanently criminalized, and the ‘low level offenders’ who are seen as deserving the opportunity to change.

Increasing repression in prisons

Inside the prisons, there are moves to make the prison environment as oppressive as possible, in five clear ways.

First, the institution of exceedingly harsh punishments for prisoner ‘misconduct,’ which is a completely arbitrary category. Executive Directive 17-69, issued in January 2017, mandates that all of an offender’s earned credit time can be taken for an assault on staff or a volunteer. This effectively means that all of a prisoner’s earned credit time can be taken if any guard chooses to target any prisoner. In women’s prisons, the issue of undue punishment is especially serious, as extremely minor ‘misconduct’ that would barely even receive punishment in a men’s facility will be punished with solitary confinement and taking credit time, taking away access to children, in women’s prisons.

Second, the Disciplinary Hearing Boards in the prisons have recently been restructured so that instead of there being a three officer ‘board,’ now there is only one Disciplinary Hearing officer, who has ultimate and final say on all conduct reports. Obviously, if only one officer has the final word on all disciplinary reports, there is no check to that individual’s power. As such, it is more difficult for prisoners to defend themselves against false conduct reports. 

Third, the prison authorities are experimenting with collective punishment in the forms of restricted movement and long-term lockdowns more and more, in order to see what the prisoner population is willing to accept without a fight. The prison authorities are regularly putting whole facilities or units on lockdown or restricted movement in response to the behavior of just a few inmates. We see the trend of increasing restricted movement and lockdowns as, 1) a way for the state to deal with its chronic under-staffing issue (lockdowns & restricted movement require fewer guards on duty), 2) reforms of indefinite solitary confinement, which they are being forced by legal challenges and public scrutiny to slowly phase out, and 3) another element of the effort to establish a class structure among prisoners, such that the majority of prisoners will be held in idle conditions in permanent lockdown and restricted movement units and facilities, and the privileged minority of prisoners who are in programs or have prison jobs will be in the less restrictive facilities and units. Shaka Shakur laid this out in his 2018 article “Reawakening a Sleeping Giant”:

. . .we do see the state moving to institutionalize a “class structure” amongst prisoners in Indiana as it further hardens the physical structure of its max and medium security facilities with more gates, fences, cameras, sophisticated surveillance technology, building catwalks on top of prison walls etc. and it simultaneously prepares to turn its older max prisons, ISP and ISR, into primarily lockdown facilities.

By turning all of the cell houses into lockdown, they are adding over 200 more beds to their administrative segregation capacity. Simultaneously, they are turning the dorms and smaller housing units into honor housing, Plus Programs, ACT Programs and other behavior modification units and programs that will be used to do the slave labor for the facility.

These units will supply the inmate workforce for the operation of the prison. Refuse to work? Get sent to an administrative segregation lockdown idle unit, where visits will no longer be contact, only by video or tablet once they’re provided. You’ll be allowed only one 15-to-20-minute phone call a week.

You can already see the blueprint for this. Some housing units, where extra visits, food orders, video games and commissary orders are allowed as a privilege, are being used to force prisoners to police one another’s behavior and conduct. If you live in a dorm and a person gets caught with a knife or batch of wine, the whole dorm’s extra privileges are being taken, restricted!

It’s a science to that. It also makes you believe that, based on these privileges, you’re better than other prisoners, different. It becomes us, the privileged klass, vs. those over there!

Fourth, per Shaka’s argument in the quote above, we believe that prison authorities are trying to gradually eliminate contact visitation completely for most prisoners, as has already been done in most jails, in order to cut down on staffing costs. They are taking a two-pronged approach to achieving this goal. On the one hand, they have introduced tablets, which the DOC and GTL are making boatloads of money from, and which offer prisoners the ability to do video visits from their own cells. The tablets also have a generally pacifying effect on prisoners, as they provide limited access to entertainment services. Meanwhile, various facilities are implementing no-contact visitation for periods of time, per policy 02-03-116, on the totally arbitrary and false justification that 10% of a randomly selected group of prisoners (5% of the facility population) tested positive for drug use when subjected to urinalysis. The DOC has never provided any data to justify this policy (in fact they have specifically refused to respond to IDOC Watch’s FOIAs on the issue), because no such data exists. There is no connection between the random drug screenings’ positive test rates and contact visitation. The vast majority of drugs are trafficked by guards and staff, and if we’re honest, we can also say without a doubt that at any moment far more than 10% of the prison population is using drugs. The only purpose of restricting contact visitation intermittently is to test the willingness of the prisoner population and their loved ones to accept such restrictions. If we don’t fight back now, it won’t be long until contact visitation is eliminated completely for the majority of prisoners. 

The final element of the increasing repressiveness of the Indiana prison system that we want to point out is mail censorship. The DOC recently won lawsuits wherein it argued that political and Afro-centric literature like the San Francisco Bay View constitute legitimate threats to the safety and security of their facilities and can therefore be labelled as Security Threat Group material. Further, they have reached a settlement with the Indiana ACLU on the issue of mail censorship in general after the ACLU won an injunction to restore the ability for prisoners to receive mail that is anything other than handwritten on white lined people, which were the restrictions the DOC tried to establish in early 2017 with its Mail Ban policy. The settlement that the ACLU and the DOC have reached on this issue is for all mail to be copied, which makes censorship of political material and personal targeting of prisoners by vindictive staff much easier and more likely. Several facilities have also banned all used books, and others are refusing to accept books that aren’t new and sent from Amazon. Like the intermittent bans on contact visitation, the DOC justifies its efforts to restrict prisoners’ mail on the basis of drug trafficking through the mail, which is probably happening on a small scale, but again: The guards and staff are the main drug traffickers!

As with the intermittent bans on contact visitation, we suspect that the prison authorities’ long-term goal in increasing censorship of mail using the excuse of drug trafficking, is to eliminate or drastically decrease mail service, such that prisoners would be entirely reliant on the tablets for communication. Like cutting back contact visitation, reducing mail service would  save the DOC lots of money because it would reduce staffing costs, and it would also help to limit prisoners’ political activity and organizing because censoring communication through the tablets is much easier than through the mail. 

Overall, it is clear that Indiana’s prisons are becoming increasingly repressive. Further, it is clear that measures taken by the DOC under the justification of “safety and security” or, in the case of the tablets, “reducing recidivism,” are really about justifying censorship and repression, cutting costs, and making money for the DOC and its corporate partners.

Increasing use of e-carceration

A final trend that we want to point to is the growing use of e-carceration in Indiana, which like some of the other trends discussed above, is happening in response to reform efforts. Specifically, in 2016 Indiana’s Supreme Court issued a mandate for counties to reduce their use of cash bail by 2020. Instead of releasing more people under their own recognizance, counties are turning to ankle monitors to make people who have been arrested show up in court (despite research showing that most people will show up without coercion) and make money off the arrests. Because of that top-down bail reform effort, Indiana – and Indianapolis specifically – leads the nation in the use of electronic monitoring, or e-carceration: as of December 2018, the jail population in Indianapolis was the lowest it had been in three years, but there were another 4,000 people on ankle monitors in the city. Like the 2015 sentencing reform, the top-down cash bail reform has expanded incarceration in Indiana, and that expansion is likely to continue as more counties work to come into compliance with the Supreme Court mandate.

Just as the DOC claims that the tablets it is providing to prisoners help “reduce recidivism, “county governments will use the same  justification for electronic monitoring, but there is little to no evidence to support that claim – in fact, being on electronic monitoring is incredibly expensive, stressful, and stigmatizing. Electronic monitoring’s main purposes are to make it easier for people to be put back in prison or jail, and to extract money from them.

American neo-Nazis: The rise of fascism in the United States

 Within the capitalist system, the ruling capitalist class at different times and in different contexts adopts either bourgeois democracy or fascism as its preferred form of class dictatorship. While the bourgeois democracy is organized in a way to disguise its true anti-democratic, anti-communal nature, fascism doesn’t seek to hide its authoritarian, dictatorial nature as it relates to the society at large. To use a metaphor, the “carrot” is the preferred method bourgeois democracy employs when keeping its civilian population divided and conquered; whereas, Fascism relies more heavily on the metaphoric “stick” to keep its civilian population divided and conquered in order to maintain the control of the state. Both employ the “carrot and the stick”, but it is a matter of emphasis and reliance that distinguishes the two forms of CLASS DICTATORSHIP.

 The United States has historically relied on Bourgeois Democracy as the preferred form of CLASS DICTATORSHIP, at least in relation to the majority white settler population and neo-colonial elites among the U.S.’s internally colonized populations. Every four to eight years a new President is elected and in-between those years you have many Congressmen/ Congresswomen and Senators, both State and Federal, who are elected or reelected. The general public is given a chance to go to the ballot box to “choose their own representative”. The whole superstructure of the state — from politicians to the media, to a wide variety of NGOs and institutions– calls upon the civilian population to take part in the electoral process. They tell the people that they can’t complain about any given social condition if they don’t come out and vote. Voting is upheld as the only way to affect real social change. It becomes this “sacred ritual” of Bourgeois Democracy in order to make the civilian population “FEEL” a part of this so-called “democracy of the people”. They NEVER tell the civilian population that capitalist democracy has a CLASS CHARACTER.

 This is the first mass deception of bourgeois democracy. While it preaches or gives off the appearance that its form democracy is a “democracy of the people”, it’s actually only a democracy for the CAPITALIST-IMPERIALIST RULING CLASS — those who make up that one percent at the very top, the billionaires who control the transnational financial institutions, corporations, and industries. All laws and policies — both domestic and foreign– are made and carried out with their CLASS INTEREST in mind primarily. Any secondary affect is only that– an afterthought. 

 Fascism differs from bourgeois democracy not only in emphasis of how “the carrot and stick” is literally employed by the State to keep the masses divided and conquered, but also in style. Fascism relies on the repressive arm of the state much more than bourgeois democracy. The undisguised police state is the method by which the capitalist ruling class prefers to exercise its rule under fascism: fear and terror to keep the civilian population divided and controlled. Its courts, prisons, and detention centers (concentration camps) are also used to instill fear and division in the population while using these same tools of the state repression to carry out an overtly genocidal program of ethnic cleansing. The state targets particular demographics who are not a part of the CHOSEN ETHNIC GROUP, RELIGIOU.S. SECT, OR NATIONALITY, as “the others” who are to be subjected to state repression and extermination. In the U.S., the nationality favored by the ruling class is the Euro-American Christian settler population (the White nation). The U.S. ruling class is always engaged in efforts to win the loyalty of the Euro-American Christian ‘nation’ by giving them privileges and benefits derived from the state’s oppression of internally colonized populations and imperialism, and those efforts always involve some level of demonization of the “other.” When the crises of bourgeois democracy give rise to fascism, however, the demonization of the “other” becomes increasingly overt and hostile, and the ruling class urges the Euro-American Christian settler ‘nation’ to cheer for programs of brutal state violence against the ‘other.’ To illustrate this point, we can look at the social movements and urban insurrections of the 60s and 70s, and the way the majority Euro-American population cheered on police repression in the ghettos and elected Nixon, who ran on a ‘law and order’ platform, to the presidency. A similar process occurred in the post-Civil War period, when capitalism was in a deep recession and the state mollified the majority white population by letting them destroy Black Reconstruction and re-establish white supremacist apartheid in the South. In our own time, the same processes are occurring: as ecological collapse and over-accumulation make capitalism increasingly volatile, we’ve seen the Tea Party and the Trump movement stirring the White Nation into a blood-thirsty frenzy over the imagined threats of immigration, ‘radical Islam,’ and crime. 

While both bourgeois democracy and fascism use mass deception as a way to socially control their civilian populations, fascism employs the state’s propaganda tools — its politicians, media, and now-a-days social media– to instill fear and paranoia in its CHOSEN ETHNIC GROUP to make them willing participants in the state’s genocidal program against “the others.” This gives rise to state sanctioned terrorism by officially unrecognized paramilitary groups who terrorize the civilian population. The fascist state can then use “plausible denial” when violent terrorism is carried out against the people. This form of unofficially state sanctioned terrorism aids the fascist regime in further dividing its civilian population through fear while giving rise to rebellion that can be subsequently put down by state sanctioned police terror. If carried to its logical conclusion, the cycles of repression and rebellion set off by state-sanctioned fascist paramilitary violence lead to martial law.

 Those on the far-right within the capitalist-imperialist ruling class, the fraction of “the one percent” who viewed bourgeois democracy as a form of governance that was impeding their CLASS INTEREST, have put their full support behind the rise of fascism in America and the Presidential election of Donald Trump. Donald Trump and Mike Pence are only serving as the official representatives of this faction within the ruling class. The majority of the ruling class was blindsided by his election via the democratic processes of their bourgeois democratic system. It was through their official electoral processes that fascists gained control of the Executive Branch of the capitalist state. Now that the fascists have risen to state power, they are struggling to carry out their agenda by destroying the institutions of the bourgeois democratic state. The Trump/Pence administration is carrying out the fascists’ consolidation of power that their election was intended to accomplish for that faction of “the one percent” whose CLASS INTEREST he was elected to serve.

Right now, a low-intensity civil war is occurring within the highest reaches of the capitalist-imperialist ruling class. Those who are representatives of the bourgeois democratic line are trying to use every tool of the state that they still have control over to rollback this Fascist agenda before they lose their state entirely. So, their bourgeois democratic representatives are seeking to impeach Trump as we speak, but this will ultimately fail. Because history shows you can vote a Fascist in, but you can’t vote a Fascist out; they must be driven out by mass protests in the millions, whereby the capitalist state and economy are brought to a halt. The masses have no other choice but to stand up and fight back if we are to take away the many lessons passed down to us by history.

One such lesson is that with the rise of fascism, repression can be expected to increase massively in terms of scale and brutality. Increasing repression under Trump has thus far been primarily directed against immigrants, women, gender and sex deviants and Muslims, through the expansion of immigration enforcement, changes to certain laws protecting women and queer and transgender people, Euro-American Christian settler vigilantism, and the increased brutality of U.S. imperial ventures abroad. However, we can expect the trend toward fascism to exacerbate the austerity, brutality, and repressiveness of prisons and prison authorities, which are already horrible under bourgeois democracy, because whereas bourgeois democracy provides some minimal checks on power and opportunities for recourse, fascism incentives the most dehumanizing tendencies of power.

There is a long, dark and violent history of organized racism and fascism among the guards and prison administrators in Indiana. White supremacist formations such as the Aryan Brotherhood and the KKK have long been strong and well-organized within the Indiana prison system, with affiliated guards and inmates working together to dominate, repress, and brutalize Black prisoners. Struggles in the 80s and 90s against the brutality carried out by such elements against New Afrikan prisoners in how many New Afrikan IDOC Watch comrades and their mentors became conscious, revolutionary political prisoners. We must always be vigilant about the influence of such ideologies and paramilitary organizations in the prison system, and their capacity, willingness, and desire to maintain racial dominance at any cost.

Our strategy and objectives

  IDOC Watch emerged from several friendships developed over a period of years between radicals who have been locked up for decades in Indiana, and radicals on the outside who were looking for a way to fundamentally transform society. Together they analyzed how the prison system is key in maintaining the status quo mandated by the ruling class in U.S. society, and how abolishing the prison system would be necessary in order to undo the relationships of inequality and oppression that this society is based upon.  IDOC Watch organizes to support imprisoned revolutionaries and rebels, and act in solidarity with the resistance that imprisoned people and their loved ones organize on their own behalf, all with the objective of abolishing the PIC. We think of ourselves as acting within a tendency called prisoner-led abolition, with a specific focus on the state of Indiana. We focus on Indiana because we believe that confining our work within a specific geographic and political context is helpful in order to make real and lasting transformative change, because such change can only come as a result of deep relationships and sustained struggle, and it’s most possible to build deep relationships and sustain struggles where we are. Because many of Indiana’s imprisoned revolutionaries are New Afrikan political prisoners, our organizing includes a focus on solidarity with the New Afrikan independence movement. Also, we try to emphasize the issues of women, queer and transgender incarcerated people in our organizing efforts.

Strategy: Prisoner-led abolition

Prisoner-led abolition is a strategic tendency within the larger abolitionist movement that prioritizes connections between organizers inside and outside the prisons, jails, and other forms of carceral monitoring, as well as formerly incarcerated people, with the idea that the most effective strategies and tactics for overcoming the PIC will be informed by the experiences of people who have struggled against it directly in a specific context. It also contributes a theoretical understanding which holds that the PIC can only be overcome in a transformative way if it is overthrown through struggle and rebellion by the people it directly impacts. That is, as we discussed at the beginning of this document, the PIC is an apparatus of genocide, class war, and counter-insurgency, that the dominant forces in U.S. society use to defend their interests, and as such, the PIC can’t be abolished while those forces remain dominant. As we discussed in the section on tendencies in incarceration in Indiana, top-down reforms expand the system. 

Without breaking the power of those who dominate society, the power structure’s prerogative for genocide, class war, and counter-insurgency will remain, even if it changes form. The only way to overthrow the power structure is mass rebellion and struggle, which literally flips the power relations between the oppressed and the oppressors. Mass rebellion and struggle can take many forms, but it has to come from the ground up in order to have transformative potential. 

The most prominent example of prisoner-led abolition in the U.S. is the prison strike movement, which has called for and organized loosely coordinated hunger strikes, work stoppages, and other kinds of disruptions in the prisons, and outside solidarity actions, in September 2016 and August 2018. Organizations that we align ourselves with politically within this movement include Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, the Free Alabama Movement (FAM), the Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement, Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC), Michigan Abolition and Prisoner Solidarity (MAPS), and the Anarchist Black Cross. We also align ourselves with elements of the movement against racist policing and policing in general that take revolutionary stances and call for the abolition of policing.

The primary focus of IDOC Watch’s organizing efforts is base-building among incarcerated people, the loved ones of incarcerated people, and formerly incarcerated people. We agree with the two fundamental organizational principles laid down by the National Welfare Rights Organization and the National Union of the Homeless: 1) Poverty victims must be at the forefront of the movement to end poverty and 2) You only get what you are organized to take. We organize with people affected by the prison system, in order to build a movement and movement organizations that are capable of sustaining a seriously threatening antagonism to the system and winning real concessions. In our view, such antagonism will only be possible through the mobilization and organization of people who are themselves affected by the system and want change because of the harm it causes or has caused them. In our view, based on hard experience, this movement must be organized by and with people who have direct experience with the system, because people without that experience people are unlikely to see it through, and because direct experience of the system provides important insight into how to fight back. The role of outside organizers in prisoner-led resistance to be familiar with strategies and tactics that have been developed by dissidents on the inside, and to amplify the resistance of those on the inside. 

To that end, a secondary focus of IDOC Watch is to spread the words and creations of prison rebels, to share their ideas, stories, and struggles within the movement in order to sharpen analyses, and with the broader public in order to build sympathy and awareness.

Finally, we focus on building up infrastructure to support our comrades when they are released from prison, in order to make sure they aren’t recaptured by the state, and to make it possible for them to stay involved in the movement once they are released. This infrastructure is also intended as the basic infrastructure needed for a strategy of dual power, because it will allow us to help the communities we organize develop their own institutions to meet their needs outside the control of the capitalist state.

Strategy: Collective defense

IDOC Watch organizes for collective defense, in two ways. First, by exposing and responding to abuses that our incarcerated members are subjected to. Our responses vary in kind and intensity, according to the situation. We recognize the need, and are committed to building the capacity for, more serious responses to abuses, building a ‘movement with teeth.’ The capacity to bite back is absolutely necessary in the prisoner solidarity movement, because of the presence of neo-Nazi, white supremacist elements in prison systems across the country who do not hesitate to use terrorist violence when they feel they can get away with it.

A second way that we organize for collective defense is that we recruit people by helping them with the problems they’re facing, on the understanding that they will help others and participate in our efforts to combat abuses and push for decarceration going forward. We are not a charity or a social service that helps people out of pity or a state mandate, we organize with those affected directly by the PIC in order to build the collective power to destroy it.

Strategy: National liberation and political prisoners

IDOC Watch supports and organizes in solidarity with the struggles of colonized peoples in the U.S. for national liberation. We believe that decolonization and self-determination for colonized peoples are crucial to the development of powerful movements of the oppressed to overthrow the power structure. There are many New Afrikan political prisoners in Indiana, including leaders of the New Afrikan Liberation Collective and New Afrikan Black Panther Party – Prison Chapter held captive in Indiana prisons. As such, much of our work, as it relates to national liberation, is focused on supporting and organizing in solidarity with them. We believe that one of the best ways to gain freedom for political prisoners is to weaken the PIC as a system, so we try to integrate support for specific political prisoners into the general struggle against the PIC.

Strategy: Women, queer and trans prisoner solidarity

A final element of the strategy that IDOC Watch seeks to follow includes an emphasis on building connections with and organizing in solidarity with women, queer, and transgender prisoners. We want to emphasize this focus in our solidarity organizing first because prison issues and the prisoner movement are generally thought of as masculine, hetero issues and spaces, and the issues of gender and sexual minorities are usually left out of the discussion and not focused on in solidarity work. Second, we want to emphasize the issues of incarcerated gender and sexual minorities and solidarity with them because organizing against the multiple oppressions they face offers the opportunity to destabilize the power structure of white supremacist, patriarchal capital in more profound and holistic ways, by opening up avenues for solidarity among oppressed people across gender and sexuality, which are among the most intense and enduring divisions that capitalism and imperialism have established between us.

Objectives(s): Long-term vision

We want to eliminate the PIC and the forces that created and sustain it, which, of course, is part of a broader struggle for a very different world and way of living. Small changes to the existing order one, with punishment and prosecution merely tweaked, is not enough. We want a world in which our relationships to ourselves, to each other, to property, to the natural world are completely different; one in which the PIC could no longer exist. 

Chances are, we’ve got a lot of time to kill until then. So, what can we do now? How can we transform that yearning into fulfilling and meaningful activity? Of primary importance in any fight for liberation is relationships. We seek to facilitate and strengthen connections between people inside and outside of prison, as well as among prisoners and their communities and loved ones. With so many forces of the PIC seeking to isolate, silence, and disappear people, one of the most powerful things we can do is break down those barriers, to know one another not just politically or instrumentally, but personally. And essential to building relationships is communication, real and unmediated by the institutions we abhor.  This is why so many initiatives of prisoners and abolitionist centers focus on sharing our words and our expressions: distributing zines and books, creating newsletters, spreading the writings and art of people in prison. All of these are most powerful when we speak to each other and not to the institutions. Meeting each other and building trust is also important for strengthening networks among family and friends of prisoners as well. It is often very lonely having a loved one in prison, but there are millions of other people who are going through similar things. We must also recognize that the distinction between prisoners and outside supporters is a fluid one; sometimes roles are reversed. One who was once inside may later be a valuable part of the struggle outside. To this end, we prioritize reentry efforts. We are trying to create more supportive paths out of prison for our comrades. Not just for their own survival and flourishing, but to create a more robust and sustainable movement. We hope to challenge the prison systems’ attempts to individualize its practices of torture; a systemic problem requires a systemic. We are stronger and more able to protect each person who is suffering in the DOC if we work together. 

We seek also to be inspired by and learn from one another. In a very big and very busy world, lessons and experiences that could be instructive to us are often lost to static. We hope to keep alive stories of past prison struggles that can inspire us and to understand contemporary prison struggles that can guide us. In every time and every place that people have been held captive, there have been those who fought for freedom. We can pull strength from seeing ourselves as part of that larger narrative.

And that’s really what we’re trying to do: to become more powerful together, those in prison and out in the freer world. Every person in prison is suffering. It is not possible through either legal means, public pressure, call-in campaigns, or whatever else, to address each violation of basic decency, or even the most egregious ones. We hope to support prisoners and their loved ones in becoming powerful enough to fight for themselves and their own desires. To make the fight against the DOC a little less one-sided. 

One of the ways we can do that is by delegitimizing prisons. This is more than just shaming or exposing the corruption of certain COs, of a certain facility, or even of an entire prison system. We must challenge the fundamental logic of incarceration, of punishment, of disposability, of state authority. We must be vigilant against these logics sneaking into our own practices and of signing on to them out of desperation for recognition or temporary victories. 

A final (and admittedly unsatisfying) note in any discussion of objectives or strategy is experimentation. While we have many inspiring and brilliant models and ideas within struggles for liberation, we must not forget about exercising our own capacity for creativity and asserting our own vision and autonomy. As our enemies evolve, so must we. Nobody has all the answers and no Program is holistic. And even while our passion can sustain us through tedium and difficulty, we needn’t surrender to it. We can always find ways to infuse moments of joy and authenticity into our activities. In fact, these things are essential if we are to sustain each other and our struggles. 

A note on reforms

The distinction between reformist and abolitionist or revolutionary anti-prison activity is not always a dichotomous one. Even as abolitionists, we find ourselves campaigning for reforms to the carceral system. But we must be critical in our engagement with reforms or we end up sabotaging resistance and  reinforcing the system. Questions we must ask ourselves include, does this make us more powerful? Does it give us more space to move and fight? Does it lead to the development of our own structure and infrastructure, based on the concept of dual power? Does it help us connect better with one another, to be stronger moving forward? What are we learning and building together in the process, even if a change in policy is not won? We must also ask ourselves, what are we conceding?  Are we implicitly endorsing a narrative or lending more legitimacy to the institution? Are we sacrificing some people as “bad” (often racialized or based on “innocence”) so that others can be “good” and deserving of better treatment? Perhaps we sacrifice our position outside of the power structure, from which we are freer to fight, and instead become engulfed and integrated into that structure, beginning to identify with it and be limited by it. A common example of this is campaign leaders being invited to join a committee, an advisory board, or some other such group that serves only to route and control the struggle. 

Finally, we must be careful to keep an eye towards a larger, long-term, abolitionist goal and hold reforms up to the framework. How does it fit into our larger goals? A campaign for a reform or a policy change can look many different ways. We must be mindful in our framing, our narrative, and our organizing practices to build our power with each step forward.