The U.S. is the most incarcerated country on the planet, but why?

Many of us are familiar with the horrors that come with the U.S. prison and, overall, the criminal justice system. We have been exposed daily to it, whether that be through social media or the vast amount of TV shows, documentaries and films about incarceration, police brutality, prison etc. 

Eugene Puryear’s book, Shackled and Chained: Mass Incarceration in Capitalist America, brings needed attention to the appalling truth of these callous acts that occur before, during, and after physical incarceration, from solitary confinement, lack of basic nutrition and healthcare, neglect and overcrowding to the criminalization of kids simply for being kids. He reveals they are part of an overall system of repression. Puryear examines the progression of mass incarceration as a product of economic and social crises and, more importantly, resistance against them, in capitalist society. 

From the early stages, prison institutions have been deeply interlinked with capitalist development. With over 7 million individuals in prison, parole and probation, it is neither China, Russia, nor Venezuela but the U.S. that is the most highly-incarcerated society in the world. The key question is: why? This is where Puryear’s book shines through. 

Refusing to separate capitalism from other systems of oppression, Puryear makes it clear that mass incarceration today functions to channel poor and working people away from their communities and from the possibility of organizing resistance and into prisons.

As he states:

“A movement against the prison system, in which the principal subjects are poor and working-class Black and Latino people – along with an increasing number of poor whites— must pose the following questions: What sort of economic system will guarantee jobs and income to the people? What sort of economic system will use technological advancement for the benefit of all of society, instead of a means to throw people out of the productive process? What sort of economic system will devote the resources to eradicate the scourge of drug addiction, to flood the schools with resources instead of cops and metal detectors? What sort of economic system will put poor and working people in power, make them leaders of society rather than its perpetual victims? Certainly not the capitalist system.” 

Despite this book’s publication a decade ago, its central theses remain pertinent  to this day. The criminal “justice” system, a central feature of U.S. racist capitalism, continues facilitating the horrendous oppression of masses of people. It is the same system responsible for the suppression of the Palestinian resistance. The key arguments remain crucial for not only understanding mass incarceration but, more importantly, moving beyond it into a new, humane system.

Introducing a two-part series

To delve more deeply into these issues, to learn about contemporary struggles against prisons and political prisoners, and to build a movement to defeat the systems responsible for them, we hope you join the Indianapolis branch of the Party for Socialism and Liberation for our two-part series, “The Path to and beyond Mass Incarceration.”

The first event, a panel presentation and discussion, takes place Thursday, December 7 at 6:30 pm. The second, a screening of They Stood Up,an award-winning documentary about the Pendleton2 that will be followed by a panel discussion featuring the film’s co-producers, TOO BLACK and THEKINGTRILL, takes place Thursday, December 14 @ 6:30 pm. Both events will be held at the Indianapolis Liberation Center.

Featured Photo: CELL BLOCK ‘D’, ISOLATION CELLS – Alcatraz, Cell House, Alcatraz Island, San Francisco Bay, San Francisco, San Francisco County, CA; Jet Lowe and Liz Jandoli. Source: Wikimedia Commons.