by Jason Sibert
Americans have taken to the streets since the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis.
Our cities are experiencing some of the biggest demonstrations related to policing in years. The actions of certain police officers during the demonstrations have been controversial. Police reform is being discussed in the media from different viewpoints and police reform legislation is being introduced in Congress right now.
The debate over policing, connected to the prison-industrial complex in ways rarely discussed in the mainstream media, is really about control. Ditto for the military-industrial complex. The social democrat seeks to give the individual control over his or her life by working for a mixed-economy, or a fair market economy that can churn out consumer goods and protect the rights of working men and women through social insurance, regulation of business, and securing collective bargaining rights. However, the social democrat should also work for public safety and a defense that empowers the individual, not the big money behind both the military-industrial complex and the prison-industrial complex.
The prison-industrial complex smothers the individuals that are caught up in it. In any given year, there are 100,000 to 150,000 people jailed for murder, another 100,000 to 150,000 jailed for armed robbery, and 100.000 to 150,000 people jailed for a sexual offense of some sort. Our population is 327 million. These numbers show that most of us in our country are not violent criminals! However, the United States has five percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.
Writer Michael Lind’s story “Liberalism’s Unfinished Agenda” said that our criminal justice system not only produces prisoners but also lawyers, as the U.S. has 50 percent of the world’s lawyers. Lind condemned not only our number of prisoners and lawyers, but just about everything else about our criminal justice system. He said, “Grand juries are a rubber stamp for the prosecutors; assets are routinely frozen or seized in ex parte on the basis of false government affidavits, so targets don’t have the resources to pay avaricious American counsel and are thrust into the hands of public defenders, who are usually just Judas goats for the prosecutors. The plea bargain system, for which prosecutors would be disbarred in most other serious countries, enables prosecutors to threaten everyone around the target with indictment if they don’t miraculously recall, under careful government coaching, inculpatory evidence. Prosecutors win 95 percent of their cases, 90 percent of those without trial, and people who exercise their constitutionally guaranteed right to go to trial received more than three times the sentence they receive if they cop a plea, as a penalty for exercising their rights.”
The prison-industrial complex also includes companies that build private prisons, as these companies have a financial incentive to build more prisons and imprison more non-violent offenders. It also includes politicians who want prisons in their districts to provide jobs. Non-violent offenders often have trouble finding employment, turning to a cycle of crime which creates a lot of business for the prison-industrial complex. It should be obvious to any social democrat that this segment of the economy does little to create value for our economy.
Lind attacked the military-industrial complex in his story, “The War Socialism of the American Right.” He addressed the issue of high-ranking military officers who spend their military careers receiving socialized medicine and then go to work for military contractors that do business primarily with the government. Military manufacturing is protected a lot more than civilian manufacturing, as Lind pointed out that between 2000 and 2009, military manufacturing increased 125 percent while civilian manufacturing contracted 25 percent.
Organs of soft power – foreign aid and diplomacy – are not funded as well as the organs of the military-industrial complex, as they don’t produce the economic cycle of the military-industrial complex even though they are less expensive. Social democrats should push back against the power of both the prison-industrial complex and the military-industrial complex because we believe in an economy that empowers individuals and helps those in the middle and lower portions of the income spectrum.
Money can be moved from both areas to sheltering homeless people, as police sometimes receive calls on panhandling from the homeless. Many in law enforcement do not like dealing with this issue and it would cease to be an issue if the homeless had shelter. We can also stop treating drug addiction like a law enforcement problem and expand our public health system to deal with it, using money from the military-industrial complex and prison-industrial complex. It must be noted that some states are legalizing marijuana, and this is a positive development. In addition, non-violent offenders need to be doing community service and not unproductive prison time. We could also shovel funds from these two unproductive sectors of our economy into subsides for manufacturers that make products for pandemics like Covid-19.
The U.S. has adopted social democratic reforms in the past – Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Affordable Care Act, Temporary Need for Needy Families, and unemployment insurance. However, we can become more social democratic if we take on both the military-industrial complex and the prison-industrial complex!
Jason Sibert is the executive director of the Peace Economy Project