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September 24, 2004 - The Hilltop (DC Edu)

Interview: The Prison Industrial Complex

A Civil Liberities Concern for the Black Community

By Mazine Moffett

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

The Hilltop: What is the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC)?

Congresswoman Maxine Waters: The PIC is the result of the American prison system that has combined crime and punishment with capitalism. The PIC is a firing engine for private sector prisons and racist legislature. Select individuals are making money!

TH: Could you explain the ways in which the PIC directly bolsters capitalism?

MW: The PIC uses sheer exploitation through prison labor by private firms, and by private prisons. Over 10 percent of prisons are privatized. Private industry businesses make over $40 billion dollars annually from the labor of prisoners.

TH: How has the war against drugs affected the PIC?

MW: The war against drugs is completely false. The government is making money and locking up people of color at astronomical rates. Drug cartels are profiting and not being incarcerated. Only 11 percent of drug big-timers are actually arrested and prosecuted. Instead poor minority communities are targeted. Their men are sent off to prison, the women and children suffer, and their economy suffers, and their civil liberties disintegrated.

TH: In what ways has the African American community been affected by the PIC?

MW: Drugs, and the so-called "War Against Drugs" have devastated the African-American community. The government allowed crack and other deadly drugs to be transported into minority communities. And with stiff drug laws, mandatory minimums, three and five strike laws, millions of African Americans are being prosecuted and imprisoned. A one-third of the Black male population is behind bars, on parole, or probation. And over 40 percent of the prison population consists of Blacks.

TH: Given the current rates of incarceration, over 1.4 million Black men are currently disenfranchised in America. Within the next 10 years statistics are predicting that 3 out of 10 Black men will be disenfranchised. Forty percent of Black males will permanently be disenfranchised. How will this affect the overall African-American community?

MW: African-American's are losing civil liberties previously gained. If someone does not wake up, and realize this epidemic, our political plight could become obsolete. Look at Florida's 2000 voting dispute for instance. I know for a fact that over 40,000 votes were not counted. And most of those votes were from communities of color. There were only a few hundred votes in dispute. But more than 500,000 Floridians were left disenfranchised

TH: Considering the drama over the 2000 Florida election. Why weren't the votes recounted?

MW: The state of Florida attempted to re-count the votes. But, the Supreme Court over ruled and decided to keep the results. I am disappointed that in America, a citizen can try to vote and it not be counted. This has been happening for years. African-American communities have the hardest time getting votes counted.

TH: Why are minority communities having difficulties with getting their votes counted?

MW: A lot of people don't know that property tax dollars are apart of voting expenses. Meaning that, many minority communities are left with old voting machines, and inadequate voting materials, and poorly trained voting aids. A lot of people do not even know the locations of there voting stations. Since voting information is usually not mailing out in minority communities. People of color must go out of there way to make sure that they know proper voting protocol, they must overcompensate to make sure that there vote is counted. It is there right!

TH: Many people are aware of the disproportionate rates that Black men are placed in prison. Are any other groups so drastically affected, if so then why?

MW: Black women are the most drastically effected by the so-called "War Against Drugs." Black women are the fastest rising population of prison inmates. Drugs have a domino effect. Black women are suffering from mandatory minimums that facilitate years in prisons from small drug possessions. Like Kemba Smith, the 23-year-old Hampton student who received a 24-year mandatory minimum sentence. She was caught in possession of drugs that belonged to her boyfriend. Although the government admitted that she never sold, used, or distributed the drug. At 23 years of age she sits in prison with no chance for parole.

TH: In what ways can Howard University, particularly the African-American community improve the PIC.

MW: You can start by being cognizant of the problem. By recognizing racially discriminating legislature the minority community can know what they are warring against. It is absolutely vital that your congressmen is aware of your stance, and then hold them accountable.

TH: Hip-Hop often glamorizes quick money, drug money and flashy life styles. Do you think that this type of music is responsible for the high incarceration rates of Black men?

MW: I would not say that hip-hop is primarily to blame. But the hip-hop community needs to take accountability for their actions. They need to be responsible for the images that they perpetuate to the world.

TH: On 9/11 this country was devastated by terrorism. How has the "War Against Terrorism" affected the PIC?

MW: 9/11 has presented President Bush with the opportunity to get policies passed. The issues are framed as war, but many of the policies are just impeding on our civil liberties.

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