The Prison: A capitalist industry like any other

From Reclaim the Fields Bulletin 10:

Amor-YIn many parts of the world now, prisons mean big business. In the UK some prisons are run by a number of dubious companies including Serco and G4S. In France, it’s the same multinational, vinci, that build highways, nuclear power plants, prisons and try to build an airport in Notre Dame des Landes.

The company who has the contract to build the Wrexham Mega- Prison is an Austrialian corporation, Lend Lease, who’s activities are surrounded by controversy. The fact that they have previously evicted 1200 homes in Heygate, London, in order to build luxury flats and tried to build a housing development in “the largest intact area of the biodiverse and endangered plant community” in Australia clearly shows they don’t give a damn about anything but their profit margin. Any claims they make about providing for the local community is nothing but propaganda and lies!

In being private companies their prime motive for existing is to make a profit and therefore any claim of having the public inter- est at heart can of course be false (not that it’s necessarily true for state run prisons). In the search for profit, private prisons have no incentive to reduce prison populations and in fact would like to see their “market” grow – the more people locked up the more money they make! As well as this, the incentive to make profit means that corners are cut and conditions get worse, in order to save costs.

Prisoners are also used in many cases as cheap or even free labor for companies. Thus, prisons are becoming forced labor camps, not only making a profit from incarceration, but exploiting the labor of prisoners whilst they have their freedom taken from them.

It’s not only the prisoners who are being used to make a profit either. In the US prisons have been built in remote areas, which means that family members an other visitors need to travel a long distance to visit loved ones in prison. Once there they are forced to stay in hotel and shopping complexes near by, which is expen- sive. Thus, visiting prisoners is only possible for those who can afford it and then they are used to generate further profit.

As capitalism periodically enters phases of economic crisis, mega projects are often used as a way to soak up excess capital and to stimulate the economy again, often with the help of government investment. This is one of the arguments put forward for projects such as the airports in Notre Dame-des-Landes or Heathrow, as well as dams, high speed rail, TAv and also prisons. It is ar- gued that building such projects creates jobs, but these are often short term jobs in construction and the rest are often insecure and what David Graeber calls “bullshit jobs”.

Their arguments for such projects ultimately ring false and instead what really happens is they destroy our land, pollute our environment and repress us when we fight back, all in the name of short term growth and further extraction of wealth from the bottom to the top.

Further, in times of crisis more people end up in jails. This can be due to increasing unemployment and people needing to find non- legal ways to meet their needs. Yet, in this latest round of crisis there is a more complex situation due to the globalized nature of the economy, which has a close tie to issues around food. Around 2007-8 there was a food price crisis, which was characterized by volatile price changes and speculation by international investors looking to make a profit from the situation. The result for poor segments of the population in much of the global south was that they were unable to afford food, leading to hunger or food riots. As well as this, speculation also lead to an intensification of land grabbing, which is just the latest phase in the long and bloody story of the enclosures. Those unable to meet their needs may have been forced to turn to supposed crime (most of the time, “crime to the property” ) to allow them to eat, or they may have sought to migrate to countries in the global north in search of employment. In either case, however, there is always the possibility of prison as an outcome, as countries within fortress Europe continue to marginalize and detain undocumented migrants.

In the long run, prisons can be seen as a natural extension of the process of enclosure. Prior to the enclosures, land was held and managed in common, meaning that it was possible for anyone was able to gain access to the land in order to meet their needs of shelter, sustenance and so on, both on an individual and a collective basis. To be clear, this was no golden age and many of todays problems have roots in attitudes of times gone by – for example current sexism under patriarchy has a direct links to religious norms and the burning of the witches. Yet, through the building of “their” fences, in the name of “private property”, this dislocated peoples from the land, rendered them dependent on wage labor in capitalist enterprises in order to meet their needs. The enclosures ensured that there was a pool of cheap labor to be used within the new capitalist industries. At the same time,in UK, the the Enclosures Acts coincided with new laws brought in to criminalize the landless. Effectively this meant that the enclosures meant that people no longer had access to land and if they didn’t like it – they could go to jail! Our struggles have been linked from the start!

Fast forward a couple of hundred years to our present situation. The concentration of land into fewer and fewer hands has con- tinued unchecked, meaning that in Britain approximately 70% of the land is owned by less than 1% of the population. This means for the majority of the population, they are separated from the basic means of production and dependent on the capitalist economy. Yet, we know that their capitalist economy is the crisis and when their economy is unable to provide for the whole population, by necessity or by wanting to escape this economical rules people are forced to turn to “illegal” means to meet their needs. Criminalization of the landless continues.

On the other hand, prison inmates are the most extreme example of landless people. When people are forced into prison. they lack any sense of self-determination. They are separated from their means of production and have no chance to access land until the State decides to release them, at which point they will be socially stigmatized and will often find it hard to gain employment.

Above all, this struggle comes down to a simple question: who decides what land is used for and for whom?

Do we let fertile lands continue to be fenced off, privatized and used to make a profit at any cost?

Do we allow those with insatiable appetites for money to convert all life, love, friendship and wildness into things to be sold in order to make the numbers in their bank balances keep on growing? Even at the cost of locking people up, away from their friends, loved ones and denying them any sense of autonomy.

Or alternatively, should we collectively decide what to do with our lands? Taking into account collective needs for food sovereignty and the needs of the non-human community too. Ours has always been a struggle for life – and their prisons cannot hold back our dreams!

Reclaim The Fields includes reflection about access to land and food in a global analyses in term of struggles against capitalism, and any forms of dominations, and wants to participate to build self-organization, it seems to us that interesting links can be made with the anti-prison movement:

As anti-capitalists, it is important to see the lengths to which capitalists will go to accumulate profit, as well as to see the links between the loss of access to land and the loss of individual autonomy that is imposed by the prison industry.

In Wrexham, in Haren (near Bruxelles, where a mega prison is planned too, and where some people struggle and occupy the land where the prison is supposed to be built) and everywhere it’s needed, let’s join RTF issues and struggles against prison, ask ourselves about repression, and bring reflections on the social organization we dream of!

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