Addicted to Incarceration

A sharp divide in the recent Supreme Court ruling ordering California to drastically reduce its prison population represents a deeper national division.

33,000 inmates are court-mandated to be released over the next two years. Governor Brown wants to transfer inmates to local jails but doesn't have the budget to cover the migration. Former Senator George Runner predicted that it will result in "flooding our neighborhoods with criminals." Neither mentioned the 249 California inmates sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for crimes committed as juveniles.

America's prison population topped two million for the first time in in 2002. 7,248 inmates under 18 are in adult jails. The report published this month by the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics says one in 31 adults was incarcerated or under supervision at the end of 2007. Black American males are incarcerated at a rate more than 6.5 times that of white males.

America is addicted to incarceration. The Texas Control Model, eye-for-an-eye carceral paradigm that pummeled the rehabilitation movement in American prisons has bloody footprints leading all the way back to the plantation. Along the path, countless families decimated by the wars on drugs, crime and gangs waged utilizing profit-driven law enforcement ideologies born in California under Nixon, Reagan and Bush.

Last week Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca talked on NPR about medical marijuana, drawing the conversation away from California's Supreme Court mandate and into the addiction matrix. He neglected to mention the methodical indoctrination of black and brown adolescents in low-income areas into the judicial system by the LAPD officers and LA County Sheriff's deputies.

As journalist working in South Los Angeles I'd written about and witnessed police abuse with such regularity that I knew it couldn't be anomalistic. It was the way they were doing business; intimidation as a legally sanctioned, tax-funded tool of a larger mass containment/suppression/paramilitary policing strategy carried out by beat cops, aimed at youngsters who will be filling cells in the future, while the brass maintain a public posture promoting community policing.

Body searches, pull-overs, verbal abuse, harassment, bogus tickets, forced to fill out information cards, seated on the curb and other dehumanizing tactics that shape the burgeoning consciousness of young citizens are all part of the routine.

Law enforcement is essentially molding youth into antisocial, potentially criminal citizens. Punishment enhancements and gang injunctions are implements of judicial subjugation administered at the discretion of judges and result in longer sentences for minorities who are grotesquely overrepresented in the penal system.

A sinister perspective might surmise that this intentional erosion of youthful self-esteem in high-crime, low-income areas of L.A. with no viable financial infrastructure is actually law enforcement grooming young citizens as the next crop of neo-slaves for the prison industrial complex.

This week in my LA Weekly series, Pavement, I follow a 19-year-old fugitive that brings the result of institutionalized alienation into sharp focus in a very personal portrait.

Listen to podcast.

California has the worst record in the US for racial disparity in imposing life sentences on juveniles. There are 249 California inmates are sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for crimes committed when they were juveniles.

California Senate Bill 9 allows juvenile offenders sentenced to life without parole to petition for a review of their cases after serving between 10 and 25 years. SB 9 passed out of the Public Safety Committee and could be voted on in the Senate.