Interview: Rentier economy drives U.S. into carceral state, resulting in new form of serfdom, says scholar

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Xinhua, May 13, 2022
Adjust font size:

by Xu Chi

GENEVA, May 13 (Xinhua) -- Given that the United States has the highest prison population per capita in the world, a U.S. scholar said that unfettered pursuit of rentier profits and rampant accumulation of fictitious capital have driven the country into a carceral state.

With decades of aid by both sides of the aisle, this trend has resulted in a new form of serfdom at the detriment of the most disadvantaged in the United States, said Robin D. G. Kelley, a distinguished professor and Gary B. Nash endowed chair in U.S. History of the University of California, Los Angeles.

The emergence of mass incarceration in the country is intrinsic to the neoliberal pursuit of rentier profits, the U.S.-based professor told Xinhua in a recent virtual interview.

Following the economic recession in the 1970s and under the influence of political fearmongering, the Americans voted to have more prisons built by raising public debts in hope of restoring employment and fighting the housing market depression.

To meet the artificially created prison surplus, states then passed truth-in-sentencing laws that lengthen prison sentences through mandatory requirements.

"It's not that there's more crime, it's that people are in prison for longer, and then that accumulates, you get more and more people, then you have laws that prosecute minors, and more and more resources are going into producing prisoners," said the scholar.

As of September 2021, 79 percent of people detained each day in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody were held in private detention facilities, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

The United States has the largest prison population of more than 2 million and the highest prison population rate of 629 prisoners per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the Institute for Crime and Justice Policy Research at the School of Law of Birkbeck of University of London.

Actually the prison building frenzy brought few benefits to the local communities, but instead, private prisons became beneficiaries of government contracts and the privatization of public services, he said.

With neoliberal policies around privatization, "the expansion of for-profit prisons wasn't always about turning prisoners into workers, it was about turning the facilities into profitable, investable capital," he added.

Citing the cases of the now-publicly traded CoreCivic and GEO Group, both having received public funds to detain immigrants including children, Kelley said: "private prisons open the door for private services in the management of public prisons. So, management and services become the real source of revenue, in many ways, supplying prisons become a way to make money."

"They began to do things like charging prisoners for police transportation, charging prisoners for booking fees, charging prisoners for DNA testing, charging prisoners for public defender, which used to be free in court," he added.

In Kelley's eyes, the carceral state of America followed the neoliberal development pattern of its society, as shown in the example of the electronic monitoring devises which shifted public services to individual households, or that of America's rising debtors' prison, in which more and more people are imprisoned for financial insolvability.

"Cities are paid for on the backs of the poor by giving them tickets, and the most famous case was Ferguson, Missouri," he said, adding that the town with only 21,000 people issued about 33,000 arrest warrants in 2013.

"It's like one and a half arrest warrants for every person, and these arrest warrants are for things like not mowing your lawn and you get a ticket, not having updated registration for a car that can't even drive," said the scholar. "And they were able to generate 2.6 million dollars from the pockets of poor people to run that city by doing that, and the people who couldn't pay went to jail."

This is extracting surplus from just basic theft of people's resources and reducing them to a kind of serfdom within a city, which lacks funding from other sources and has to rely on the poor as the ATMs to pull resources out, said Kelley.

"We have a security crisis in the United States, and by that, I mean public safety is not about being safe at all, it's about accumulating capital, protecting fascists, and perpetuating a system of management which use violence and the threat of violence to keep people in line," said the scholar.

"It simply doesn't work, it just terrifies people, leads to premature death, and leads to impoverished cities," he added. Enditem

Follow on Twitter and Facebook to join the conversation.
ChinaNews App Download
Print E-mail Bookmark and Share

Go to Forum >>0 Comment(s)

No comments.

Add your comments...

  • User Name Required
  • Your Comment
  • Enter the words you see:   
    Racist, abusive and off-topic comments may be removed by the moderator.
Send your storiesGet more from