Today, news broke that Tavon White, leader of the Black Guerrilla Family, received a reduced sentence after testifying against the crime syndicate that operates within the confines of the prison industrial complex. White, who is already serving a 20 year sentence on an unrelated attempted murder charge, was sentenced to 12 years for his role in the conspiracy; time that will be served concurrently.
In his testimony, White admitted to fathering five children with four female corrections officers. He also gave explicit details about how the group was able to smuggle drugs, phones, and other contraband within the Baltimore City Detention Center. His testimony led to the convictions of forty people, including 24 corrections officers. White is sure to face violent retribution for his actions.
The case is troubling on so many levels. The situation alone exposes the corruption deeply embedded within the prison industrial complex, and further highlights a disturbing connection between sexual misconduct within isolated prison facilities. In ingenious designs, prisons project a sense of segregated safety; an us-versus-them, good-versus-evil appendage predicated on the belief that prisons do not disrupt daily civilian life, while simultaneously functioning on the very society it’s meant to be disconnected from.
In short, the prison industrial complex is around us. Everywhere.
The prison industrial complex touches our daily lives because we feed into it politically, economically, and socially. Whether it’s uplifting politicians who promote the loaded “tough-on-crime” vernacular, to buying merchandise from companies that invest in the development of private prisons, or even by assuming criminality about people we don’t know or engage with.
The prison industrial complex is a system of complex criminal justice elements that survives on a combination of ignorance of the masses, racist and prejudicial urban planning mechanisms, and a frightening subservience to the notion of “law and order.” Especially with the inclusion of private prisons, criminal justice is now big business, generating billions in kickbacks and income for those undeserving.
Private prisons assume a demand for prisoners. Just let that sink in.
There’s a wealth of literature, reports, and research on how unsustainable and corrupt the entire system is. From financial mismanagement and wasted resources, the prison industrial complex is economically chaotic and financially precarious. But underneath it all is the racism on which the complex is built. Black people are disproportionally targeted by the criminal justice system. Already an underclass within America, Black communities are easy victims in a predatory system that thrives on free labor.
The prison industrial complex is a magnificent 21st century response to 19th century slavery.
And the victims are getting younger and younger.
We don’t need the prison industrial complex. At all. Imagine approaching criminal justice through a lens of innovation transcribed through a holistic underpinning of socio-political relations. Now imagine that it’s been done before.
Following the Rwandan genocide, Rwandan citizens gathered to apply justice to génocidaires. Charged with grotesque crimes against humanity, génocidaires were large in number. The fragile post-genocidal nation found difficult in fast and swift application of the law. The work was time-consuming; with overcrowded prisons and complicated administrative hardships. In response, the Rwandan people instituted the gacaca court system; a transitional justice framework built on cultural communal law enforcement. Emphasizing the need for forgiveness and reconciliation, the success of the process is well documented.
We need to reshape our mindset about criminal justice. In its current manifestation, the criminal justice system and the prison industrial complex infuse an unsustainable, tangled mess of waste and corruption. In a nation claiming to be the vanguard of freedom, the American prison system is a dire reminder of what racism looks like in the 21st century.