Slavery and the Prison System

Ever since we read the article in class, and made the connections between the prison system and slavery, I’ve been interested in reading further into this. And so in the process of researching, I found this awesome article detailing how slavery and prison can not only be described in like terms, but also how the two two institutions are directly historically connected.

Following the Emancipation Proclamation, the South was a violent and turbulent place for people of color, particularly because of the various laws, such as Jim Crow Laws, that were enacted to virtually halt all reform that might have been possible. Reformation following the Civil War was a failure. Technically slavery was abolished, but the oppression that previously supported the institution remained, making it nearly impossible for freed African Americans to exercise their rights to the same political, social, and economic freedoms as their white counterparts. The article discusses how, while the African-American population went from one situation of intense oppression to another, a new institution replaced slavery as the hands on the plantations- the Convict Lease Program.

The Convict lease program brought a new way for freed slaves to be once again taken advantage of. The incredible and terrible influx of new oppressive laws in the South brought mass imprisonment to a new level, and as the article explains- “mass imprisonment was employed as a means of coercing resistant freed slaves into becoming wage laborers. Prison populations soared during this period, enabling the state to play a critical role in mediating the brutal terms of negotiation between capitalism and the spectrum of unfree labor. The transition from slave-based agriculture to industrial economies thrust ex-slaves and “unskilled” laborers into new labor arrangements that left them vulnerable to depressed, resistant white workers or pushed them outside the labor market completely.” And so thus, many victims of Jim Crow south went from one form of slavery to another, and those who didn’t had almost an equally difficult time assimilating.

Here’s the article if you’re interested in reading and learning more:

http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/gilmoreprisonslavery.html

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