Oct 12 2010

What is the PIC?

MY ARCHIVE OF DEFINITIONS & CONCEPTS

I have decided to add a feature to the blog where I can just offer some of the most useful definitions and concepts that I find about what exactly the prison industrial complex is.. This is will just be my own personal running list, an archive of sorts.

Prison Industrial Complex (PIC): CARA (Communities Against Rape and Abuse) defines it as “a massive multi-billion dollar industry that promotes the exponential expansion of prisons, jails, immigrant detention centers, and juvenile detention centers. The PIC is represented by corporations that profit from incarceration, politicians who target people of color so that they appear to be “tough on crime,” and the media that represents a slanted view of how crime looks in our communities. In order to survive, the PIC uses propaganda to convince the public how much we need prisons; uses public support to strengthen harmful law-and-order agendas such as the “War on Drugs” and the “War on Terrorism”; uses these agendas to justify imprisoning disenfranchised people of color, poor people, and people with disabilities; leverages the resulting increasing rate of incarceration for prison-related corporate investments (construction, maintenance, goods and services); pockets the profit; and uses profit to create more propaganda.”[1] see also: criminalization,  street-based economies, “quality of life” policing

Huey Freeman on the Boondocks Defines the PIC in the following way:

“The prison industrial complex is a system situated at the intersection of government and private interests. It uses prisons as a solution to social, political and economic problems. It includes human rights violations, the death penalty, slave labor, policing, courts, the media, political prisoners and the elimination of dissent.”

Here’s video of Huey sharing this definition:

Here is the PIC definition by Rachel Herzing of Critical Resistance:

“Prison Industrial Complex” (PIC) is a term we use to describe the overlapping interests of government and industry that use surveillance, policing, and imprisonment as solutions to what are, in actuality, economic, social, and political “problems.”

From a footnote by Erica Meiners:

Prison industrial complex (PIC) refers to a multifaceted structure in the United States that encompasses the expanding economic and political contexts of the corrections industry: the increasing privatization of prisons and the contracting out of prison labor, the political and lobbying power of the corrections officers union, the framing of prisons and jails as a growth industry in the context of deindustrialization, the production, marketing and sales of technology and security required to maintain and expand the state of incarceration, the racialized and hyperbolic war on drugs, the legacy of white supremacy in the United States, and more (Davis 2003, Gilmore 2007).

From an article by Brewer and Heitzeg (2008):

“The prison industrial complex is a self-perpetuating machine where the vast profits (e.g. cheap labor, private and public supply and construction contracts, job creation, continued media profits from exaggerated crime reporting and crime/punishment as entertainment) and perceived political benefits (e.g. reduced unemployment rates, “get tough on crime” and public safety rhetoric, funding increases for police, and criminal justice system agencies and professionals) lead to policies that are additionally designed to insure an endless supply of “clients” for the criminal justice system (e.g. enhanced police presence in poor neighborhoods and communities of color; racial profiling; decreased funding for public education combined with zero-tolerance policies and increased rates of expulsion for students of color; increased rates of adult certification for juvenile offenders; mandatory minimum and “three-strikes” sentencing; draconian conditions of incarceration and a reduction of prison services that contribute to the likelihood of “recidivism”; “collateral consequences”-such as felony disenfranchisement, prohibitions on welfare receipt, public housing, gun ownership, voting and political participation, employment- that nearly guarantee continued participation in “crime” and return to the prison industrial complex following initial release.)”

Wikipedia Information about the term “Prison Industrial Complex.”

“The Prison Industrial Complex” is the title of a recorded 1997 speech by social activist Angela Davis, later released as an audio CD and serving as a basis for her book of that name. Davis also co-founded the prison abolition group, Critical Resistance, which held its first conference in 1998. She wrote an article entitled “Masked Racism: Reflections on the Prison Industrial Complex,” published in the Fall 1998 issue of ColorLines. “Homelessness, unemployment, drug addiction, mental illness, and illiteracy are only a few of the problems that disappear from public view when the human beings contending with them are relegated to cages,” Davis says. “Taking into account the structural similarities of business-government linkages in the realms of military production and public punishment, the expanding penal system can now be characterized as a ‘prison industrial complex.’ “[1]

A few months later, Eric Schlosser wrote an article published in Atlantic Monthly in December 1998 stating that “The ‘prison-industrial complex’ (PIC) is not only a set of interest groups and institutions; it is also a state of mind. The lure of big money is corrupting the nation’s criminal-justice system, replacing notions of safety and public service with a drive for higher profits. The eagerness of elected officials to pass tough-on-crime legislation — combined with their unwillingness to disclose the external and social costs of these laws — has encouraged all sorts of financial improprieties.”[2] Though using the same title and working from many of the same themes, Schlosser did not cite Davis’ work in his Atlantic Monthly article. Compare: “Colored bodies constitute the main human raw material in this vast experiment to disappear the major social problems of our time.” – Davis. “The raw material of the prison-industrial complex is its inmates: the poor, the homeless, and the mentally ill; drug dealers, drug addicts, alcoholics, and a wide assortment of violent sociopaths.” – Schlosser.


[1] Making Connections: the Anti-Violence Movement Actively Resisting the Prison Industrial Complex

CARA (Communities Against Rape and Abuse), www.cara-seattle.org

  • By Yvonne, July 26, 2011 @ 10:29 am

    Great stuff!
    A friend of mine is really hipping me to this knowledge. I have seen the video (in its entirety being I am a Boondocks fanatic) and it makes plenty of sense. Great article you have!

Other Links to this Post

  1. Pride and Assimilation « caseyjaywork — August 9, 2012 @ 11:30 am

  2. To End Rape Culture, We Must Address These 3 Things — Everyday Feminism — April 9, 2014 @ 4:00 am

  3. Carceral Feminism Will Not End Sexual Violence | Fiending for Hope — April 9, 2014 @ 1:23 pm

  4. Women & Incarceration: A Crucial Conversation in Cambridge and Beyond | YWCA USA Blog — May 23, 2014 @ 9:01 am