By Richard Kagan, Ph.D.
The term Carceral in the title refers to the nature of incarceration where the State institutionalizes the environment of prisons into the society by endorsing gated and secure communities for prisoners and private neighborhoods.
President Trump, a real estate mogul who has developed properties involving hotels, golf courses, private clubs, and condos funded by private financing and government support has applied his skills to the creation and expansion of walls to incarcerate unwanted populations. This is leading to the development of prisons that is funded by government finances through direct budgets and through the massive privatization of companies that act outside of federal regulations and oversight.
The core of the political theory that produced the rapid rise of prison population that credited America with 25 percent of the world’s prisoners grew from the dogma that the threat of punishment would deter the criminals—especially the errant denizens in the ghetto and among the minorities.
Until President Johnson, the federal government had minimal prison operations — either financially or technologically — in the states and their cities. Slowly, but thunderously, prisons were constructed, law enforcement became professionalized leading eventually to employing millions of employees and prisoners. Along with a prison population of several million, there was the support staff parole officers, jailers, prison guards, security personnel, relevant office workers as well as the thousands of lawyers, politicians, and judges who drafted the laws and determined the nature of punishment of the offenders. Management for this huddled class of employees and their criminal charges created a dark state that was nearly invisible to the citizen uninvolved in the penal system.
The system metastasized under the expansion of the criminalization of crimes from drug abuse to undocumented migrant workers. The latter has produced the estimate that there are over 12 millions of these “miscreants” alone and that millions are threatening to flow over our borders to rape, steal, and terrorize law abiding Americans.
Under President Trump, the machinery of incarceration has established a major feature of America’s political and social structure.
We are creating a system that is likened to a prison, also known as a carceral state which, as described by Wikipedia, “transform public space through the installation of walls, gates, fences, surveillance cameras and security checkpoints.“ Whereas, the border wall provides a fantastically concrete example of the function to imprison people on both sides of the border from freely contacting each other, the rise of the hundreds of holding facilities or caged areas for detained immigrants serve the same purpose.
The key example of this situation is the privatization of prisons and prison populations in the United States. The United States budgets billions of dollars to manage this system. Furthermore, it is not transparent. Federal regulations regarding health, transparency, accountability, equal rights, etc. are not recognized and thus not enforced by any private agency.
But, the expansion of this system finds government realization in the arrangements on the border to separate children from parents and then disperse them to privately run holding centers throughout the United States. These private organizations that operate immigration detention centers have no coordination among all of the groups involved. One judge admitted that there was no single authority who could state in court who had the knowledge or control of the child who stood alone in the dock. Like prisons, there is restricted control for visitors and no permission for the press. These are dark sites. Some of the private organizations have received billion-dollar unpublicized contracts for several years to continue their control over this population which they will treat as prisoners.
While the public and some members decry the nature of this system, on the whole, they think mainly of quick and simple reforms. True, children should not be separated from mothers, interpreters should be included in the sites, health and care issues need to be protected, and legal representatives should be provided.
However, it is the system that needs to be reformed. It falls into the category of a crime against humanity which includes restrictions on immigration, and the (permanent or threat of) separation of children from their parents.
This system rests on the notion of fear of each other, of our communities of color, on our own government and its representatives. The best evidence and example of this culture of fear is the rise of gated communities. Construction of these socially cellular promises of immunization from outsiders has grown exponentially in America, and even worldwide. The wealthy have created carceral archipelagos of walled, guarded, environmentally controlled housing units, community gardens, and sports fields which keep out the phantom rapists, murders, thieves, and persons of different races, religions, gender orientations, and class backgrounds.
Just an aside, there is no concrete evidence that walled or gated communities greatly reduce crime. In fact, what they accomplish is to set people off from each other, thus increasing the divisions in our society.
President Trump has engaged in language and policies that have stoked hatred and feelings of revenge. Following from his own policies, he has weaponized real estate as a way to isolate people from each other, to create a sense of paranoia, and to use the resultant fear of others to gain political and financial support.
Like his real estate deals, the funding for these isolating estates has been shrouded in secrecy and financial darkness. We know little of how the private entrepreneurs have received their incomes, nor do we know how many of these black sites or gated communities are regulated by public law or human rights. We are creating an anarchy of social units which do not provide healthy protection and security for our country and citizenry.
The policies on the border and in our communities affect us all in our homes, our emotions, and our view of America’s heritage. We must not ignore the negative wave of our border policies as it flows over the land of the free. As another American proposed: “Tear Down this Wall.”
Dr. Kagan is a regular contributor to the Asian American Press and is considered a foremost scholar on Taiwan and China. He is a professor emeritus of East Asian history at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn.