The Prison-Industrial Complex is Anti-Man

Ozy Frantz takes on the prison-industrial complex and how it affects the lives of American men.

This article originally appeared at No Seriously, What About Teh Menz?

This article in AlterNet makes a compelling case for a new American racial caste system built on the back of the drug war. Where Americans comfort ourselves that we are a post-racial society due to affirmative action, black CEOs, and Obama, in reality the average black person is at a far higher risk of being imprisoned than the average white person.

In fact, as of 2004, more African American men were unable to vote because of felony disenfranchisement laws than in 1870, when the Fourteenth Amendment, which forbids laws limiting voting based on race, was passed. Admittedly, some of that is due to population growth, but the fact that the situation hasn’t improved any is certainly an indictment against the racist American society.

If you take into account prisoners, in some urban areas a majority of African American men are felons– in the Chicago area nearly 80%. These men can be denied the right to vote, to serve on a jury, and to equal access to housing, employment, education, and public benefits.

And make no mistake: this is a gender issue, as well as a race issue. While women of color are more likely to be imprisoned than white women, men of color are vastly more likely to be imprisoned than any other group. The prison-industrial complex and the drug war are not only systematically directed against black people, they are systematically directed against black men. When the average white person imagines a scary threatening black person, are they imagining the person as male or female? When the average white person imagines a drug dealer or an addict, do they imagine them to be male or female?

Exactly my point.

And that sort of racist and sexist stereotyping has a tremendous effect on young black men. While young white people are slightly more likely to use drugs and have three times the rate of drug-related emergency visits, black people are overwhelmingly more likely to be arrested and prosecuted for drug crimes– in some states they are 80-90% of those imprisoned for drug crimes, and most of them are men. Even when crime rates decline, the rate of imprisonment soars, mostly because of these young black men being imprisoned.

But really, can you blame the police? They get to play with all kinds of shiny toys, like SWAT teams and tanks and grenade launchers! It’s like their own action movie! They get federal funding if they arrest lots of drug offenders, even if it’s just for possession! Drug forfeiture laws mean that they can keep the majority of the cash, cars, and houses they get from drug suspects!

Never mind all the lives being ruined. Because it’s not simply about imprisonment– although the imprisonment is bad enough. And it’s not simply about the effects on the men themselves, although call me a radical, but I believe that once someone has served their sentence, they should have the rights that any other full member of society does, especially if their crime was “having cocaine” instead of something that actually matters. I mean, how exactly do you expect someone to take non-criminal jobs if no one wants to give a job to a felon? Christ.

It’s about the community. Because men are important. They’re half of the potential workforce in a community, and with the rates of unemployment for felons they either are forced into a life of crime or face being more of an economic drain than a boon. As children, they were invested in (however poorly, given the quality of many inner-city schools), but ended up not amounting to much more than fuel for the prison-industrial complex. The consequences of missing men affect more than just themselves.

Perhaps most tragic is the consequence of missing fathers. While all families can be good families and a good single parent is certainly better than a bad or abusive nuclear family, children are a lot of work and generally need multiple people to take care of them (where “take care of” includes providing as well as more conventional forms of caregiving). Unfortunately, a black child’s chance of growing up with two parents today is less than their chance during slavery, in a large part because of the drug war. Who knows how many good, caring fathers are now in prison, separated from their children? We can’t know.

Men matter. We cannot use a generation of black men as food for racist ideologies. They deserve more than that.


Photo—Kilmainham Gaol from Shutterstock

About ozyfrantz

Ozy Frantz is a student at a well-respected Hippie College in the United States. Zie bases most of zir life decisions on Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, and identifies more closely with Pinkie Pie than is probably necessary. Ozy can be contacted at or on Twitter as @ozyfrantz. Writing is presently Ozy's primary means of support, so to tip the blogger, click here.


  1. John D says:

    I know this is not a news agency, but even looking at it from the eyes of a non-news author posting his opinion, this article is nowhere near complete.

    This article seems to be stating that all or most of the much greater black male imprisonment is due to racist cops and judges. I am sure this is a large contributing factor.

    However, to me the largest contributing factor is the evidence that black men are several times more likely to commit violent crimes.

    Black men are about 7 times more likely to be murdered than white men (and 11 times more likely over white women–that’s very telling). 94% of the time their murderer is another black male. This isn’t all about racism, this is about the desperate levels of hopelessness black men feel when trying to fit into society.

    Some discussion about these trends among black males being disenfranchised leading to violence would have been some real good progress (instead of the tired old myth: it’s teh white people’s fault).

    What would have made this a stellar article is if the author would have talked about the causes of this social breakdown in black urban communities. For example, the much higher rates of fatherlessness in urban black communities.

    The UK went through their recent riots and got it right. They pegged it to fatherless families and began debates of passing a law to guarantee the rights of fathers to see their children (much of fatherless has to do with family courts comfortably refusing to protect fathers parental rights and abiding vengeful mothers keeping fathers out of childrens lives).

    An Irish study showed that 1/3rd of children of divorce lose permanent contact with their fathers within 5 years.

    If you want to talk about men or for that matter black men, then let’s have a *real* discussion, shall we?

  2. I am sorry but I have difficult following your article. You should change the title as your article seems to turn to an arguemtn regardinf race and the prison system and not men.

    Tghe prison system on a hole effects men of all races with various injustices and this should be highlighted, as i hoped your article was about.

  3. GMP Moderator says:

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  4. Soullite says:

    Indeed. I think that if it weren’t for all the racism, people might actually care about this. Because it seems to me that keeping black people down isn’t really the selling point of this to the policy elite, though it certainly is for the lower and middle classes. The purpose of this seems to be about getting rid of large numbers of men that, with the loss of factory jobs and a steady supply of illegal agricultural workers, society simply has no use for anymore. More than anything else, the prison system is about keeping unemployment numbers lower than they have any business being. This prevents many in the lower classes from voting, and prevents the unemployed from protesting.

    Anyone who sells racism is a con, and anyone who buys it is a mark. Even if you don’t care about minorities, you should probably care about the way racism is used to distract; to prevent you from seeing the hands that pick your pockets and whose knife is in your back.

  5. Its not just the war on drugs, its the systematic break down of the family and civil rights roll back in VAWA and for people that cannot afford child support.

    Read, “Gulag, no prosecution necessary” by Stephen Baskerville.

  6. Excellent points. The war on drugs is surely not working. I am still shocked that we haven’t moved to treatment and useful working legalization. Colorado has done a poor job regulating the legalization of pot in that it is sloppy, ever changing and you can tell it was written by out of touch legislators.

    Your racial points are well taken, too. Gulag is right!!

  7. Solid piece. Thanks for sharing. Bruce Western who is a sociologist discusses this very issues especially in his book Punishment and Inequality in America ( Just so folks don’t think we are ranting about inequity from some misinformed place I think this book is a good place to start to educate yourself if you find this topic interesting.


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