The NZ state announces another $1billion to be spent building another 1800 prison beds. Under capitalism prisons are part of a ‘justice system’ which criminalises workers by locking them up for petty crimes against property and persons while ‘white collar’ criminals if charged often get name suppression and home detention. While some other countries are getting over the war on drugs and punitive imprisonment, NZ is getting more draconian applying the “3 strikes and you’re out” viciousness of “Senseless Sentencing”. We say: organise workers’ power to stop the war on drugs, make jobs or all, pay a living wage, and abolish prisons!
Police and prisons and the (in)justice system all exists to protect the ruling class, to defend their property; “private property” (capitalist property). The overall function of their laws clearly results in the imprisonment of the working class (including unemployed) disproportionately, with youth and Maori particularly “over-represented” = harshly oppressed.
The history of colonisation was the introduction of capitalism in NZ. This included the theft by force from Maori (land wars and colonial laws, including confiscations) of Maori land (part of the means of production in an agricultural settler economy). The effect of losing lands (means of production) was also to turn Maori into a working class: reliant on waged slavery to survive.
The ruling class (capitalists) legal system was wholly to defend the ruling class: including their “entitlement” to lands.
Now a few Maori under Waitangi treaty settlements, are bought out with deals, and so have transformed into capitalists. The promise of tribal trickle-down $ to ordinary iwi members is not to be seen.
Prisons create a criminal class
The suicide rate in prisons is 10 times the general population rate – which for NZ is obscenely high. The harm that occurs in prisons is generally ignored. News media reports about “fight clubs” occurring, is an exception. Inhumane treatment of transgender woman in solitary confinement due to assaults in a men’s prison, is exposed mostly due to the campaigning of the “No Pride in Prisons” activist group. Inhumane treatment of a terminally ill woman, in the Wiri women’s prison is exposed due to the preparedness of family to campaign and speak out on her behalf in public media. The individual cases that make the media are worth of better treatment, however these are the rule in a prison system built on a model of control, punishment and vengeance.
And despite a focus on “reducing re-offending” (goal of 25% by 2017) the so-called “Department of Corrections” (responsible for running prisons and probation services) clearly fails to “reduce re-offending” faster than the state changes law and increases crimes and jail terms.
The recent announcement of needing to build another prison is in-part caused by the popularity of methamphetamine. The cash paydays available in manufacture and distribution of methamphetamine are attractive to anyone tired of working class condition (waged slavery) struggling for a decent reward. And of course, the drug itself provides a direct neural reward (short-term) that is a break from harsh realities of life under capitalist rule. Methamphetamine was re-classified class A (approx. 2003) which meant the (in)justice system has since then dealt out longer prison terms for manufacture and dealing. It also meant an overload in the High Court where Class A drug manufacture and supply cases are meant to be tried. So rather than maintain the pretence of justice, the State tipped the playing field and reduced trials by jury, reduced access to legal aid lawyers, and confiscated “private property” as “proceeds of crime”, without proof of economic gain.
A huge proportion of “crime” is drug related. Drug use itself is a symptom of the failure of capitalist society. Bruce K Alexander, in his 2008 book “the globalisation of addiction” described the rise of addiction with the rise of capitalism – which he calls neoliberalism. http://www.brucekalexander.com/
Capitalism is alienating of the working class, tearing families apart, to deliver workers to capitalists where they want them. Capitalism fails to provide meaningful social connection. Under these conditions drugs are an alternative experience: an attractive escape. Recovery from addiction has been described not as abstinence from drugs but regaining social connection – even the old-school AA can be seen in this context as providing (meetings) opportunities for social connections (alternative to alcohol).
Capitalism benefits from the oppression of the working class through drug laws, and criminalisation of drug consumption. The gangs (and their drug distribution economy) are a socially necessary (for capitalism) counter-point to the existence of police. Gangs (and drug laws) provide a reason for the police to continue to exist; else the true mission of the police to protect capitalist property and the capitalist class would be exposed.
The capitalist state has twisted democracy further, by excluding prisoners from the right to vote. Given the class nature of the (in)justice system this was a blatant attack on the democratic rights of the working class.
Drug laws provide a mechanism for the capitalist class to oppress and discriminate against working class. The majority of people use drugs. It is much more likely that Maori, Poor and Unemployed will be convicted and sentenced more harshly: Compared to the Richer, Whiter, and those who can find an employer to vouch for their connection to capitalist production. CWG reviewed our position on drug laws and decided that drug (laws) should be under the control of the working class; not the capitalist class through their laws.
We have no confidence in capitalist laws being anything but a means for the capitalist class to oppress and control the working class. The criminalisation of people, forces many into unskilled jobs, poor wages (or subsistence wages with on-call work, casualization, “the precariat”). Few skilled jobs will accept anyone with a criminal conviction. This of course makes the easier money of criminal activities are more attractive earning options, which can perpetuate “re-offending”.
A goal of socialism would be to abolish prisons. There may be some offenders so damaged by abuse in their personal histories that they need a highly-structured environment like prison. However, they would be an exception rather than the norm. Most crime is property related, and if real work (socially necessary) is justly rewarded then much of the motivators of crime will be diminished.
Other crime is complex however social inequality and real relationships between people are more likely to rehabilitate faulty beliefs: than systems of punishment and vindictiveness. There may be a few capitalists, who don’t want to share their ill-gotten gains, that may need to be detained. However, a programme of real work and participation in socially necessary work programmes for the good of all people may be able to rehabilitate either of these groups of anti-socialists.