There are economic benefits for white people in the mass incarceration of black men. I am reading a monograph, The Vicious Circle, by Paul Street, available for free on download. One of Street's points is that mass incarceration of black men from South and West side Chicago means a huge transfer of wealth out of those communities to the Downstate Illinois towns that house megaprisons. The prisoners are overwhelmingly black, and their overseers are predominently white, reflecting the segregated demographics of Illinois . The economies of Downstate towns have been wrecked by globalization, and prisons have become the mainstay of these places. The emphasis is not on rehabilitation but on the warehousing of black bodies. Sentences become longer, because the more men (and increasing numbers of women) are imprisoned, the more construction and jobs will be available for mostly white beneficiaries. It is a convoluted system of oppresssion: not obvious like slavery but very much in the same spirit.
This work was published in 2002, and I don't need to look up anything to realize that the situation he describes here has only gotten worse since then.
Now this is nothing to be proud of, obviously, and yet those who benefit think they are being real smart. Here is the point of view of one mayor, Andy Hutchens, of Ina, Illinois, on this stroke of good luck for his litte town:
Beccause state and federal tax revenue is figured per capita, a prison population tht puts no strains on village services is a permanent windfall for a little town such as Ina, Hutchens said.
"It really figures out this way, " ... "This little town of 450 people is getting the tax money of a town of 2,700," Hutchens said, and then added with a grin, "And those people in that prison can't vote me out of office [emphasis added by author].
What is remarkable is that white people accept this state of affairs and relate it to their perceived necessity of making a living and also keeping blacks under control. A slimy little small town mayor gets caught out in a moment of truth-telling, and we disassociate instead of acknowledging how much a part of this system we all are and asking ourselves why we allow such injustice. We perceive these situations as exceptions to our otherwise great and fair society instead of seeing that they are integral to American life and our racial system. So we need to understand that this is the kind of country we live in: one that is by and large perfectly content to allow millions of fellow citizens of color to live in misery: prisoners, their families, their children, their communities.
Really, this is a system that is shameful and in reality benefits no one.