Reverse Reparations: Race, Place, and the Vicious Circle of Mass Incarceration*


Paul Street


March 04, 2007






Sometimes it's the silences that speak the loudest. Consider, for example, a page-one article that appeared in the New York Times in the summer of 2001 under the title "Rural Towns Turn to Prisons to Re-ignite Their Economies." According to this piece, non-metropolitan America was relying like never before on prison construction for jobs and economic development. Formerly, Times reporter Peter Kilborn noted, rural communities had depended for employment and economic development on agriculture, manufacturing, and/or mining.  Now, however, they were counting on mass incarceration to deliver the goods. Reporting that “245 prisons sprouted in 212 of the nation’s 2,290 rural counties” during the 1990s, Kilborn quoted the cheerful city manager of Sayre, Oklahoma, which had just opened a prized new maximum-security lockdown. "There's no more recession-proof form of economic development," this local official told Kilborn, than incarceration because "nothing's going to stop crime."


By Kilborn’s account, “prisons have been helping to revive large stretches of rural America.  More than a Wal-Mart or a meatpacking plant, state, federal, and private prisons, typically housing 1,000 inmates and providing 300 jobs, can put a town on solid economic footing.”  Thanks to money brought in through taxes on prisoners’ telephone calls, sales taxes paid by prisoners and prison staff, and to water, sewer, and landfill fees, Kilborn added, Sayre’s city budget increased from $755,000 in 1996 to $1,250,000 in 2001, permitting the town to set aside 15 percent of its revenues for capital improvements. No such savings or investment were possible before the prison, when Sayre “was surviving largely on federal crop support payments to its dwindling farm population” in the wake of the collapse of the state’s oil and gas industry(1).


A different story on the same topic appeared under the title "Ionia Finds Stability in Prisons" in the Detroit News just 12 days before Kilborn’s piece. It told the enlightening tale of how the semi-rural Michigan town of Ionia,  located halfway between Lansing and Grand Rapids, had recently become one of the state's fastest growing and "most improved" communities thanks its five thriving penitentiaries together employing 1,584 workers who collectively made $102 million a year. "The state's urban centers dump their felons," the Detroit News reported, "in prison towns and forget about them. Suburbs balk at housing felons, envisioning escapees trampling through their gardens and hiding out in their tool sheds." But "Ionia," the paper noted, "sees things from the other end of the spectrum. The prisons bring, of all things, security." According to Detroit News reporter Francis Donnelly, Ionia’s “penitentiaries, five veritable Great Lakes of cash, provide sustenance to every sector of [Ionia’s] once-dry economy: jobs for residents, customers for stores, revenue for the city government,” including “nearly $1.2 million of the city’s $3.8 million budget” (2).


A February 2001 Chicago Tribune article titled “Towns Put Dreams in Prisons” told a comparable story from Illinois. In “downstate” Hoopeston, Illinois, the Tribune reported, there was “talk of the mothballed canneries that once made this a boom town and whether any of that bustling spirit might return if the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) comes to town.”  “You don’t like to think about incarceration,” Hoopeston’s mayor told the Tribune, “but this is an opportunity for Hoopeston.  We’ve been plagued by plant closings.” The mayor, the Tribune reported, was lobbying IDOC to permit his town to host a prison so that it could enjoy some of the economic benefits that came to Ina, Illinois when the “Big Muddy” prison was constructed in 1993.


Before “Big Muddy” went up, the Tribune noted, Ina “took in just $17,000 a year in motor fuel tax revenue.  Now the figure is more like $72,000.  Last year’s municipal budget appropriation was $380,000.  More than half of that money is prison revenue.  Streets that were paved in chipped gravel and oil for generations soon will all be covered in asphalt.  An $850,000 community center that doubles as a gym and computer lab for the school across the street is being paid for with prison money.”


Because much state and federal tax revenue is allocated on a per capita basis, the Tribune noted, “a prison population that puts no strains on village services is a permanent windfall for a little town such as Ina.”  “It really figures out this way,” Ina’s mayor Andy Hutchens told the Tribune: “this little town of 450 people is getting the tax money of a town of 2,700.”  “And those people in that prison,” Hutchens added, “can’t vote me out of office” (3). 


The extent of some “downstate” Illinois communities’ sense of dependence on the prison  “windfall” was clear in a Tribune article that appeared nearly a year later when then-Illinois Governor George Ryan announced the impending closure of the state’s rural Vienna Correctional Center. A page-one Tribune story on resulting local union protests, noted that “at a time when other industry in Illinois’ southern end is weak, Vienna and other prisons dotting the farm fields are considered a force as much for economic development as for public safety.” As coal mines closed during the 1970s, the paper observed, displaced southern Illinois workers turned to the Vienna and later the Shawnee correctional facilities for jobs.  Further: 


“When their children graduated from high school, parents encouraged them to start a career in what appeared to be a dependable industry.  ‘That was the only thing going on when I was coming up, that and the mines and the rock quarries,’ said Larry Flynn, who went to work at Vienna in 1985.  ‘It ain’t bad work and there are good benefits, if you can handle the stress.’  The pay is good too.  A correctional officer can make about $40,000 a year, not bad in a place where new homes sell for less than $100,000.”


“Over time,” the Tribune added, “the local economy has grown up around the prison like a vine” (4).


Each of these newspaper articles did an excellent job telling an important story about a striking and relevant contemporary issue. In a nation founded largely on agrarian-republican ideals, prisoners now outnumber farmers.  Filled primarily by inmates of urban origin, most of the United States’ “correctional” lockdowns are found in rural areas.  Two and a half decades of massive American prison construction has combined with the rural fallout of corporate-neoliberal globalization to turn mass incarceration into an often desperately sought “growth industry” for non-metropolitan jurisdictions. As Tracy Huling has ominously noted, “the acquisition of prisons as a conscious economic development strategy for depressed rural communities and small towns in the United States has become widespread.”  Along with “gambling casinos and huge animal confinement units for raising or processing hogs and poultry,” Huling observes, “prisons have become one of the three leading rural economic enterprises as states and localities seek industries that provide large-scale and quick opportunities” (5).  


But each article also made three critical omissions for those who wish to understand the meaning and impact of the rise of a giant rural American prison industrial complex fed by primarily urban, human “raw material.”  The first thing missing was any appropriate sense of horror at a society in which local officials sell the nightmare of mass human confinement as a ticket to the American Dream. As Huling observes, “hundreds of small rural towns and several whole regions have become dependent on an industry that itself is dependent on the continuation of crime-producing conditions” [emphasis added] in other parts of the nation (6). 


What are we supposed to make, morally, of a situation in which crime and imprisonment for some are seen as sources of economic “security” for others? When prisons become “a force as much for economic development as for public safety,” citizens in a democracy worth its name should shudder with horror.  Such a state of affairs raises (or ought to raise) sharp moral questions regarding the dominant U.S. social order and the economic options it offers to its populace (7).






The Urban Kept of Color


The second thing missing was the stark racial dimension of the new rural prisonomics.  By the time each of the articles appeared, the most striking aspect of America’s correctional boom beyond its sheer magnitude – the U.S. emerged as the world’s leading incarceration state during the 1990s – was its heavily racialized nature. Between 1980 and 2000, the number of black men in jail or prison grew fivefold (500 percent), to the point where, as the Justice Policy Institute reported in 2002, there were actually more black men behind bars than enrolled in colleges or universities in the United States. On any given day, United States Bureau of Justice Statistics director Jan Chaiken reported in 2000, 30 percent of African-American males ages 20 to 29 were under correctional supervision – either in jail or prison or on probation or parole. The nation’s disproportionately urban black populace comprised 12.3 percent of the US population, but blacks made up nearly half of the roughly 2 million Americans behind bars by the turn of the millennium.  The incarceration rate for African-Americans was 1,815 per 100,000 compared to 609 per 100,000 for Latino-Americans, 99 for Asian-Americans, and 235 for American whites.  For black adult males the incarceration rate was a remarkable 4, 484 per 100,000, compared to 1,668 per 100,000 for Hispanic males and 1,318 for white males. Reflecting astonishing racial disparities in the waging of America’s domestic “War on Drugs,” roughly one in ten of the world’s prisoners was an African-American male by the onset of the 21st century (8).


In 15 percent black Illinois, 64 percent of the state’s prisoners were African-Americans.  The state’s incarceration rate for blacks was 1,550, compared to 127 for whites, per 100,000.  There were nearly 20,000 more black males in the Illinois state prison system than the number of black males enrolled in the state's public universities(9). Reflecting the strong correlation between blackness and urban residence in a still highly segregated state and nation (10) 70 percent of the state’s prisoners came from the Chicago metropolitan area, home to 83 percent of the state’s African-Americans.  Ten inner-city Chicago zip codes (including five on the city’s predominantly black West Side and four on the city’s predominantly black South Side) received 25 percent of Illinois prisoners released in the years 2000, 2001, and 2002.  All of those zip codes, equal to less than a quarter of the city’s zip codes, were disproportionately nonwhite for the city as a whole.  Eight were at least two thirds black (in a 37-percent black city) and six were at least 96 percent black (11).



The Caucasian Country Keepers


The color of the “downstate” keepers was a different matter. Eighteen of the twenty adult correctional facilities constructed between 1980 and 2000 in Illinois were located in rural counties that are disproportionately white for the state. Just four of the state’s twenty new (post-1980) prison towns had black municipal populations above the state-average. In three of these cases this was only because census authorities count prisoners as residents of the towns in which they are involuntarily warehoused, not their communities of pre-incarceration residence.


Visitors to outwardly white Ina, Illinois would be surprised to learn from the Census Bureau that that community is officially 42 percent African-American. The explanation, of course, is found in the distorting impact of Big Muddy’s predominantly black prison population on the government’s local race tabulations (12). 


Things are much the same in other states where the nation’s disproportionately urban black population supplies most of the raw material for the “correctional” industry. In New York, prison and census researchers Peter Wagner and Rose Hyer note, three-fourths of the state’s prisoners come from the New York City metropolitan area. Eighty percent of the state’s inmates are black or Latino. Ninety-one percent of them are warehoused in predominantly white “upstate” sections of New York. Those sections host all of the 38 New York state prisons constructed between 1982 and 2000. At the Attica prison, home to a notorious bloody conflict between predominantly nonwhite (and New York City-based) prisoners and predominantly white prison guards, state policemen, and National Guardsmen in September 1971, blacks and Latinos’ together comprised 80 percent of the inmate population by the mid 1990s.  Attica’s prison staff remained 97 percent white “because Attica itself has not moved.  It remains in a rural, overwhelmingly white region of New York State” (13). 



“Prisoners of the Census”


Thanks to the savagely racialized nature of America’s geographically slanted prison demographics and the government’s practice of counting prisoners as if they reside in their prison’s census tract, the United States is dotted with a large number of non-metropolitan jurisdictions that are much more officially black than they appear in their commercial and residential districts. New York is home to eleven rural counties where black prisoners make up 64 percent or more of total black population.  Across the nation, Wagner and Heyer find, there were 173 counties with more than half of their black populations behind bars in 2000.


One such jurisdiction is Ionia County in Michigan, officially home to 2,867 black Americans, all but 165 of whom were warehoused in Ionia’s (the town) five prized penitentiaries.  The most extreme example is Brown County, Illinois.  By official census count, it was 18 percent black in 1999, more proportionately African-American than all but four counties in Illinois.  “All but 5 of the 1,265 blacks reported by the Census Bureau in Brown County,” note Wagner and Heyer, “are incarcerated residents of somewhere else.  The large black population of Brown County is a statistical fiction” (14).



“A Massive Transfer of Value”


If prisons filled by disproportionately black “urban felons” have become a critical source of “economic development” in disproportionately white rural America, then they are also and at the same time a form of what might be called “reverse racial reparations.”  According to the distinguished criminologist Todd Clear, the “economic relocation of resources” from black to white communities that results from racial disparities and related spatial patterns in mass incarceration are considerable.  “Each prisoner represents an economic asset that has been removed from that community and placed elsewhere [emphasis added]….The removal may represent a loss of economic value to the home community, but it is a boon to the prison community.” By Clear’s estimation in the late 1990s, “each prisoner represents as much as $25,000 in income for the community in which the prison is located, not to mention the value of constructing the prison facility in the first place.  This can be a massive transfer of value: A young male worth a few thousand dollars of support to children and local purchases is transformed into a $25, 000 financial asset to a rural prison community.  The economy of the rural community is artificially amplified, the local city economy artificially deflated” (15).


Generally quite poor, prisoners deflate the income profiles of downstate communities, making prison towns eligible for extra poverty-directed public dollars. The prisoners do not benefit, however, from the rural roads, schools, and bridges built with public funds tied to prison development. At the same time, prisoners put relatively minimal strain on local infrastructure beyond occasional trips to court and the use of prison shower and toilet facilities.                                                                                           


They do not benefit from the enhanced political power that prisons bring to rural jurisdictions. Politically disenfranchised prisoners (inmates can vote in only two U.S. states, both in predominantly white New England) count towards the representation of the electoral districts in which they are incarcerated, not the districts from which they came, and to which most of them return (16).


Altogether, it makes for a disturbing picture, full of unsettling parallels and living links to chattel slavery.  Under the modern mass imprisonment regime in the “land of the free,” millions of young black men are involuntarily removed from their home urban environments to serve as voiceless economic, budgetary, and political assets in distant rural destinations where they are kept under lock and key by white-majority overseers. It is difficult to imagine a more pathetic denouement to America’s long, interwoven narratives of class and racial privilege. The chilling implications are not lost on black inmates, some of whom (one instructional staff member within the Illinois Department of Corrections reports) cynically refer to themselves as “economic development” (17).





The third thing missing from the newspaper accounts quoted at the beginning of this chapter is the terrible effect of racially disparate mass incarceration on the labor market experience and related economic and life chances of the disproportionately black inmates who provide critical raw material for America’s prison boom.  The story of mass imprisonment’s role in transferring wealth out of urban and black communities is incomplete without factoring in the significant negative impact that felony records and prison histories have on future earnings and employment. If the prison boom has created some measure of economic stability and security – just how much is a matter of increasing skepticism and debate (18) – for white non-metropolitan communities, it  exacerbates economic insecurity and instability for the highly disadvantaged and hyper-segregated (by both race and poverty) inner-city communities that provide so much of the correctional complex’s “raw material.” It worsens the already considerable economic under-development of the black inner city and its residents.



Mass Incarceration as Racially Regressive State Intervention


According to a recent social-scientific survey of more than 3,000 employers nationwide, more than 60 percent of employers would not knowingly hire an ex-offender.  By comparison, 92 percent of those employers would likely hire a current or former welfare recipient and 83 percent would hire someone who had been unemployed for a year (19).  Reflecting this employer bias and a host of related barriers, the best social science research finds that incarceration carries a 10 to 20 percent “wage penalty.” Ex-prisoners on average experience no real wage increases in their twenties and thirties, when young men who have never been incarcerated tend to experience rapid wage-growth. Prison time serves to channel individuals away from skilled occupations and into job sectors characterized by low wages, limited job stability, and fewer opportunities for advancement. It significantly disrupts the career-building process as ex-offenders are left to start back at square one with respect to gaining a foothold in a particular occupation.


Incarceration particularly closes off employment avenues for ex-offenders in the public sector, where employers are now extremely concerned about the criminal records of applicants and where black employment is disproportionately concentrated.  “The effect of prior incarceration on the likelihood of securing government employment,” sociologist Devah Pager notes, “is dramatic,” corresponding to a 61 percent reduction in the odds of holding a government job after a stay in prison (20).


Since incarceration rates are especially high among those with the least power in the labor market – young and unskilled minority, particularly African-American, men – U.S. incarceration significantly exacerbates racial inequality. Racially disparate mass incarceration means that imprisonment’s negative labor market effects will disproportionately affect blacks.  “The relative rates of incarceration are so heavily skewed towards blacks,” notes Pager, that “any effect, however small, will have substantial consequences for racial disparities.”


Thanks to its racially disparate labor market and related (under-) developmental consequences, the prison industrial complex has become a significant form of racially regressive and highly regulatory state intervention in the US labor market and economy.  Sociologists Bruce Western and Katherine Beckett find that “the penal system has a pervasive influence on the life chances of disadvantaged minorities.” Further: 


“Although typically the preserve of criminology, incarceration appears to shape aspects of inequality that are of traditional interest to stratification researchers. It seems likely that status attainment, school-to-work transitions, and family structure are all influenced, perhaps even routinely, by the penal system in the current period of high incarceration.  From this perspective, the usual list of institutional influences on social stratification – schools, the families, and social policy – should be expanded to consider the coercive redistribution of life chances through incarceration” (21).


Even without criminal marking and prison backgrounds, of course, African-Americans are disproportionately and often deeply disadvantaged in competitive job markets by low skills, poor schools, fragile family structures, racial discrimination in hiring and promotion, and geographic isolation from the leading sectors of job growth. When felony records and prison histories are thrown into that terrible cauldron of economic misery, the labor market difficulties experienced by many inner-city residents are deepened.  Imprisonment becomes a cause as well as a reflection of the severe economic under-development that drains leading prisoner return neighborhoods of the economic resources necessary to enable meaningful prisoner reentry. The savage irony, of course, is that the dreadful labor market situation of ex-offenders combines with numerous other factors to make it likely that the majority of released prisoners will commit new crimes and return to prison (22).



Cloaking Real Black Male Unemployment


Along the way, racially disparate mass confinement works to reduce society’s awareness of the very labor black labor market disadvantage it worsens by artificially suppressing the official black male unemployment rate.  By the mid-1990s, Western and Becky Pettit found, that rate would have been 39 percent if prisoners had been factored in to the calculations (23). Following the late sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, we might say that the negative intervention of the state’s authoritarian and regressive right hand in the form of mass incarceration obstructs public understanding of a problem – massive black unemployment (especially intense in the inner city) – that might, if properly grasped, help spark positive progressive and intervention by the more social and democratic left hand of the state (24).



Completing the Criminogenic Circle  


Mass incarceration’s ironic criminogenic impact on the rural prison industry’s critical human raw material goes beyond the way it cheapens yet further the already degraded value of black, inner city labor power. As Clear has noted, the rampant arrest and incarceration of inner-city youth for drug crimes creates an ironic “replacement effect” that “cancels out the crime-prevention benefits of incapacitation.” In the face of a stable demand for illegal substances, mass arrest and incarceration “creates job openings in the drug delivery enterprise and allows for an ever-broadening recruitment of citizens into the illegal trade.” At the same time, mass incarceration deepens the presence of negative “social factors” that contribute to criminality in minority communities: broken families, inequality, poverty, alienation, and social disorder (25).  It also ironically undercuts the deterrent power of prison. “As more people acquire a grounded knowledge of prison life,” Clear finds, “the power of prison to deter crime through fear is diminished.” Thus, Newsweek reporter Ellis Cose has found that prison has “become so routine” in some urban minority neighborhoods “that going in can be an opportunity for reconnecting with friends.” A drug-dealer from Maryland told Cose of his “panic on conviction. Having heard horror stories about young men abused inside, he fretted about how he would fend off attacks.” But “once behind bars, he discovered that the population consisted largely of buddies from the hood. Instead of something to fear, prison ‘was like a big camp’” (26).


It doesn’t help, of course, that inmate education and rehabilitation have been systematically de-legitimized and de-funded as the US has built a record number of new prisons in a spirit of what prisoner “reentry” expert Jeremy Travis calls “robust retributivism” (27). Also undermining successful ex-prisoner re-entry and feeding recidivism is the fact that prisons have been constructed at increasing distances from predominantly urban prisoners’ communities of origin. “Two thirds” of New York’s “new prisons have been built in rural areas,” Wagner and Heyer note, “despite research showing that incarcerating a prisoner close to home aids family visits and helps reduce the odds a prison will re-offend and be returned to prison” (28)  Illinois’ disproportionately black and Chicago-based inmates have been further removed over time from family, community networks, and support services vital to successful reintegration – one of many ways in which place matters in the making of modern racial inequality (29).


The perverse, viciously circular, Orwellian, and self-fulfilling logic of racially disparate mass incarceration is darkly impressive. The currently existing mass imprisonment of “urban felons” from de-industrialized black neighborhoods is  a major contributor to “the continuation of crime-producing conditions” upon which prison-hosting towns depend.



Opportunity Cost


In assessing mass incarceration’s negative, crime-encouraging impact on inner-city communities, we should also calculate and factor in the considerable anti-poverty and related public safety cost of spending billions of dollars on the imprisonment of inner city residents.  Those funds would be more productively spent on educating, training, treating, training, and otherwise supporting people stuck in the nation’s many high-crime ghetto communities.  They could also be dedicated to the enforcement of civil rights laws against racial discrimination in labor, real-estate, and financial markets. That discrimination provides critical context for the economic under-development of the nation’s most heavily crime and incarceration-intensive communities (30).  


By the turn of the millennium, the Justice Policy Institute reports, it was “costing states, counties, and the federal government nearly $40 billion to imprison approximately two million state and local inmates, up from $5 billion in combined prison and jail expenditures in 1978. The massive growth in state prisoners over the past two decades has meant that one out of every 14 general fund dollars spent in 2000 was spent on prisons.” Public investment in incarceration was so extensive, indeed, that several large states spent as much or more money to incarcerate adults than they did to provide their citizens with college and graduate educations.  States spent 60 cents on prisons for every dollar they spent on higher education, up from 28 cents in 1980 (31).


Meanwhile, the nation’s urban minority and rural public schools continued to suffer from persistent savage funding inadequacy and inequity.  The nation’s hyper-segregated and widely under-funded educational system produced a regular stream of poorly educated graduates and drop outs that fed both the cell blocks and the guard staffs of the nation’s expanding network of increasingly rural penitentiaries (32).







Given some of what we are beginning to learn about the economic (as well as the social and spiritual) limits of prisonomics as a provider of “good jobs” and development to non-metropolitan Americans (33) I wish to conclude this generally disturbing discussion on a hopeful note.  People and communities, it is becoming increasingly evident (34) on both sides of the at once spatially and racially loaded mass incarceration coin have some sound (if all too hidden) reasons for collaboration to collaborate in pursuit of progressive changes.


Both groups require and deserve decent, good-paying, and soul-nourishing jobs, the reconstruction and expansion of basic social-contractual safety nets, and significant public investments in things like public education, job-training, substance abuse treatment, universal health insurance, child care, public transportation, treatment – to mention just some of the most relevant and unmet program  needs.  They both need the US to shift from a low- road to a high-road path of balanced, high-wage, and worker- (instead of management and super-vision-) centered development (35).


They both need America to shift public resources from the at once regressive, repressive, and well-funded (in the U.S.) “right hand of the state” (including prisons and the military) to the more egalitarian, social, democratic, and less well-funded “left hand” of the state. They both need and deserve a greater share of the nation’s wealth, which tends to concentrate in the nation’s affluent white metropolitan suburbs and upscale urban neighborhoods, in zip codes where prisoners, ex-prisoners, and prison guards are rare indeed.  They both need and deserve a greater say in local, regional, and national socioeconomic planning and management and in the allotment of globalization’s costs and benefits. 


They both need and deserve meaningful development choices beyond the confines of an authoritarian, racist, zero-sum political economy that has generated the most unequal distribution of wealth in the industrialized world (36) and given intimately related rise to an internal, dangerously proto-fascistic and racist “Prison Nation.”


Alongside the encouraging fact that most Americans actually oppose the vicious circle of racially disparate mass incarceration (37) and that are few policy few policy mysteries on how to break that circle (38) these and other commonalities of interest between the prison-fed and the prison-feeding communities provide some basis for optimism regarding the prospects for rolling back racially disparate mass incarceration in the U.S.  


* This essay was originally written in late summer of 2005, to be included in a book collection that was mysteriously and strangely butchered by an anonymous editor.   


Paul Street can be reached at His next book is Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis (New York, NY: June 2007).





1. Peter Kilborn, "Rural Towns Turn to Prisons to Re-ignite Their Economies," New York Times, 1 August,  2001, A1.


2. Francis X. Donnelly, “Ionia finds Stability in Prisons,” Detroit News, 15 July 2001.


3. “Towns Put Dreams in Prisons,” Chicago Tribune, 20 March, 2001, 2C:1


4. “Prison Town’s Future in Doubt,” Chicago Tribune, 25 February, 2002. See also Francis X. Donnelly, “Ionia finds Stability in Prisons,” Detroit News, 15 July 2001; “Prison Delay Seems Like Life Sentence to Tiny Town,” Chicago Tribune, 8 March 2002.


5. Tracy Huling, “Building a Prison Economy in Rural America,” in Marc Mauer and Meda Chesney-Lind, Invisible Punishment: the Collateral Consequences of Mass Incarceration (New York, NY: The New Press, 2002), p. 197.


6.Huling, “Building a Prison Economy,”, p. 197.


7. For some troubling reflections in that regard see Paul Street, “’The Beacon to the World of the Way Life Should Be,’” Part III in Paul Street, Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2004), pp. 143-181.


8. Justice Policy Institute, Cell Blocks or Classrooms?  The Funding of Higher Education and Corrections and Its Impact on African American Men (2002); Jan Chaiken, “Crunching Numbers: Crime and Incarceration at the End of the Millennium,” National Institute of Justice Journal (January 2000); Mother Jones and Justice Policy Institute,  “Debt to Society” (2001), available online at ://; Human Rights Watch, World Report 2002: United States ; Human Rights Watch, Punishment and Prejudice: Racial Disparities in the War on Drugs (2000); Human Rights Watch, “Race and Incarceration in the United States,” February 27, 2002; “Nearly Two Thirds of U.S. Prisaon Population Are Blacks and Latinos,” Pure-News USA, March 2002; Paul Street, The Vicious Circle: Race, Prison, Jobs, and Community in Chicago, Illinois, and the Nation (Chicago, IL: Chicago Urban League, 2002).


9. Street, Vicious Circle, pp. 11-12; Illinois Board of Education, IBHE Data Book (2002); Illinois Department of Corrections, 2001 departmental data, retrieved December 11, 2001 at    For comparison with New York, see Robert Gangi, Vincent Shiraldi, and Jason Ziedanberg, New York State of Mind? Higher Education vs. Prison Funding in the Empire State. 1988-1998 (New York, NY: Correctional Association of New York, 1998).



10.  U.S. Census Bureau, “The Black Population in the United States: March 2002” (Washington DC: US Department of Commerce: US Census Bureau, April 2004), p.2; Paul Street, Still Separate, Unequal: Race, Place, Policy and the State of Black Chicago (Chicago, IL: Chicago Urban League, 2005), pp. 7-22. According to the census office, “over one half (52 percent) of all Blacks live in a central city within a metropolitan area, compared with 21 percent of non-Hispanic whites.”   



11. Detailed prison release data from Illinois Department of Corrections, Department of Planning and Research, 2002; Street, Vicious Circle, pp. 17-20.


12. Paul Street and Dennis Kass, The Color of Job and Prison Growth: Race, Geography, Labor Market Opportunity, Unattached Youth, and Mass Incarceration  in Illinois (Chicago, IL: Chicago Urban League, Summer 2001).   


13. Peter Wagner and Rose Hyer, “Too Big to Ignore: How Counting People in the Prisons Distored Census 2000” (Prison Policy Initiative, April 2000, available online at; Wagner and Hyer, “Thirty-Two Years After Attica: Many More Blacks in Prison But Not as Guards,” (Prison Policy Initiative, September 25, 2003).


14.  Wagner and Heyer, “Too Big to Ignore;” Wagner and Heyer, “Outdated Methodology Impairs Census Bureau’s Count of Black Population” (Prison Policy Initiative, May 3, 2004); United States Census, Community Fact Sheet for Ionia County, available at saff/main.html?_l ang=en.


15. Todd Clear, “Backfire: When Incarceration Increases Crime,” and Demetra Smith Nightingale and Harold Watts, “Adding It Up: the Economic Impact of Incarceration on Individuals, Families, and Communities,” in The Vera Institute of Justice, The Unintended Consequences of Incarceration (New York, NY: Vera Institute of Justice, January 1996).


16.  Eric Lotke and Peter Wagner, “Prisoners of the Census: Electoral and Financial Consequences of Counting Prisoners Where They Go, Not Where They Come From,” Pace Law Review, volume 24:587 (2004): 587-607; Molly Dugan, “Census Dollars Bring Bounty to Prison Towns,” Chicago Reporter (July/August 2000), available online at  http://www.chicagoreporter. com/2000/8-2000/prison/prison.htm; Paul Street,  “‘Those People in that Prison Can’t Vote Me Out’: The Political Consequences of Felony Disenfranchisement,” Black Commentator, Issue 68 (December 11, 2003), available online at;Christopher Uggen, Jeff Manza, and Angela Behrens, “Ballot Manipulation and the ‘Menace of Negro Domination’: Racial Threat and Felony Disenfranchisement in the United States, 1850-2002,” American Journal of Sociology, volume 109 (2003): 559-605.


17. Paul Street, “ ‘Our Brothers Keeper’: The Thoroughly Dismal Science of Prison Economics,” Opportunity (July 2002): 48-52; Street, “Color Bind: Prisons and the New American Racism,” Dissent (Summer 2001); Street, “Mass Incarceration as Reverse Racial Reparations,” at Docs/ pdfs/Xoc/Oct2001/Paul Street.PDF.


18. See Huling, “Building a Prison Economy;” Ryan S. King, Marc Mauer, and Tracy Huling, Big Prisons, Small Towns: Prison Economics in Rural America (Washington DC: The Sentencing Project, 2003).


19. Harry Holzer, Steven Raphael, and Michael Stoll, “Perceived Criminality, Criminal Background Checks and the Racial Hiring Practices of Employers,” paper delivered at Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University, May 5, 2001.


20. Bruce Western and Becky Pettit, “Incarceration And Racial Inequality In Men’s Employment,” Industrial and Labor Relations Review, 54 (October, 2000): 3-16;  Bruce Western, “The Impact of Incarceration on Earnings,” paper delivered at the 2000 annual meetings of the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (London); Devah Pager, “Criminal Careers: the Consequences of Incarceration for Occupational Attainment,” paper delivered at the Annual Meetings of the American Sociological Association, 2001.  


21.  Pager, “Criminal Careers;” Bruce Western and Katherine Beckett, “How Unregulated is the US Labor Market? The Penal System as a Labor Market Institution,” American Journal of Sociology, 104 (January 1999): 1030-1060.


22.  William Julius Wilson, When Work Disappears: The World of the New Urban Poor (New York, NY: Vintage, 1997); Street, Still Separate, Unequal, pp. 27-152;  Street, The Vicious Circle, pp. 3, 15-28, 32-39; ;  Bruce Western, Jeffrey Kling, and David Weiman, “The Labor Market Consequences of Incarceration,” Crime and Delinquency, 47 (July 2001): 410-27. According to the Wall Street Journal in the spring of 2005, “there is an emerging belief” in the U.S. “that…the practical barriers facing ex-prisoners” seeing to reintegrate into society “make it more likely that they will slip back into a life of crime.”  According to Journal reporter Gary Fields, “two-thirds of ex-felons return to police custody within three years of their release for new crimes or for probation or parole violations….” Gary Fields, “After Prison Boom, a Focus on Hurdles Faced by Ex-Cons,” Wall Street Journal, 24 May, 2005, A1. See also Joan Moore, “Bearing the Burden: How Incarceration Weakens Inner-City Communities” (1996), OCJRC/Ocrjc96/Ocrjc43.htm;” Sasha Abramsky, “When They Get Out,” Atlantic Monthly (June 1999); Jennifer Gonnerman, “Life Without Parole?,” New York Times Magazine (May 19,2002).  On re-arrest rates, see Jeremy Travis, But They All Come Back: Facing the Challenge of Prisoner Reentry (Washington DC: The Urban Institute Press, 2005), pp. 93-70.


23. Bruce Western and Becky Pettit, “Incarceration and Racial Inequality in Men’s Employment,” Industrial and Labor Relations Review, 54 (October 2000): 3-16.


24.  Pierre Bordieu, Acts of Resistance (New York: Free Press, 1998), p. 2.  See also Paul Street, “Starve the Racist Prison Beast,” Black Commentator, Issue 65 (November 20, 2003).


25. Clear, “Backfire.”


26.  Clear, op cit; Ellis Cose, “The Prison Paradox,” Newsweek , (November 13, 2000): 40-46. 


27.  Travis, But They All Come Back, p.xx.


28. Wagner and Heyer, “Thirty-Two Years After Attica.”


29.Paul Street and Dennis Kass, “The Color and Geography of Prison Growth in Illinois,” Chicago Urban Leaguer, v. 1, no.4 (Fall 2001): 5-7; available online at; Street, Still Separate, Unequal; Sheryll Cashin, The Failures of Integration: How Race and Class Are Undermining the American Dream (New York, NY: Public Affairs, 2004).


30. Street, Still Separate, Unequal, pp. 123-153.


31. Justice Policy Institute and Mother Jones, “Debt to Society;” Justice Policy Institute, Cell Blocks or Classrooms; John Hagan and Ronit Dinovitzer, “Collateral Consequences of Imprisonment for Children, Communities, and Prisoners,” 1999) in Tonry and Petersilia, eds.,  Prisons, volume 26 of Crime and Justice: A Review of Research (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999).


32.  Paul Street, Segregated Schools: Race, Class, and Educational Apartheid in the Post-Civil Rights Era (New York, NY: Routledge, 2005), pp. 49-76.


33. See Huling, “Building a Prison Economy;” King,  Mauer, and Huling, Big Prisons, Small Towns.  Among the economic limits, these and other authors note prisons’ tendency to favor job applicants outside their local community, their failure to provide strong  linkages with other local industries, and their tendency to displace local unskilled labor with inmate-workers in local public service projects.  Also economically problematic is the lingering stigma of mass confinement (which means that a prison town will rarely host any other industry) and the high turnover of turnover staff that results from the dangerous and stressful nature of much correctional work. Discussion of economic and other (including spiritual and social) limits and problems might be considered a fourth great silence in the articles mentioned at the beginning of this chapter. 


34. See Paul Street, “Race, Place and the Perils of Prisonomics: Beyond the Big-Stick, Low-Road, and Zero-Sum Mass Incarceration Con,” Z Magazine, Vol. 18 July/August 2005.


35.  On the distinction between a more worker-centered and “high road” and a more management-centered “low-road” economic strategy, see David M. Gordon, Fat and Mean: The Corporate Squeeze of Working Americans and the Myth of Managerial “Downsizing” (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1996), which contains some fascinating and suggestive reflections on what he saw as the intimate interrelationship between (a) the United States’ massive racially disparate mass incarceration “garrison state” and (b)  authoritarian “low-road” and management –intensive/low-wage economics driven largely (in his analysis) by corporate-bureaucratic bloat. 


36. Gordon, Fat and Mean; Donald Barlett and James Steele, America: Who Stole the Dream? (Kansas City, MO: Andrews and  McMeel, 1996); Robert Pollin, The Contours of Descent: US Economic Fractures and the Landscape of Global Austerity (New York, NY: Verso, 2003); Marc Mirongoff and Maria-Luisa Miringoff, The Social Health of the Nation: How America is Really Doing (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1997); Economic Policy Institute, The State of Working America, 2003-2004 (Washington DC: Economic Policy Institute, 2004); Edward N. Wolff, Top Heavy: The Increasing Inequality of Wealth in the United States and What Can Be Done About It (New York, NY: The New Press, 2002). 


37. Justice Policy Institute, Cutting Correctly: New Prison Policies for a Time of Fiscal Crisis (February 7, 2002); Peter D. Hart Research Associates, “Changing Public Attitudes Toward the Criminal Justice System” (Washington DC: Open Society Institute, 2002).


38. Street, The Vicious Circle, pp. 42-43.  For positive solutions on the prisoner reentry side, see Jeremy Travis, But They All Come Back: Facing the Challenges of Prisoner Reentry (Washington DC: The Urban Institute Press, 2005).