Class War Against Youth

by Mumia Abu-Jamal

(originally published in Mass Dissent, 1997)


“Judges are products of the containment system…the criminal justice system makes a lot of money for everybody, from the judge to the bailiff, from the bail bonds men to the police, the sheriff’s deputies, everybody. The neoslave, the young black male, becomes the fodder, the raw material, for this industry-like, profit-making system. The fodder is black, and the beneficiaries—those who profit from the system—are white.” – Judge Joseph B. Brown, Jr., Shelby County Court, Memphis  [from Linn Washington, Black Judges on Justice, NY: New Press,1994, pg 60]


Two brown boys shuffle into the cell to await their court date, their pants hanging down their behinds, their eyes straining to project a toughness that their tiny stature and beardless faces betray.

Their bright eyes search the tiny holding cell. One paces the five and a half foot long, four foot wide glass-doored cage, while the other sits on the hard, wooden slats of the bench, his eyes unfocused, inward looking.

The other sits, and they talk to each other, their shoulders hunched, bespeaking their mutual fear.

All around them are men in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, their eyes narrowed into slits of dulled anger.

The two boys are 16, but they are certified as adults.

They are munchkins in the land of giants, and they are entering a courtroom that sees its highest duty as flinging them into the netherworld of American gulags for as long as humanly (legally) possible.

For all intents and purposes, they are doomed.

In an age when crime rates are in sharp decline, the youth and adult rates of incarceration are skyrocketing.

The U.S. Governments own statistical data shows these trends convincingly in Correctional Populations in the United States, 1994 and Criminal Victimization, 1973-95.

With regard to juveniles in the U.S. jails, in 1990 the average daily population was 2,140. By 1993 that number was 3,400, or an increase of 59%. The actual one-day count of the nation’s juvenile jail population is even more damning, especially when examined over time. The 1990 one-day count was 2,301, and by 1993 that figure rose to 4,300, or an increase of 87%. By 1994, that number swelled to 6,725, or 192.2% over the 1990 population figure (see Correctional Populations in the United States, 1994, U.S. Dept. of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics (Wash., D.C.: U.S. Gov’t Printing Office, June 1996) p. 24; Table 2.1).

As measured by the governments National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), the 1995 rape, robbery and aggravated assault rates were at a 23-year low. The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) measured a similar trendin murder rates (see Criminal Victimization, 1973-95, U.S. Dept. of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics (Wash., D.C.: U.S. Gov’t Printing Office, April 1997) p.1).

In the text of the latter report:

In 1994, compared to 1973, the U.S. population was about as vulnerable to violent crime but significantly less vulnerable to property crime. From 1973 through 1994, the rates of violent crime victimization had intervals of stability, increase, and decrease, while the rates of property crime underwent a virtually uninterrupted decrease. The 1994-’95 decline in the violent crime rate was the largest single-year decrease ever measured in the total violent category. [Crim. Vic., ’73-’95, p.1]

One wonders; what is the relationship between the crime rate and the incarceration rate?

The answer seems to be: very little.

The nation’s incarceration rate appears to be driven , not by the crime rate, but by the needs of the prison-industrial complex.

The poor, the young, and the black are unwitting fodder to feed the machine, like chickens on a McDonald’s conveyor belt.

Gone is even the shallowest pretense of rehabilitation, with prison’s economic imperative assuming it’s brute mastery of the game of life and death.

Those two young boys, unless they are very, very lucky, have in store for themselves years and years, perhaps decades, of brain-rotting, soul-smashing madness that they may, or may not survive.

They will grow to a sullen manhood out of the scent or presence of women, in a sexual slaughterhouse.

They will enter a system that profits from their every hour of misery.

They will feed a system that calls itself “corrections,” yet outlaws any education beyond a G.E.D.

They enter a man-made hell, where the cold eye of the “law” has deemed them to be men, while nature has determined they are what they indeed are: boys.

Boys cast beyond the pale.