In the last 40 years millions of jobs in the United states have been lost due to capital flight and deindustrialization. Unemployment rates have skyrocketed for all workers, but especially Black workers. Structural joblessness, poverty, and homelessness have become permanent features of the political economy. Meanwhile, prison populations have exploded. In Incarcerating the Crisis Jordan T. Camp traces the rise of the neoliberal carceral state through a series of historical moments in US history—the Watts insurrection in 1965, the Detroit rebellion in 1967, the Attica uprising in 1971, and the Los Angeles revolt in 1992, and events in post-Katrina New Orleans in 2005.
The carceral population grew from two hundred thousand people in the late 1960s to more than 2.4 million people in the 2000s. Currently, one in thirty-five, or 6.9 million adults in the United States, are in jail or prison, or on parole or probation. Increased spending on incarceration has occurred alongside the reduction of expenditures for public education, transportation, health care, and public-sector employment. Prison expansion has coincided with a shift in the racial composition of prisoners from majority white to almost 70 percent people of color. The unemployed, underemployed, and never-employed Black and Latino poor have been incarcerated at disproportionate rates. With the highest rate of incarceration on the planet, the United States currently incarcerates Black people at higher rates than South Africa did before the end of apartheid. All of these numbers bespeak a collision of race, class, and carceral state power without historical precedent, but certainly not without historical explanation.
Jordan T. Camp is Postdoctoral Fellow in the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America and the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University.