from the 4th issue:
A Call for an Anarchist Response to the Construction of the Youth Jail at 12th and Alder “Migration Management cannot be attacked, but what can be attacked are the concrete embodiments, structures and people that make it possible” - “Nothing is Finished: Essays from the Anti-Prison Struggle in Belgium” * For the past year the City of Seattle has been in the planning stage of building a new “Children and Family Justice Center” (CFJC) at the site of the current youth jail at 12th and Alder. The new facility’s name and much of the rhetoric obscures the fact that one of the central functions of the new construction will be creating more cages to put black and brown youth in. Nevertheless, it would be shortsighted to simply understand this project as the creation of another jail. The state has already anticipated arguments from leftist organizations and community groups that jails ‘don’t work’. In fact, the state recognizes this reality and is shifting its approach in response to it. Jails are increasingly becoming an inefficient means of regulating the lives of black, brown, poor, and/or trans* people. To critique the prison system because it ‘doesn’t work’ is to be sucked into the states logic and to ignore the fact that a ‘working’ criminal justice system is a system that effectively reproduces a world built on domination, violence, and racism. For progressive bourgeois Seattlites, however, this new project looks like a common sense approach to dealing with ‘criminals’ that is clean and rehabilitative. In addition to the construction of a 154-room detention center, the CFJC is proposed to “make the criminal justice system work” by providing access to “mentoring and support services, education and employment services for youth on probation,” as well as a number of alternative-to-incarceration programs for young people who would otherwise face jail time. [a full description of the project can be found at www.kingcounty.gov/operations/FacilitiesManagement/CFJCProposal.aspx] It is not surprising that the levy to fund the CFJC passed. The rhetoric surrounding it fits nicely into a liberal view of prison reform and progressive partial decarceration. It acknowledges that some people do not ‘deserve’ to be in prison because they can be reformed by either being given better opportunities or given the skills to ‘make better choices.’ This rhetoric is appealing to liberals who congratulate themselves and sleep well at night because its implementation in Seattle has already significantly decreased the population of the juvenile detention center. In the past decade, alternative-to-detention programs, ‘community courts’, and ‘problem-solving justice’ initiatives have ‘worked,’ decreasing the number of prisoners and lowering of the rate of recidivism. While it would be absurd and reactionary to condemn putting less people in prison, we refuse to listen to the deceptive lullaby that is the state’s narrative of ‘progress.’ Let’s respond to the small concessions of the state by spitting in its face, not by asking to suck its toes. The product of a decreased prison population and lower rates of recidivism is not freedom from domination, but rather domination in another form, namely increased surveillance, monitoring, and control for the same people who would have been filling jail cells. Family courts, drug treatment courts, youth-led peer courts, and punitive social services all work to rehabilitate those who can assimilate back into society to be functioning, whitewashed productive subjects. Their stated objective is to ‘increase youth investment’ in the criminal justice system. This system of control further reinforces the division between the ‘criminal’ and the ‘good citizen’ by insisting that the ‘criminal’ can be ‘saved’ and can become a ‘good citizen’. However the mutability of these categories is a farce. The idealized good citizen in Amerikkka has always been a white, cismale, wealthy, and able-bodied subject. The state has defined the category of ‘criminal’ in practice as black, trans*, poor, and undocumented. It should be no surprise then that as the prison population has decreased the disproportionate incarceration of black and brown youth has increased. These new methods of control often mean that instead of serving a short sentence for getting in a fight after school, a 16-year-old kid will be funneled into a system of punitive social services for a much longer period of time with the threat of jail hanging over their head. The state has no power without the threat of force. So we see that the ‘alternative to incarceration’ is entirely dependent on the threat of force that looms behind it – the ever-present possibility of a prison sentence. Concretely, this looks like trading a few nights in jail for months or even years reporting to a social worker, being in court-mandated therapy sessions, having attendance and grades monitored, regular drug testing, and community service. Who would engage in this kind of process without a pig pushing them against a wall and reaching for their handcuffs? All of these techniques make the ever-expanding snares of racist social control and assimilation look like “progress.” Unsurprisingly, it has been liberals and radical prison abolitionists alike that have been the torch runners of this new expanded disciplinary logic. Less prisons, more state-based ‘transformative justice’. Let’s just say it. In this case, transformative justice means the further transformation of Amerikkka into a social prison. In the struggle against the CFJC there have been few voices heard outside of the state, its collaborative muses: NGO coalitions, and liberal groups that claim to represent the community. We have no interest in justice meted out by the state and it’s pigs, managers, and executioners. We know the state cannot be rationally persuaded to abolish its systems of control. We don’t have to choose between jail and social prison. Let’s refuse both. * This is from a collection of essays against the construction of an immigration detention center in Belgium. The struggle against migration ‘management’ is also the struggle against prison society.