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Cut Schools! Build Prisons!

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First came the news, on March 21, that no less than 54 Chicago Public Schools (CPS) schools would be closed.  Rahm Emanuel, in a manner befitting his always imperious and uncaring Mayoralty, chose to be on vacation when the news flooded out to stunned Chicagoans. His own kids, of course, have nothing to fear: they both attend the prestigious and well-funded Chicago Laboratory School, which also once schooled the children of Barack Obama.


Now comes the news that Emanuel, along with other Chicago legislators, is pushing for “anti-gun” legislation that will enforce mandatory minimum sentences. HB 2265/SB 1003 will “add one to two years to a prison sentence for people convicted of unlawful use of a weapon.” 


Mandatory minimum laws, historically, have done little more than increase the coffers and capacity of the prison industrial complex.  In this case, it’s also just an expensive move, as The Pantagraph points out: “The Illinois Sentencing Policy Advising Council says the move would have added $400 million in increased prison costs during the past three years. The Department of Corrections said the bill would add nearly $1 billion to its costs. The actual cost is probably somewhere in the middle...”  Either way, this is not money we need to be spending on increasing prisons.


Furthermore, given that the people most likely to be faced with mandatory minimum sentences are people of colour, it’s not difficult to see who will most likely to be sent to prison: African Americans, Latino/a, and other people of colour. At a time when the state is finally beginning to close prisons like Dwight, it seems bizarrely counterproductive to now push for a measure that would actually increase their number.


Sadly, the bills may well succeed because legislators hate being seen as “soft on crime.”  But make no mistake: they are counterproductive and they must be opposed. It’s also significant that the text of the bill specifically names “gang members,” code for youth of colour.


The closure of CPS schools comes with a larger fraying of our public service network.  Already, Chicago’s public library system, an essential service to many, including CPS students, parents, and residents, has seen its hours and staff drastically cut.  The CTA system is becoming increasingly more inefficient and is soon to be more expensive and even plainly usurious.  It’s no accident that we see a ramping up of the prison industrial complex and a closing of schools at almost the same exact time in Illinois.  Those of us working on prison abolition know too well that the expansion of the prison industrial complex comes alongside the dismantling of all other social networks and networks, and that we have to continue to push back at the multiple threats to both our well-being and to the services we need so much.


You can help push back by calling in on Thursday, March 28.  Details can be found here.  For more news, resources, and updates, go to Project NIA, and also check out Mariame Kaba's Prison Culture blog, especially her latest, "Rahm's City in Ruins...By His Own Hands."  
Added Thursday morning: Erica Meiners, the FABULOUS Erica Meiners, also has a guest blog on Mariame's site, "Fund Schools, Not Jails!, which everyone should also read.  Really: just keep an eye on the Prison Culture blog, which features some of the best writing and resources on prison abolition work. 


Continue to put the pressure on lawmakers to refuse more criminalisation in the guise of mandatory minimums.  Call now.

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