Professor andré douglas pond cummings discusses perversity of Prison Industrial Complex
Frost Illustrated Special Correspondent
FORT WAYNE—There’s a reason for the hugely disparate incarceration rates between Americans of European descent and Americans of African and Latin descent when it comes to drug crimes. And, no, it’s not because one group is more inclined to use drugs. Rather, according to a renowned law professor, it has to do with a misguided national drug war, directly targeting lower income communities that, most often, are overwhelming populated by people of color.
“The point I’m trying to make here, that Michelle Alexander makes in her book, is that we decided to wage the war in a specific way—in minority communities, not frat houses at colleges; not suburban, not suburbia. We decided to wage this war in poor communities, to incarcerate massively African American and Latino citizens,” said Professor andré douglas pond cummings (sic), professor of law and associate dean of the Indiana Tech Law School in Fort Wayne.
cummings made those comments during a Sunday morning presentation June 30 at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation.
During that presentation, cummings supported his view not only with research numbers and theories proposed by others but with personal experience.
“When I was growing up, I grew up in Southern California and I grew up in a beach city—Redondo Beach—although my family lived a little bit inland. We lived in an area called the Los Angeles strip between Carson and Compton and Redondo, Redondo Beach and then Manhattan Beach. So my existence as a kid was really interesting.
“I had very good friends who were surfers, mostly white, very good friends that were ‘gangsters,’ African American, Polynesian and Latino and I, you know, sort of hung out with both groups at equal rates,” said cummings.
“My surfer friends and my gangster friends all smoked marijuana at the same rate—they did. They all smoked marijuana,” said cummings, eliciting a chuckle from the audience, previously noting his son was in the audience. “I was stopped, frisked, cuffed, put in police cars eight or nine times as a youth—all when I was with my African American and Latino friends. Never one time did I even see the police when I was with my surfer friends. My surfer friends and I, Redondo Beach, up and down the coast, down into Mexico surfing, never one time stopped, ever by the police. They smoked marijuana just as much as my African American friends did. We were stopped all the time.…”
The law professor went on to ask a pointed question and gave an equally penetrating answer.
“Why? Why? Michelle Alexander suggests something very nefarious—a re-subordination of African Americans and Latinos,” explained cummings, referencing the work of Ohio State University law professor Alexander, author of the book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.”
cummings cited the timing of declared “war on drugs,” noting that President Nixon made that declaration just several years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 1968 and Voting Rights Act of 1965. That, said cummings, echoing the sentiments of Alexander, points to something unsavory.
In his talk, cummings said that it’s far easier to suppress lower income communities and marginalize residents there by using selective enforcement to incarcerate them and undermine their future chances for employment, economic success and political empowerment.
He talked about hundreds of thousands of “soft” non-violent drug offenders who go to prison and come out hardened criminals with very few options except to return to crime.
“So the war on drugs is an abomination in my view,” said cummings.
He talked extensively about the formation of the Corrections Corporation of American in 1978 in Tennessee after they decided they get into the business of “imprisoning human beings for profit.” cummings, a business law expert, pointed out that the privatization of prisons meant that prison populations had to be bolstered to make those ventures profitable. He said those behind those prison privatization lobby to have laws and policies changed to feed that prison population.
“Have you heard of the kids for cash scandal in Pennsylvania? The kids for cash scandal in Pennsylvania was a state judge sitting with juveniles coming in front of him—kids 10 to 18 years old—assigning them to the juvenile detention center for things as limited as arguing with a teacher, fighting with a classmate. And, the private prison gave him money for each child that he sent to prison. It’s called a bribe or a kickback,” said cummings.
“I call this the perverse incentives of the prison industrial complex because when you start profiting from incarceration, then the incentives become immoral—you become perverse,” said cummings. “So, we’re sitting around a beautiful oak table and we’re talking about ‘let’s get more people, so we will lobby for harsher sentences.’”
He said those sentences target vulnerable groups such as “illegal immigrants” who never before were incarcerated as a policy. Also, expenditures are cut, such as in qualified staff, proper food and cleaning.
While the judge in the kids for cash scandal, he added, was sentenced to 28 years in prison, cummings said the practice of targeting less empowered groups for incarceration and profit continues—along with other immoral practices in the criminal justice system.
To view Professor cumming’s entire presentation at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation, visit www.frostillustrated.com.
Frost Illustrated special correspondent Dave Lambert is a well-known, long-time peace advocate who describes himself as “an aging troublemaker/agitator who has lived in Fort Wayne most of his life.”
This article originally appeared in the July 3 print edition.