People Units for Prison Profits

This editorial first appeared in Local Views, Decarcerate Utah’s compilation of local opinions on abolition.

The prison industry exists for profit. Police were formed to protect property of wealthy white landowners in early America. In the south, police formed initially as patrols of enslaved peoples on working plantations; in the north, they formed as patrols of communities of working immigrants and people of color. Sam Mitrani writes in “Stop Kidding Yourself: The Police Were Created to Control Working Class and Poor People,” how most discussions about police reform are grounded in the baseless assumption that police forces were created to protect and serve the people.(1) They weren’t, and to argue otherwise is to buy into pro-police propaganda.

Conor Friedersdorf writes about high rates of domestic violence in police communities in a long-form editorial “Police Have a Much Bigger Domestic-Abuse Problem Than the NFL Does: Research suggests that family violence is two to four times higher in the law-enforcement community than in the general population. So where's the public outrage?"

Domestic abuse is underreported. Police officers are given the benefit of the doubt by colleagues in borderline cases. Yet even among police officers who were charged, arrested, and convicted of abuse, more than half kept their jobs. (2)

Police are a fraternity: they protect their own interests and their own people, not the broader community, not marginalized groups, neither women, gender- or sexually- queer people, nor the otherly abled, not youth, and definitely not the elderly, none of the backbone of our country, none of the immigrants or poor or working class; none of the people who need to be protected in today’s exploitive, profit-centric society.

Police violence has remained consistent, if not increased steadily, regardless the amount of on-the-record crime. Consider crime rates in New York were low when mayor Rudy Giuliani implemented stop-and-frisk. The controversial policy was ineffective at affecting low rates of petty crime, and was very effective at legalizing the harassment of vulnerable people of color by violent and armed individuals. (3)

At least, start by disarming the police. Defund the defense funds. Stop funding massive prisons built to profit off institutionalized, dehumanized people, people who are often victims of legalized poverty and violence. In 2014, a headline for Erin Alberty’s article with the Salt Lake Tribune read “Killings by Utah police outpacing gang, drug, child-abuse homicides: Over a five-year period, data show that fatal shootings by police officers in Utah ranked second only to homicides of intimate partners.” (4)

Police continue to protect profit, property, privilege and white supremacy, and punish those who live outside the acceptable social goals of whiteness and wealth. Consider how white supremacists infiltrated law enforcement (5); consider how police harass homeless, remove them from wealthier neighborhoods in favor of jail beds; consider how cops shoot first at people with dark skin but bend over backwards to cater to white criminals.

Consider the endless stories of our fellow Americans, consider Sandra Bland, Saheed Vassell, Breesha Meadows; Abdi Mohamed, Patrick Harmon, Darrien Hunt; the missing and murdered aboriginal women whose stories we’ll never be able to answer or honor (6).

Incarceration is a for-profit scam that doesn’t solve social ails; police are violent salesmen selling snake oil. Incarceration doesn’t fix poverty or domestic violence, it doesn’t treat symptoms of mental illness or personality disorders. Incarceration is a communal cop-out. Rather than choosing to help our most vulnerable, we lock them up and exploit them for cheap labor in an effort to make wealthy, white landowners more comfortable when they’re buying up businesses in neighborhoods they have no interest in living.

The best way to honor our communities is to foster spaces that promote and celebrate what makes people unique, spaces that allow people to feel safe to exist as themselves. By catering to the needs of the most disenfranchised, we ensure everyone’s needs are cared for and met.

Boxing away humans who need (spiritual, mental, emotional and/or physical) healing, profiting off their bodies without consent for pennies on the dollar, taking away their opportunities to learn and grow as humans, is immoral and unconscionable. People do not exist for profit; people are not alive for the purpose of being exploited for their bodies, time, health and humanity.

Consider how Costa Rica abolished their army, navy and air forces in 1948; this year, they elected Latin America’s first black woman vice president, Epsy Campbell Barr, into office. Additionally, rather than rounding up homeless people and putting them in jails, they implement social programs, like Chepe Se Baña, a bus-turned-mobile bathroom that travels around for people to shower, use the bathroom and clean up. How’s that for que nice, social progress? (7)

Consider further how the aboriginal town of Cheran, in Michoacan, Mexico kicked out all corrupt institutional parties, including police, politicians and cartel members, in April 2011. Groups of women successfully plotted ways to to drive out people assumed to "collaborate with criminal networks.” Cheran is now protected by a group of armed individuals local to the city. (8)

They protect their community from the real criminals: people who attempted to exploit their labor or land. People of Cheran protected local water springs from destructive loggers, thereby saving trees and drinking sources for their food resources (cattle). Cheran dispels their own justice for petty crimes via fines and labor. “Serious law-breaking is referred to the attorney general. But in the last year there have been no murders, kidnaps or disappearances,” Linda Pressly reports in her 2016 BBC News article on the town. (8)

Like the people of Cheran, let’s choose to do better. Let’s choose peace and kindness, respect and safe neighborhoods, affordable communities and clean environments. Let’s invest in programs that benefit all our neighbors, no matter what they struggle with.

Give money to women (9); to black femmes, to sex workers, to aboriginal individuals and their families, to the otherly-abled, queer, trans people, the poor and working classes. Fund mental health programs. Fund creativity and the arts. Fund biodiversity and clean energy (let there be plants, light and love). Let people have options to make safe choices to live their best lives.

We are socially obligated to heal, rather than hoard, people in storage units made for profit. Let’s take care of each other.


  1. Stop Kidding Yourself: The Police Were Created to Control Working Class and Poor People by Sam Mitrani on December 29th, 2014

  2. Police Have a Much Bigger Domestic-Abuse Problem Than the NFL Does Research suggests that family violence is two to four times higher in the law-enforcement community than in the general population. So where's the public outrage? CONOR FRIEDERSDORF, the Atlantic, SEP 19, 2014

  3. New analysis shows just how ineffective stop-and-frisk has been Trymaine Lee 11/14/13 04:30 PM—UPDATED 11/14/13 04:32 PM

  4. Killings by Utah police outpacing gang, drug, child-abuse homicides Over a five-year period, data show that fatal shootings by police officers in Utah ranked second only to homicides of intimate partners. Erin Alberty The Salt Lake Tribune · November 24, 2014 11:48 am
  5. THE FBI HAS QUIETLY INVESTIGATED WHITE SUPREMACIST INFILTRATION OF LAW ENFORCEMENT By Alice Speri January 31 2017, 5:10 a.m. Bureau policies have been crafted to take into account the active presence of domestic extremists in U.S. police departments.
  6. Missing and Murdered: No One Knows How Many Native Women Have Disappeared “Native women are not often seen as worthy victims. We have to first prove our innocence, that we weren’t drunk or out partying“
  7. “Chepe se baña”, an initiative that aids the homeless population of San José, Costa Rica By Laura Alvarado – April 29, 2017 HealthcareSan Jose Costa Rica
  8. Cheran: The town that threw out police, politicians and gangsters By Linda Pressly BBC News 13 October 2016
  9. Give Your Money To Women: The End Game of Capitalism #GiveYourMoneyToWomen is more than a hashtag, it’s a theory and practical framework of gender justice. by Lauren Chief Elk-Young Bear & Yeoshin Lourdes & Bardot Smith on August 10th, 2015