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Herzing, Rachel. 2005. "What is the Prison Industrial Complex?"

Abstract: Herzing introduces the term "Prison Industrial Complex" (PIC) as a more accurate description of the criminal justice system and the one used by the organization Critical Resistance. The PIC consists of surveillance, policing and imprisonment, overlapping interests of government and business that contribute to the maintenance of the status quo. Unlike prison reform movements that attempt to "fix" the problem, she argues that the criminal justice system is not "broken" but actually doing what it was designed to do-maintain social control and state power.

Components of the Prison Industrial Complex:

  • Criminalization or the ability to define what actions or groups of people are considered "criminal" through the use of media and government policy;
  • Skillful use of Media to reinforce myths about crime and punishment and to amplify fear
  • Surveillance or threat of surveillance that maintains data about people's activities or enhances self-censorship;
  • A Court System that is overburdened by too much to do, holding on to structural inequities that target poor people and people of color;
  • Prisons that punish and control over 2 million people and provide little economic benefit except for the growing number of businesses that can profit from them.

Herzing suggests that the reaching the goal of safe, stable communities requires eliminating the PIC and replacing it (without a quick fix or a single answer) with a broader set of options that respond to the harms that people experience:

  • More opportunity for social and economic participation;
  • Quality education, housing, and health care for all;
  • Community-based conflict resolution.

Although these are lofty goals, Herzing suggests they are achievable with vision and are preferable to reforms, which often only make the PIC stronger.

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