In the MDOC 65% of all clerk positions, 70% of Maintenance jobs and 50% of all Toutor jobs are held by “White” prisoners. This is by design because most of these positions are hand-picked by the assignmet supervisors rather than being chosen by the classification director from first-come-first-serve pools. Supervisors are allowed to slect prsoner on the basis of who they “feel comfortabe” with, while all the SECURITY SENSITIVE jobs require the prisoner be cleared by the local inspector.
Prisoner representatives (who are decisivie voices in how the funds earned in the prisoner store are spent, and act as liaisons between the administration and the population), are also divided between white and non-white. Each housing unit elects only two (one white, one non-white), to serve a six month term as part of the “Warden’s Forum” The “election” is done by ballot and the ballots are counted by the unit councler outside of the view of any prisoners. Without any way to varify that the results accurately reflect the voting, they have to trust i the integrity of the people who make their living perpetuating their confinment. The fact that HALF of all prisoner reps MUST BE WHITE suggests that the administration believes a non-white prisoner could not be trusted to represent the interests of white prisoners and that the interests of white prisoners MUST BE REPRESENTED in any discussions between prisoners and staff. Meanwhile, among the “non-white” population are blacks (who account for 65% of prisoners) and have no such garauntees written into the policy. There is no mandate in policy requiring that any of the prisoner reps be black, becaue the policy does not treat the interests of blacks as a priority. It is entirely possible that there can be one white and one nonwhite “elected”, who have no understandng of the need for a good afro comb verus an afro pick. Or how about, wave grease vs. hair grease?, or doo rags vs. wave caps, wave brushes vs. hair brushes etc.. What would whites or hispanics understand about these thngs? In fact, there are several things that are a daily part of black life which fall outside the experience of other ethnic groups. Without proportional representation in all aspects of the prison’s economy and political life, these things are not reflected in what is purchased with the funds they and their families pour into the prison stores. As an example it is only in recent years that the cable system included any channels which had “black” content. However, even today there are only two such channels BET and CENTRIC. That’s two out of fifty six channels; less than one percent. While conversely there are six FOX cnannels in addition to MTV, VH1, CMT etc. In fact all the other channels cater to white and/or conservative culture.
So you might ask yourself ; “Why this effort to defer to white prisoners?” The answer is the same as it always is; to keep the money and the power in white hands. If prisoners don’t have a source of income from prison jobs, they have to ask their families for money, so when you block the best payig jobs from black prisoners it ensures that money from the black community will flow into these institutions where the sate takes several bites out of it to agument their revenue steams. This bleeds money from our communties that could be put to more productive uses. Those prisoners who cannot support themselves from prison jobs or family conntributons often turn to more illicit sources of income which often result in longer prison stays. This policy is just a small part in an elaborate combination of seemingly unrelated legislative acts that ensure blacks will remain a permanent undercass fit for generating profits but not for sharing in them. Racial bias in prison is just good business for the dominate culture. It helps to perpetuate the advantages they enjoy and profit from.
Terry L. Thomas-Bey 194430
NOTE: Percentages are accurate as of 1/8/2018
At the best of times, prison is a traumatic experience filled with stress, danger and glimpses into the darker regions of the human heart. The rules and policies of the instutions which house those confined to prison are supposed to operate as a mitigating balance to these negative forces. They are meant to restrain the harmful aspects of human impluse and prejudice. However even a brief inspection of the policies of MDOC reveals to us an environment which intentionally cultivates racial division and animus.
It starts with the hiring practices. The MDOC advertises for new applicants in publications that service predominately white rural areas. Resulting in a staff that is 83% white, composed of 20% legacy hires who’s fathers, grandfathers, or other relatives arranged for thier jobs(aka nepotism). Secondly, few if any of the prisons are located within convenient commutting distance of the major cities in the state, making it necessary for inner-city applcants to either relocate to all white areas or face daily commutes that could represent hours of travel time. Facilities that are located near large populations, are often the cause of those populations being so large because ancillary industries have moved into the area to feed off that correctional facility. Lastly, work programs inside prisons seem to be the only arena in the country (other than insurance actuarial tables) where it is legal to discriminate along racial lines.
Setting aside for a moment the gross imbalance in prison population numbers and what they indicate about the court systems which feed them, I would like to focus on the classification headings by which Michigan’s prisoners are sorted for the purposes of employment and represention in prisoner interactions with the administration, into two groups White and Non-White. It might astonish the public to learn that despite the fact that they account for less than twenty percent of the prison population, fully one half of skilled work assignments are reserved exclusively for white prisoners. The remainder of the jobs are divided between the NON-WHITE prisoners. This includes, hispanics, Asians, Orientials, Arabs and blacks (who alone account for nearly sixty-five percent of the prison population). This policy is known as “racial balancing”.
The division of the prison population into only two groups (I.e. white or nonwhite) is a bold and offensive statement of white supremacy. It puts everyone on notice that the only factor of importance to them is a person’s whiteness. It doesn’t matter if you’re black, Asian or Hispanic, you are only judged by you’re lack of whiteness. You are defined not by who you are but by who you’re not. You are judged by the fact of your “otherness”. According to this policy all other races are interchangeable except whites. In fact the interests of white prisoners are so important to them that they’ve structured their policies to ensure that those interests are represented in any discussions between prisoners and staff regardless of the demographic make up of the population. In point of fact, if they are 20% of the population and people of color are 80%, then they are saying we’ve gone from being considered equal to 3/5 of a human being during slavery to being considered equal to 1/4 of a human being as prisoners.
For the purposes of this article we will define racisim as; “The instutionalized practice of confering advantages to one group over another solely on the basis of race.” With this definition in mind let’s examine an example of this “Racial balancing policy” in action, The single largest work force in the Department of Corrections is the Food Services assignment. In most prisons the jobs are split between two or three shifts. Each area of the kitchen has two skilled positions: 1. A Lead worker who works five days a week for skilled pay. 2. A Relief Lead who fills in for the lead worker on his two off days and in many (but not all) prisons he works the remaining three days of his work week at semi-skilled pay. This of course means that if you give the lead to the white prisoner and the relief lead to the non-white prisoner, you have thechnically given them both “skilled jobs”, while in practice you have given the white prisoner an income 60% higher than the “non-white” prisoner. Add to this the posibiity that the non-white in question could be latino or asian and the net result being that on paper you have been racially fair while in practice you have neatly marginalized the overwhelming majority of the prison population This is a common practice in the facilities in the Upper Peninsula.