“The prison industrial complex is the entity that conducts mass incarceration,” he said. “It’s a partnership between our government and private corporations that incentivizes some private institutions and some government facilities to incarcerate more and more people. The system continues to grow.”
Davis said nearly 2.5 million people are incarcerated in the United States.
She can remember when 200,000 people were in prison in this country “and that seemed like a huge number of people. I remember thinking ‘how can we incarcerate so many people?’”
“Because the overwhelming majority of people in prison here and all over the world are men, we often assume it’s only a men’s issue,” said Davis. “The fact is that women constitute the fastest growing sector of the imprisoned population.”
Peterson said the recidivism rate -- the rate at which people return to the prison system after they get out -- is as high as two-thirds. And he said 40 percent of those prisoners “are black and brown folk.”
He called it “one of the great civil rights challenges that we’re faced with.”
Davis remembers when it was hard to talk to people about what was happening in prisons. “The assumption was they must have done something really bad.”
“Most people are not in jail or in prison for violent crimes,” said Peterson.
“Absolutely not,” agreed Davis.
Referring to those who are in prison for violent crimes, she was applauded when she indicated society should figure out what causes people to do such things “as opposed to just throwing them away.
“If we didn’t learn anything else from Nelson Mandela, we should have learned about the possibility of healing justice.”
Davis said when a close friend was killed, and her killer was on trial, “I had to work with myself because, emotionally, my feeling was that he deserved to die. But if we have this kind of retributive justice system, all we’re doing is reproducing the violence.”
“We criminalize people in prison by the way we imagine them as criminals,” said Davis. “The prison industrial complex could not exist without that kind of complicity on our part.”
“If we could just wave a magic wand and say ‘no more prisons’ what are the institutions that need to be in place?” asked Peterson. “Or what institutions need to be enhanced?”
“The abolition of prisons is the creation of schools,” said Davis.
“It’s so tragic that the schools we have – especially in communities of color, especially in poor communities – they’re not even about educating.
“They’re all about discipline and testing. They discipline people like they’re in prison already. Education becomes preparatory for the discipline of jails and prisons. That is the real shame in this society today.”
She said children should be learning how to love acquiring knowledge, “how to find joy in learning.”
She said both of her parents were teachers who “taught us how to love learning. All my siblings and I learned how to read by the time we were three.”
In response to a question, Nas said if he could change one policy to improve social justice in the United States, it would be drug laws, adding: “All of them.”
He said people get outrageous prison time for drug charges. “It’s crazy, like murder time. They’re doing it all wrong.”
Davis got people out of their seats and cheering when she said: “I would make education free.”
She added: “People look to drugs for their happiness. They should be looking to knowledge for their happiness.”
“Everyone should go to prison”
Everyone should go to prison, suggested Davis, but not by getting arrested.