Rattling the Bars: America's rural county jail boom w/Stephen Janis and Taya Graham

All across the United States, city and state governments have increasingly turned to fines and fees to make up for budget shortfalls. This has required a corresponding explosion in police department budgets, creating a perverse cycle where local governments must consistently expand policing in order to continue to pay for policing. Rural America has not escaped this trend, and a new Vera Institute report has found that small and rural counties are now the main drivers of growth in the prison industrial complex. According Vera’s research, the boom in county jails appears to be driven by an increased amount of people who are either held pretrial or warehoused for federal, state, or other municipal authorities.

Stephen Janis and Taya Graham of Police Accountability Report join Rattling the Bars to discuss these findings in light of their own reporting on rural policing. In a wide-ranging conversation, Stephen and Taya help connect the dots between the rural jail boom and the rural police boom, the opioid crisis, and the decades-long economic crisis in rural America.

Studio: Cameron Granadino, Dwayne Gladden

Post-Production: Cameron Granadino


Transcript

Mansa Musa:  Welcome to this edition of Rattling the Bars. I’m Mansa Musa, co-hosting with Eddie Conway. To update you on Eddie Conway, Eddie Conway is doing great. And at some point in time, it’s my prayer that Eddie Conway will make a cameo appearance on Rattling the Bars and The Real News, programs that he created, and that he loves.

When we think about the prison-industrial complex and mass incarceration, we oftentimes think about the prison landscape being major institutions. An institution that houses 200,000 people throughout the state. Some institutions housing 1,500. Some institutions housing 2,000 or more people.

But recently, the Vera Institute did a study on how the county jails and county detention centers are now taking over the landscape of the prison-industrial complex, and they’re primarily in rural America. This was startling for me, because when I look at rural America and I look at the county detention centers, it’s oftentimes that the county detention center is a reflection of what is going on in the county. So, when you have a small county, it would stand to reason that the county jail would not be that populated.

Here to talk about this report and some of the ramifications of this study are Stephen Janis and Taya Graham. Welcome to Rattling the Bars.

Stephen Janis:  Oh, thanks for having us. We appreciate it. Yeah.

Taya Graham:  Thank you so much for having us.

Stephen Janis:  We’re glad to be here.

Mansa Musa:  Okay. And let’s start with y’all understanding of this report, in terms of… And juxtapose, if you can, against when you look at the prison-industrial complex.

Stephen Janis:  Sure.

Mansa Musa:  How this fits into that narrative. We’ll start with you, Janis.

Stephen Janis:  Okay. Well, one of the things, because both Taya and I started reporting here in Baltimore, and one of the things you think about as a city reporter is that all the growth in prisons has occurred in cities. But the Vera Institute report points out that that’s not true, that the biggest growth of institutions and incarceration is in rural communities.

A lot of it is driven by the fact that small rural communities will open jails or prisons – There’s a distinction there – And then take prisoners, and people, immigrants, and other things from the federal government or from the state government, and charge them for it, and turn it kind of into a business.

Now, we’ve gone beyond that report in the sense of our reporting – And Taya can talk about this – Because we have a show called the Police Accountability Report, and we report about policing across the country. And we’ve encountered, actually, the consequences of this policy, this policy of growing prisons in rural communities.

And of course, there’s a long history of prisons being located in rural communities. But these are actually prisons run by the local governments. And Taya and I have talked to a lot of people and encountered a growing phenomenon, which is people ending up in jails, and people ending up in confrontations with cops that seemed really minor, comparatively. And we were looking for a reason. Why did we keep having these cases? And why did people keep calling us?

And part of the reason is, I think, what the Vera Institute points out, that there has been a much stronger growth of facilities in small rural communities. And much of it, like the state-run institutions, much of it having to do with states trying to say, look, we’re dropping. We’re actually shrinking our incarceration rate. And then they just contracted out to the counties. But Taya can talk a little bit about some of the things we’ve encountered and some of the stories.

Taya Graham:  So, one of the things I just wanted to add to what Stephen said is that he brought up something that I’ll summarize like that. If you build it, they will come.

And that’s what’s happening here. And I think one of the reasons why these jails and prisons are being built is that it’s a form of making money for these communities. A lot of these communities have suffered de-industrialization. They’ve lost their coal mining jobs. They’ve lost their factories. The jobs that used to be there are gone.

So, one source of employment for people is to hire them as corrections officers, to enhance and expand their criminal justice system. So, that’s a way to actually employ people. And then, of course, the labor of the people who are incarcerated is monetized as well.

And so, they build it, and now they’ve got to fill these jails. They’ve got to put bodies in these beds. And that’s why we saw this sort of explosion of people being arrested in these small towns for apparently really small crimes. Stunningly small. It actually reminded me of zero tolerance here in Baltimore city.

Stephen Janis:  Well, let me add one thing to that, that when we cover rural communities across this country, one phenomenon we noticed that is extremely consistent is that in those small communities, if you look at the budgets of the towns… I can point to towns like Milton, West Virginia, or Pocomoke City, or Greensboro. And we’ll talk about those cities more specifically as we progress. But what you see is that the police department is the number one most well funded agency.

Taya Graham:  Absolutely.

Stephen Janis:  By 30, 40, 50% of the town’s budget. Well, what does the police department do? The police department arrests people and incarcerates people. So, I’m not sure if there’s a chicken and the egg argument here, but the point is that these communities have invested overwhelmingly in law enforcement rather than social programs or things that will help people.

In Milton, West Virginia – And we’ll get into that – But West Virginia, we’ve seen this quite consistently, a state that has suffered because of opioid companies just dump pills –

…And created addicts. Well, how did they respond? They bolster their police departments. And commensurate with those police departments are prison facilities. So, it’s all like a political economy that’s been created there.

Mansa Musa:  And when I was looking at the Vera Report, the Vera Report said that they noted there were two reasons why this growth took place. It was one was, I think they said that the growth, as far as the bail, the lack of bail reform, right? One is the outsourcing the jails, going back to your point. The outsourcing of the cells to different counties, or different states. And the population is growing as a result of that.

But here, another part of the Vera Report, maybe both of y’all can speak on this. Another part of Vera Report spoke about the reason behind this was policy and practice. That the policy changed, and therefore the practice changed.

Now, in understanding the legislative aspect of this argument, most counties would have to take, and most states would have to take, and change the laws to say that people coming into these county jails would have to be… At one point in time, if you went to a county jail, you were a resident of that county. You committed a crime in that county.

Stephen Janis:  Right.

Mansa Musa:  I came through Upper Marlborough. I committed a crime in Prince George’s County. So, I went to the Upper Marlboro Detention Center. That was the county jail. But now, according to the Vera Report, I could commit a crime in Mississippi and wind up in a county jail in West Virginia because of the change in the policies and the practice. Can y’all speak on that in terms of the laws, and how this… Because it almost is premeditated.

Stephen Janis:  Well, I think it hits upon this idea that we see over and over again in our reporting, which is that law enforcement is first a business, and not really a public safety institution in many cases. Because what this allows all these states to do is operate not just as a business, but a PR front.

In other words, they can say, we’ve reduced state incarceration. Look, the state prisons don’t have as much. But we’re just shoveling people over here. And so, it gives them a way to say, there’s fewer prisoners on our books, but we’re paying communities.

And it gives the communities that are willing to host these prisons and build these facilities – Which is amazing, if you look at some of the examples in the report of small communities with very little money building these facilities – To then monetize the people. And so, it’s a monetization of people. And it’s, again, what you see is an incentivizing of law enforcement, and making law enforcement a profit center for these communities.

Because they really, as Taya pointed out, don’t have a lot of institutional… Even in a city like Baltimore, we have Johns Hopkins, we have some things that drive growth. But in many of these rural communities, they really don’t have the manufacturing jobs. And when they leave, I think they look to and turn to this. And this is a way of using the law to make this sound like a good thing when it’s really not.

Taya Graham:  And I just wanted to add to that. He said, using the law to make it look like it’s a good thing, when it’s actually not. I just want to underscore the hypocrisy that is shown through this type of legislation.

When they make the argument that these centers, that these correctional institutions are actually for rehabilitation, how can you convince me that’s for rehabilitation when you rip someone away from their community, from their family? When a family member has to drive hours and hours and hours to be able to visit?

I just can’t believe that the goal is rehabilitation. I think it shows that there’s really a profit motive that’s underlying this, and that it’s not about truly helping the community. It’s about helping that particular area, that county profit.

Mansa Musa:  And I want to read this point. To make sure everybody understands the argument, that when you think about a county jail, or when you think about a detention center, the first thing that you have to come to understand is that the person is innocent until proven guilty. So, they haven’t got any time. They haven’t been convicted of any crime. When you’re sent to a state institution or a state facility, you’re actually serving time.

So now, how ominous this is in regard to what’s being done. You are actually taking a system that’s saying that we are going to monetize human trafficking, or we’re going to monetize the slave labor, or we going to monetize this chattel, these people, by building these units. And then going back to your point, Taya, the law enforcement, like Black codes back in slavery time, Black laws or Jim Crow, then you find yourself, if you’re in county, you’re going to be locked up.

But somebody gotta fill them cells up. And maybe y’all can answer. How do you get people in them cells? How do you build them? Like you said, if you build them, they will come. Well, if you build them, where are you going to get them from? That means that you have to go get them. So, maybe y’all want to address that.

Taya Graham:  Well, I was just going to mention, that’s something that we’ve seen in some of the small towns we’ve covered. And when we say small towns, we mean towns of less than 3000 people that have police departments with budgets over $1.2 million. Towns that normally have 30 or 40 crimes a year, but yet they have a police department with a budget of over a million.

So, you can see where they’re investing their money. And then they have, of course, these detention centers, these jails, as well as the larger centers for longer sentences. And when you see it, to me, it just makes it obvious. Where you plant your seed, that’s where you’re going to get the growth. If you keep on putting the community’s money into law enforcement and into the prison-industrial complex, you can’t be surprised when that’s what blooms, and the rest of your community suffers.

And what we’ve seen in small towns, like for example, in Milton, West Virginia, which, like I said, has less than 2500 people in it, that area, their police officers are actually arresting people for tiny traffic infractions. Rolling through a stop sign. Not having a turn signal on.

People end up getting their cars impounded, paying $500, $600, $700 in court costs, fees, and citations. And once they miss a payment, they end up in this cycle where they end up essentially doing time because they don’t have enough money. And it’s a really vicious cycle, because once you start to fall through that crack, it’s so hard to pull yourself back up again.

And I just want to add, there’s something really peculiar that Milton, West Virginia, does on top of this. So, like you said, when you put someone in jail, they’re still innocent until proven guilty. They’re waiting for their day in court. They will post the mugshots of people on a Facebook page.

So, imagine, you know on the internet, things live there forever. So, people in the town and from around the country make comments on this Facebook page making fun of people, accusing them of being drug addicts, or accusing them of domestic violence, or accusing them of any wild thing.

And this person might later be proven completely innocent, but now they have this on their record in a double way. The rest of the world knows. The entire internet knows this. And it affects their family life, their romantic life, their professional life.

So, there are these other levels that are put on top of it. That really surprised me, that this small town policing, it has levels of damage that surprised me. When I think of police brutality as a problem, or police misconduct as a problem, I think of cities. I think of cities like my home, Baltimore City. But these small towns find other ways of punishing their residents that are really quite cruel.

Stephen Janis:  One thing that was really interesting we uncovered in Milton, we encountered Milton because of a young man who was arrested for having some hemp plants in his trailer. But he had a $100,000 bail. And when we started reporting on it, then they lowered the bail, $80,000. $100,000 bail, of course, is huge.

Taya Graham:  Absolutely.

Stephen Janis:  But the interesting thing about it was it was a cash bail that was payable to the court. So, when he finally got out, he had to pay $3,000 to the court. There wasn’t a bail bondsman. So, the city and the county were collecting the fees, which I thought was very interesting.

We’re still looking into it. But the point being that at every point, by having these centers being able to incarcerate people, set bail, and then having to pay it to the court, you have a system where they’re actually monetizing every aspect of this. Monetizing the arrest, monetizing the incarceration, monetizing the bail. And of course, as you know, bail means that rich people get due process and poor people do not.

And it’s astonishing to me that in these very, very poor communities where, like in Milton, for example, the median household income is $22,000, which is $40,000 less than the US median income, that they have these astonishing bail restrictions. I mean, as you know, cash bail is one of the most punitive things ever, because you can’t use a bail bondsman. And we encounter this a lot, that these little… You have a judge who has all the power in the county, and it’s very easy to monetize your population.

Mansa Musa:  I know, when I was looking at the Vera Report – And I can’t get around this in my head, because in order to maintain… This is where it’s nefarious. In order to maintain this, you’re not talking about in the prison-industrial complex and mass incarceration overall, when a person is convicted of a crime, most people are going to be in prison for 20 years. You can say, okay, in 20 years, we are going to have a population of 2100. And in 20 years, it’s going to be a 2100 population in some parts of the country.

Stephen Janis:  That’s a good point.

Mansa Musa:  But we’re talking about a county, and we’re talking about a small county, and we’re talking about them building institutions that they had to create the conditions in order to fill it.

Stephen Janis:  Yes. That’s a really good point.

Mansa Musa:  That’s the point that’s being overlooked. Can y’all talk about that?

Stephen Janis:  Well, think about it. What you say is, to me, astonishing, because it’s something I think about a lot. They’re inevitably saying that a certain number of people are going to end up in jail and going to commit crimes. It’s like they’re anticipating failure in the community. They’re literally saying, we are planning for 20% of our population to fail and to be in a cage.

That, I think, as Americans, we look at things and we say, what happens in this country? But think about that. How many communities are planning for people to end up in a cage? That is astonishing to me, that that would be something that they would look at, and hire consultants, and do the numbers. And, oh, wow. Yeah. Well, we’re going to be able to fill this. Actually, we’ll probably have 2500 people in there. And what the hell is that as a public policy? Right?

Mansa Musa:  Exactly. And that’s the point that the Vera… That’s what you’re saying, policy and practice. And Taya, you might want to beat up on this point a little bit. Because when you’re saying policy and practice, it’s premeditated.

Taya Graham:  Yes.

Mansa Musa:  But I’m saying, going back to your point, I’m saying that I build a jail that can hold 4,500 people in this county. Now, I only have a county whose population doesn’t exceed that. So, where are these people going to come from? But more importantly, the policies, the laws will change. That means that everybody is weighing in on this, on a state and local level, in order to have this creation.

Taya Graham:  You know, I think it’s important, once again, to emphasize how this shows the lie that these corrections institutions are built for rehabilitation, to help people. These institutions are built mostly for profit. And I think that’s proven out by the need to put bodies in these beds.

And it has been shown that the CCA, the Corrections Corporation of America, Core Civic now, I believe, that these private institutions have engaged in some really nefarious practices to make sure that they keep on getting bodies into these beds. And I think, like Stephen said, planning for a community to fail, it’s also planning for your police department to fail. I thought they were supposed to be out there preventing crimes.

Mansa Musa:  Yeah, you’re right.

Taya Graham:  It says they’re planning for their social programs to fail. I thought we’re supposed to be making our community flourish. I thought our schools were supposed to be helping kids get good jobs. Why are we planning for 20% of our population to be incarcerated?

Stephen Janis:  It’s extraordinary.

Taya Graham:  There’s a profit margin.

Stephen Janis:  I mean, and the thing is, if you look at a town like Milton, it’s a microcosm of this problem.

Mansa Musa:  Right. Exactly.

Stephen Janis:  And what struck me about it was when I was going through the town budget, there wasn’t a single dollar dedicated to drug addiction treatment, or any social services for the people. So, to your point, they’re saying, yeah, if you get addicted, or you – Which is a disease.

Mansa Musa:  Disease. Right, exactly.

Stephen Janis:  – The solution we have is handcuffs. And that, to me, it speaks to what you’re saying. They’re basically creating public policy that says, we’re going to fill this. That’s our public policy. Not public policy saying, you know what, let’s take half that money, and put it into drug treatment.

And what’s extraordinary about it, is your point about who is a criminal and who’s not. We are having this conversation. What behavior’s criminalized? Like petty theft.

Well, the state of West Virginia, Huntington… I think it was Huntington, or it would’ve been Comal County, just lost a lawsuit, suing these pharmaceutical companies that knowingly dumped… They were the biggest drug dealers the world has ever seen.

And not a single person has gone to jail. But you know, you use a little dope on the corner in Milton, there’ll be five cops putting you in jail for three years. But you go out, and you dump a hundred million pills in a county of 90,000 people, you can walk away with a nice boat in The Bahamas.

Mansa Musa:  And I remember when I… Looking at that whole pharmaceutical situation. I remember reading one report where, because of little counties, they don’t regulate the pharmacies. And so, basically, pharmacies become like drug dealers on the corner.

Stephen Janis:  Oh, there’s a drug dealer that wishes they could work like those guys could work. The amount of money they were making, they would make drug dealers jealous. And they were doing it all legally, and no one’s gone to jail.

Mansa Musa:  And I think that when we look at this whole Vera Report, and when we look at the reality behind it, the reality is that, one, like you said earlier, the prison-industrial complex, they’re making this argument that the population is shrinking. But on the back end, private corporation…

Because I recall, private corporations were in the major prison institutions. But because of being heavily regulated, and Eighth Amendment violation, a whole lot of laws that came out around prisoner’s rights, they weren’t able to maintain and sustain holding down these prisons. So, they had to get out of that space.

But would they have done then, they found their niche in local counties. And I want to emphasize the point it’s premeditated, because only for you to have people in… We’re talking about pre-trial detention. The average person in… When I was locked up, I had a felony. So, I was in the felony section. The population of the county jail I was in was 1,600. Out of 1,600, 600 of us had major felonies. So, we weren’t going to get no bail, regardless. The remaining population had truancy, spouse, domestic – Not to diminish domestic – Shoplifting. Broken [inaudible] bond. These are the major people that you find in the county jail, at least up until this point.

Now, you might find people in these county jails, but then they go into the bail, and they might give them astronomical bail. I’m a vagrant. Oh, because I can’t give you an address of where I live, you have to keep me there. So, you keep me.

So you, as a sheriff department, or as a county, you say, okay. It’s almost like a ledger. Okay. Well, we are going to have Hopkins here for at least two years, because he ain’t going to be making bail. So, that’s a body we are going to have for two years. And start adding up bodies, in order to maintain. Because you can only maintain if you have bodies.

If you don’t have bodies, then it’s going to be a ghost town. Which goes to the other point. Maybe y’all can weigh in on this here. Talk about how these county jails are being used to create infrastructure for rural America.

Stephen Janis:  Well, I mean, I can say that, as we talked about before, and you look at West Virginia, West Virginia is chronically absent of drug treatment centers. They’re constantly behind. But they’re not behind in prison building.

And to me, it’s extraordinary to think that after undergoing this incredible crime… This was nothing less than a crime, that pharmaceutical greed led to the deaths and addiction of thousands of poor West Virginian people. But all the money, if you look at the towns, like I said before, it’s not only going to policing, but building prisons, building local prisons, local jails.

Places where, like Taya talked about coal country. The Vera Institute report emphasizes, I think, Western Kentucky. Is it Eastern, Western? I think it’s Eastern. And that’s an area that’s been hit hard by the lack of coal mining. And what did they build? Did they build universities? I can think of a million other things. Parks. I don’t know. Something. Did they build job training? No, they built prisons.

And it’s reflexive, because I think it goes back to our country’s addiction to slave labor, and these things. And our country’s never really gotten over that idea, that idea of an extractive economy. And the perfect tool for an extractive economy is a jail.

Because, as you point out, a vagabond, a person who doesn’t conform to the capital’s expectation that we’re all working all the time, can just be put in jail. And if you don’t want to work for nothing, and you don’t want to kill yourself, we’re going to put you in jail. You can stay in jail, and then we’ll monetize you that way.

Now, what these communities find, and I think this is what’s really tragic: It doesn’t work. It doesn’t build a better community. It doesn’t even bring safety. It’s a constant sort of monetization and problematizing its population, but doesn’t build a stronger community. And that’s what’s insane about it, because you see this, that this policy hasn’t led to anything productive. And Milton is a mess.

And the people that are very unhappy. And why? Because they’re not addressing the needs of their citizens. And then people lose faith in democracy. So, it’s really an anti-democratic strain that goes throughout our system, is this addiction to criminal justice, because we have an extractive economy.

Taya Graham:  Absolutely. Well, Stephen, I think you made a really good point that it leads to a lack of community trust, and, honestly, like an undermining of people’s faith in our democratic institutions.

When you were talking, I couldn’t help but think of Greensboro, Maryland, down on the Eastern shore here, and the death of young Anton Black back in September of 2018. And there was a change in the police chief, and the new mayor said, I want aggressive policing in this community. A community of less than 2,300 people.

Stephen Janis:  I mean, one stop light.

Taya Graham:  One stop light, no murders. I don’t know why they needed this aggressive policing. But that’s what the mayor wanted. That’s what the new chief was going to give them.

And they brought down, from Denton Delaware, an officer named Thomas Webster, who had multiple complaints against him, who had been caught on camera kicking in the head a completely compliant suspect who was obeying all orders. And the community said, hey, we know the name of the officer you’re about to bring down. Please don’t bring him here. He’s not the right type of person for our community. Please don’t do this.

They ignored the community. A year later, that same officer was involved… He initiated the conflict that led to the tasering, the choking, and, honestly, the murder of this young man on his mother’s doorstep, because they would not listen to the community.

And so, how can the community have any sort of faith in the people who are supposed to protect them and take care of them and serve them? How are they supposed to have any faith in their government officials when they cried out, please don’t let this officer come to our community? How are they supposed to have any sort of faith in government, in our police officers, when they do this? And this young man’s murdered. A beautiful 19-year-old man, who never got to see his daughter born.

Mansa Musa:  And y’all have the last word on this, but I want to say something in regard to the premeditation of these policies and these procedures. Because right now, as it stands right now, going back to, like you say, when it’s now harming the community, you create these prisons. You build, they will come. Or you build them, and you supply jobs for a percentage of the population, and that becomes my livelihood.

So, now my livelihood is, when I come out of high school, where are you going to work at? I’m going to work in the county jail. My livelihood, what are you going to be when you come out of there? I’m going to be a probation officer. What are you going to be when you come out? I’m going to be a cook in the kitchen in the county jail. But at any rate, this is where the infrastructure and the institutions provide the livelihood for the community.

But then, when you can’t maintain that population, and you talk about closing it down, then the community starts bemoaning. We were just doing this interview yesterday, when it was in California. The town of Susanville sued, and held it for two years, pleading, and begging, and trying to get the court to say, don’t close the prison. But y’all got the last word on this report, and what do y’all think should happen?

Stephen Janis:  Well, it’s a classic case of a political economy. And I think that we need to be radical about this, and defund the prison-industrial complex. I mean, I think one of the things that Taya and I talk about a lot is how the missed opportunity of talking about police funding. Because if you look at Baltimore City, we put most of our resources in policing and criminal justice. And what do we have? We have the same problems we had 30 years ago.

It’s not that people don’t want to pay a cop, or, I don’t know, build a prison. But as you point out, the thought behind putting all your resources in there is that you’re going to create a world where those conditions will lead to filling it. And so, when you’re saying defund, what you’re really saying is reorient the resources of a community towards something that would be a productive outcome for happier people. I don’t know why we never think of that philosophy.

And I think that one of the things that’s most pernicious about law enforcement in this country is it’s a philosophy that integrates into our minds and makes us think there’s no other possibilities. We need to explore the possibilities of a world without mass incarceration. We need to start thinking about it, and the way to start thinking about it is saying, maybe we should build a park.

Or maybe we should build a better school, or pay teachers what they deserve to be paid. Rather than, as you point out, create a political economy where everyone’s work is oriented towards caging people. It’s extraordinary how much money this country spends on it. What, $80 billion a year?

Mansa Musa:  $80 billion.

Stephen Janis:  $80 billion. Yeah. Imagine what you could do with $80 billion. So, I think it’s a matter of deconstructing the political economy, which just means doing exactly what you say. Creating something where people don’t think about being a corrections officer, but rather think about being a teacher. Or don’t think about being a chef in the prison but think about opening a new restaurant.

Mansa Musa:  Open a restaurant. Yeah, right. Exactly.

Stephen Janis:  And that takes a philosophical confrontation with the real, underlying reasons of why our criminal justice predominates and why it holds our imagination. I’m sorry. And it really stultifies our ability to solve problems.

Taya Graham:  You know, I would just have to say, one thing I’ve seen that’s happened in these small towns is that people who are initially excited to be able to get a job with law enforcement, get a job as a corrections officer, eventually, these systems turn around and eat the community itself. And they end up weaponized against the community.

And that’s what the people in Milton are seeing. I’ve spoken to people who were former corrections officers in small towns, or even former police officers. And they’ve seen that these organizations have been weaponized against them and are actually tearing at the fabric of their community.

So, all that money that’s being invested to give people employment in corrections and in policing, if we could put that money elsewhere, into mental health services, training people for different types of institutions. For job training, education, social services, mental health services. Drug services to help people who are dealing with substance abuse issues.

There are so many ways we could employ people that aren’t corrections that could also help prevent the conditions that send people into the correctional institutions. You can have people be gainfully and happily employed without them being a part of an institution that eventually tears their community apart. So, there’s a way to do it, but that underlying philosophy is something that is propaganda that’s been fed to a lot of Americans.

Stephen Janis:  Absolutely.

Taya Graham:  There are a lot of Americans who’ve been watching Law and Order, and they think it’s all real. And so, that propaganda around policing, and they always get the right person, it’s going to take a lot to get that out of people’s system, to get that out of the American bloodstream. But we need to work on it.

Stephen Janis:  I mean, the one thing we’ve seen clearly is that policing is one of the most anti-democratic institutions ever conceptualized.

Mansa Musa:  Amen, that.

Stephen Janis:  Yeah. And we’ve been sold this bill of goods that it’s actually like the protector of democracy. It’s the exact opposite. In every city where policing predominates, people’s rights have been eroded, and people’s quality of life has been eroded. That’s just my experience as a reporter, not my ideological opinion. So, we need to rethink and reimagine how a community can be built.

Mansa Musa:  There you have it. The real news about the prison-industrial complex, mass incarceration.

Oh, did we know that now we’re talking about them having an incubator in society where county jails are going to supersede that prison-industrial complex in and of themselves? These small counties in rural America are bidding on having the county jails, building jails in their town in order to provide jobs and services for the community. And then later on, turn on the community. Because you build them, you have to fill them. It’s not build them, they’re going to come. You build them, you have to fill them.

Thank you, Taya. Thank you, Stephen –

Stephen Janis:  No, it’s cool. Yeah. Thanks for having us.

Mansa Musa:  …For this enlightening conversation. I really enjoyed it.

Taya Graham:  Me too.

Mansa Musa:  And hopefully Rattling the Bars viewers and Real News viewers, you’ll continue to support us as we bring this news to you. This is The Real News. It’s not the alternative news. It’s the difference between the real news and the alternative news. It’s really the news, and not the alternative to some news. Thank y’all very much for coming.

Taya Graham:  Thank you so much for having us.

Stephen Janis:  Thanks for having us. We appreciate you having us.

Mansa Musa

Mansa Musa, also known as Charles Hopkins, is a 70-year-old social activist and former Black Panther. He was released from prison on December 5, 2019, after serving 48 years, nine months, 5 days, 16 hours, 10 minutes. He co-hosts the TRNN original show Rattling the Bars.