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tv   Lectures in History  CSPAN  May 1, 2016 12:01am-1:16am EDT

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night at 8:00 p.m. eastern. washingtonty of professor dan berger examines the prison system of the late 20th century. he traces how mass incarceration grew in response to the unexpected wave of prisoners. he also describes the role of activists prisoners such as george jackson whose prison letters were published and shed light on the problems of the justice system. this talk is about one hour and 10 minutes. >> let's get started. i want to pick up on the conversation we were having last time about civil rights and the black power movement. the second reconstruction. how we think about that in relation to what now is called mass incarceration. we're going to do three big things today. talk about what mass incarceration is.
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i'm going to complicate some of the ways it is often talked about. we will talk about where it came from and how we ended up with the world's biggest prison system. what that has to do with this time. the 1960's and 1970's and the second reconstruction. we will think about the role that people in prison and formerly incarcerated people have played consistently as analysts and observers and critics of mass incarceration. we will start off big and work
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our way to the human level. the u.s. incarcerates more people than anyone else in the world. in terms of absolute numbers more than 2.2 million people in prison, but also the rate of incarceration. 5% of the worlds population and about two -- 25% of the prison population. you can see how much more that is than even other countries that have their own version of mass incarceration. 700 people per 100,000 people in the united states that are incarcerated today. that is a relatively recent phenomenon. when we look at incarceration throughout the 20th century, there are these moments of small peaks that are relatively consistent rate until we get to about 1973. then it goes up and keeps going up. until we get to more than 2.3 million people in prison. a small dip but not yet a significant drop. there's also a larger number
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that are under some form of correctional control. more than seven million people that are on parole, probation, regularly in contact with the justice system. all of this is happening in the last 50 years. the size of it is staggering on its own. we also want to think of it in terms of the severity. part of where mass incarceration starts is that things get worse. the severity of how we treat people who are incarcerated is actually an important contribution to growing the system itself. when we look at who is incarcerated. is not any 700 people. it is by class and race. we look at who is incarcerated. about one in a hundred americans in general. one in 15 african americans over
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the age of 18. one in nine african-american men over the age of 18. in the prime years of their lives. the prison system has always been dramatically men, but the numbers and the rates are still very staggering we look at incarcerated women as well. black women are incarcerated at a dramatically higher rate than white women. that's part of the system. the size of it, the severity of it. the severity comes up in a range of ways. we're the only industrialized country is still has the death penalty.
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a number of states including our own have placed a moratorium on the death penalty. it persists in much of the country. also there is the other death penalty. the use of life without parole sentencing. sentencing people to spend the rest of their lives in prison is on the rise as the death penalty is on the decline. life without parole is really
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something distinctive in the u.s.. also we are one of the only places in the world to sentence juveniles to serve life without parole. you could be arrested for something at 16 or 17 or even 13 and spend the rest of your life in prison. that is changing because of some recent supreme court rulings. people in the future will get that sense. -- will not get that sentence. but we still have people who are serving that kind of sentence. this is a major issue that is coming to take a long time to repair.
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the other kind of harshness of the u.s. system and something that is very distinctive is the use of solitary confinement. this is an example of one of many possible examples of what solitary confinement looks like. one of the most extreme prisons in the country called pelican bay which will talk more about later. there are about 80,000 to 100,000 people every day that are living in conditions like
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this. windowless cells where they are alone for 23 or 24 hours a day. without access to any sort of programming or activities or even calendar. this has expanded as some of the basis for mass incarceration. the severity and the scope of these systems are not just people who are incarcerated themselves. it all caps also that disenfranchisement that comes from having a criminal conviction on your record. about 6 million people are disenfranchised as a result of their convictions. this is very important as we are in an election year. all the conversation about which candidate can win. we have this horserace coverage.
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there's a certain kind of artificial quality for those conversations. the number of voting age people who could participate are prohibited from doing so. that disenfranchisement extends beyond just the ballot box people can't get federal student loans. it becomes a kind of permanent badge that follows you through life. defective that is borne out by whole communities. the number of children with an incarcerated parent has also dramatically risen. within about the emotional stress but also the financial stress. that is the bleak gloomy reality of the system. where did it come from? there are three popular reasons that people give. i want to dispel them. myths of mass incarceration. the myth of crime. in some ways it might make sense. we may have more crime happening here.
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crime did rise in the 1960's. it is been steadily declining over the last 25 or so years. as incarceration rates have continued to rise. crime is actually relatively autonomous from punishment. people may commit offenses but the process of punishment is something that a society tells about itself. how a society makes its own priorities. it essentially distinct from a range of offenses that occur. this dramatic continuous rise amidst a kind of checkered rate of crime that then falls decisively. we can let go of this idea that mass incarceration comes because we are gripped by crime. one idea is that is about process. -- profit. people are making money off it. there are people who doing make money off prisons. people think about private prisons.
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corrections corporation of america. that is what we have the prison system that we do. well, this is a myth as well. private prisons are less than 10% of the overall prison population. their profitability is always in question. the one exception is in the realm of immigrant detention. detention centers are about 50% of them are privately run by those corporations. the profit that people are making is the phone calls the prisoners make to their families and to food is a purchase.
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the fines that they incur as a result of their offense. that is not why people to prison. that came afterwards. is it war on drugs? the war on drugs undoubtedly played a huge role in that massive spike in the number of presentation -- people in prison. but it is more of a symptom of a cause. as mass incarceration has become this issue of public concern in recent years, the conversation has been so tightly focused on the war on drugs.
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nonviolent drug offenders. we would and mass incarceration. it is tempting and exciting. but it is just not true. this will put together by a nonpartisan think tank. we could spend all week unpacking this. when you look at the federal prison population, 211,000 people at of more than 2 million. about half of them are there for drug offenses. so it is that a huge impact on the number of people in federal prisons. we need to compare that with how small a slice of pie that is. most incarceration happens at the state level. estate prisons, drug offenses are a fraction of the offenses that send people to prison. the war on drugs has played a significant role but not the determining factor.
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how do we get this. having of this massive spike? for more than 40 years. this is a response to the second reconstruction. the politics of hyper policing, militarized policing and sending more people to more prisons and keeping him there for longer. it emerges in response to the civil rights and lack power movements. -- a black power movements.
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let's look at this in the context of what reconstruction itself is. what was the first reconstruction?
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211,000 people at of more than 2 million. about half of them are there for drug offenses. so it is that a huge impact on the number of people in federal prisons. we need to compare that with how small a slice of pie that is. most incarceration happens at the state level. estate prisons, drug offenses are a fraction of the offenses that send people to prison. the war on drugs has played a significant role but not the determining factor. how do we get this. having of this massive spike? for more than 40 years. this is a response to the second reconstruction. the politics of hyper policing,
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militarized policing and sending more people to more prisons and keeping him there for longer. it emerges in response to the civil rights and lack power movements. -- a black power movements. let's look at this in the context of what reconstruction itself is. what was the first reconstruction?
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>> slavery was abolished and the african-american community were freed. opportunities. berger: after the abolition of slavery, and the first real chance in the u.s. to have a kind of genuine democracy for african-americans. how was that undone? the criminal justice system becomes one way of undoing reconstruction sharecropping was unjust through economic relationships. keeping people in denture and to the same sort of plantation system they had before. jim crow laws. how does birth of a nation and? the rise of this terrorist racist violence. the ku klux klan and related
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groups. reconstruction was a major experiments to build democracy that becomes so threatening to some people they pursue a variety of means legal and otherwise to undo it. what makes the civil rights and the black power. i kind of second reconstruction?
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>> it was another attempt to gain rights. berger: there was a massive coming together of different social movements and different challenges to the prevailing political and economic order.
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an effort to reconstruct society. top to bottom. that challenge is so significant that mass incarceration becomes the response. not the only response. we have the erosion of jim crow. also this incredible expansion of the criminal justice system not just prisons for policing as we will see. it becomes fundamental to limiting the scale and scope of what the second reconstruction can accomplish. we can think about it as the national level. we talked about reconstruction, we think about the federal response. think of someone like lyndon johnson. a liberal democrat president. who passes the voting rights act in the civil rights act.
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he also launches the war on crime. in 1964 johnson handily defeats barry goldwater. goldwater is trying to base his campaign on punishment. we need to stop these movements. johnson takes a more liberal approach. he wins easily. but then he launches the war on crime. he says crime is such a problem we need a massive federal response to it. part of that is about toughening sentences. a big piece of it is the safe streets act that he passes three years later. it's about more police. and more heavily armed police.
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this was a response to what was happening in the streets of the country. so many strong challenges in cities and towns around the country. johnson helps lay the foundation for this. it continues with richard nixon and ronald reagan. nixon runs in 1968 and he makes law and order the centerpiece of his campaign. he takes a lot of what barry goldwater was talking about and tries to build a whole platform of it.
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he said that we need to take a tough stand against the demonstrators. he helps launch the first wave of the war on drugs. reagan whose most famous for his time in the presidency. but at this time he's the governor of california. where nixon also got his start. the fact that they both come
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from california is significant. reagan takes us tough stand against student activism. when campuses are protesting and demanding changes in the curriculum, reagan is the first to, police and demand more law and order. he builds his national reputation and how he responds in california. 13 figure is j edgar hoover, the head of the fbi. hoover starts this thing called the counterintelligence program. it is a secret police strategy of the fbi. it starts in the 1950's to try to undermine the communist party , puerto rican independence. by the 1960's cointelpro is focused on black radicalism.
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in a memo hoover says the purpose of the program is to expose discredits misdirect or otherwise neutralize the of black nationalist organizations. and their leaders and members and supporters. the clear purpose of the program. cointelpro does that through a variety of means. in 1969 the agents are part of the murder of the leader of the chicago black panther's chapter. i got in print hampton. -- a guy named fred hampton. that is the most extreme version. more significant, is the various piety -- petty and the mundane ways the fbi tried to prevent the organizations from coming together.
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prevent people from doing the kind of activism that they were doing. one of several examples. fbi agents are discussing getting a story to the news media that the ideas that will help foster a split between the black panther party and the student nonviolent coordinating committee. two of the leading organizations of black youth at that time.
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if we get stories in the newspaper that they are fighting with each other, that will turn the public off and maybe will also help them actually fight each other. these kinds of activities together with more overt explicit responses really did destabilize the movements. they really did contribute to a failure to come together due to infighting. that alone doesn't give us mass incarceration. cointelpro is concerned with destabilizing the kind of radical activists. they are offering the most forceful challenge to the system. if and when they successfully destabilize them, then they
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can't actually respond to the other social conditions that are happening. the article you read on tuesday talks about deindustrialization. african-americans particularly affected by being less tired first fired. unable to access proper employment opportunities. that is what organizations like the panthers and sncc were organizing around. then they can't respond to the larger challenges to the community.
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johnson, nixon, reagan, who for all played a part. most people are incarcerated at the state level. the federal politicians are important in setting priorities. and providing resources. it doesn't actually give us mass incarceration. it needs to be built state-by-state by state. i want to take us to california in particular. forget there, i want to offer -- before we get there, i want to offer a counterintuitive account of mass incarceration. the movements and activists of the second reconstruction were already intimately acquainted with what we might call mass incarceration. police and the prison system. they are already shaped by it. they use that to bolster their demands. we think about the leading figures of the time. all of them had criminal records. especially in the south. for rosa parks, to take her
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heroic stand. she broke the law. true for all the southern activists. fannie lou hamer was beaten for trying to register to vote. stokely carmichael one of the leading members of sncc who was arrested more than 20 times. everybody said don't hang out with stokely carmichael on his birthday. that experience of arrest and imprisonment was common. also she renewed -- huey newton spent time in prison as a juvenile.
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and martin luther king was arrested. the attention that his arrests bring ultimately make it so that people don't -- police don't want to arrest him. because the movement to us so already familiar with police and prisons, there was an idea that there were more powerful. current arrangements would break them. -- would not to break them. it bolsters further activism. martin luther king famously describes going to jail as a badge of honor. something that made african-americans impatient to be free. it was a rite of passage. that kind of message in a different way gets echoed by malcolm x.
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arrested as a young person for being part of the gang. a series of robberies and petty crimes. he joins the nation of islam and becomes malcolm x.. while in prison. widely respected and sought after. he continuously reminds his audience that he spent time in prison. that is what america means. we can talk about a range of other actions. they are often presented as opposing figures. martin versus malcolm. the american dream versus the american nightmare. king the integrationist versus malcolm x. the separatist. but in fact they had a lot more
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in common than people give them credit for. in their visions and ideas. both using that experience to further push people to organize and fight for freedom. malcolm x says you can't be a negro in america and not have a criminal record. this becomes a kind of rhetorical move to show how the country -- detention already is in the lives of working class
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african-americans. that experience becomes a part of not only the organized activism but also the more spontaneous rebellions that happen. we think about the. in the mid-1960's, the time of hundreds of uprisings in cities around the country.
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we talked about watts. newark new jersey. detroit michigan. major uprisings. also in small towns. caused millions of dollars in damages. governors had to send out the national guard to restore order. everything happening in the streets of this country moved into the prisons.
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hundreds of urban riots become dozens and maybe scores of prison riots. well before we got this massive spike in the rate of people going to prison. watts. what happened there? >> and african-american guy was pulled over for drunk driving. he was treated very violently. the community responded with anger. against how he was being treated. that created a six-day riot that killed 34 people. burned-out buildings.
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berger: watts becomes a natural -- national touchstone for the anger of the. period. they were people who marginally employed or unemployed. a sort of response to the economic crisis of black communities. the response to watts was manifold but one of the things the police did in los angeles was to say that we need to invest more money in police.
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we need to better train police. in counterinsurgency methods. we need the weapons and tools to do so. we think was the result? >> [indiscernible] >> this is the origin of the swat team. shows like cops are still on. this hyper military response by police, army weaponry and attire. that came out of the sorts of rebellions. the first response was we need more and better armed police. need to free them to act more violently. there's a big standoff of the los angeles chapter of the black panther party. this was the first training exercise. in real life. that kind of massive police presence it begins as a response to things like watts. california becomes a really
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interesting and surprising case study here. california tries to take the lead in rehabilitative approaches. they used something called bibliotherapy. people go to prison because they are uneducated so once they are in prison we're going to educate them when they do something bad. we'll give them books and have them read and write. this was the idea of california prison officials. we will keep them in prison until they are corrected. they also have indeterminate sentences. you could be sentenced to serve between five years and to life in prison. it's up to them to decide when you've been corrected. what you think happened as prisoners started to embrace bibliotherapy.
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y? >> coming more politically aware. george jackson said he met marx and lenin in prison.
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becoming acutely aware of the state they were into. learning how to respond. berger: great.
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they learned about the world and how to respond to the world. being very critical of the conditions. they start writing books about it. processing the violence experienced in prison. george jackson was not the first to do so. he was the most significant and most famous. california prison officials were saying, that is not what we want to do. they moved quickly from this rehabilitative approach to expanding on the control aspect of prisons in response. a move for rehabilitating prisoners to what gets called incapacitating them. lock them up and throw away the
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key. we will not even try to rehabilitate them. in 1970 there were 20,000 people in prison in california. you are a guess how many people in prison in california 20 years later? >> 100,000? berger: 90,000 people. in the span of 20 years is more than quadruples the number of people in prison. another 20 years after that, 15 years after that, california now has 163,000 people in prison. that is more than whole countries have. today it has drop down a little bit. but this is a massive shift. they are not just sort of cramming people into the rafters of the prisons.
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if you are going to expand the government's ability to incarcerate people, you have to build new prisons. about 10 prisons throughout the state in george jackson and angela davis is time. today there are more than 30. plus various jails and federal prisons and so on. the state of california needs to build all of these prisons really quickly. we think about the kind of demands that the panthers are making against the state of california. that sncc 's making. how state resources should be spent.
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also a massive prison construction project. the most ambitious prison construction program in world history. the soledad brothers case becomes a touchstone in a time
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of prisoner activism. the sold-out of brothers were three men, all of them first encounter the criminal justice people as young people. one of them was eight years old. different experiences in the juvenile system. and they find themselves in adult prisons by the time they are 18 to 20 years old. george jackson becomes the most famous. he was the oldest.
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he was 18 when he was in prison. he got into trouble before, fights and burglaries. in 1960 he and a friend tried to rob a gas station. $70. the judge looks at his rap sheet and sentences him to serve one year to life in prison. remember that indeterminate sentencing. you are a bad kid, this is why we need to correct you. this is before a lot of the hallmarks of the second reconstruction coming to pass. george jackson is experiencing watts from san quentin. he seeing the rise of the black panther party from inside a prison. because he is paying attention to the world and reading and writing he's leading classes on
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political education. during classes on martial arts. he becomes known throughout the prison system. everyone tells people you have to meet this guy george jackson. huey newton helps george jackson get an attorney. what brings these three guys together is that a guard shot and killed three black prisoners in the yard. in response to that, they investigate and say was justifiable. someone beat up and killed a guard. a different guard. widely seen as retaliation. they were charged for that. what becomes interesting, what jackson's lawyer sees, the kind of force and power of his statements. there is a larger problem. of racism happening here. he is such as the skate analyst of it. he helps bring his letters together.
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a certain kind of patient zero for mass incarceration. we think about proms we see in the prison system as a whole, george jackson becomes one of the most sophisticated analysts of it. someone who is able to diagnose the problems in the prisons. and gives off a warning cry. here he is talking about how people come to expect prison. a more pessimistic reading of martin luther king saying it is a badge of honor.
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jackson is not saying it's a good thing. he's saying it becomes natural. he talks about prisons generally. signs of fascism. is very stark and polemical in his writing.
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we may think about jackson warning about the rising inequality. he's saying that prisons and solitary confinement and racially disparate ways those punishments are meted out our great threats to american democracy. you could have major problems on our hands. this is jackson's warning to the country. that becomes tremendously inspiring to people around the world. most inspiring to other people in prison. most famously, in attic in new attica in new york people are inspired by jackson. when george jackson was killed, they went on a fast.
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a one-day strike to honor george jackson. this so terrified the guards because of the already existing tensions at the prison. three weeks later it burst into this major prison riot. you can think of it as the sort of, what happened at watts moving to prison. attica was a four-day process were prisoners built to their own commune inside the prison. until the governor of new york nelson rockefeller sent in state troopers and killed 43 people. prisoners and guards alike. the origins of that came from remembering george jackson. people start trying to write on
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books. writing newsletters. taking classes in teaching each other things. inspired by his version of dignity and autonomy. militancy inside the prison. it is not just other activists who are inspired by george jackson. the government also has a response to george jackson. it continues to influence prison policy to this day. hugo panell was a comrade of jackson's.
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after he was killed he was charged as well. he got another life sentence. they put him in solitary confinement for the next 40 plus years. he got out of solitary confinement in august and two days later was killed by two white prisoners. in an episode that is still under investigation. panell becomes the proof of the punishment of george jackson. the way that his symbolism continues to shape the outcomes. not just people who know jackson. talk about all the prisons that california had to build.
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one of the most austere and punishing was the prison at pelican bay. gordon nonstop konstantin lockdown. were the things that got people sent to hell in bay was having copies of george jackson's books in their cells. having pictures of george jackson in their cell. the fear of association for guys who were born after jackson was killed. until very recently was still published in prison. what california officials had discussions on building pelican bay, what was called a super max. before that point maximum-security was the highest form of security in prison. pelican bay inaugurates this new form of prisons. they want to prevent another george jackson. they want to keep people as isolated as possible.
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it is deprivation as possible. the exercise yard where people are released on their own. every one or two days. the constant back-and-forth. in this process of mass incarceration. not just jackson inspired people to take activism seriously. also inspired the state to take their own kind of actions. that came back around in the last five years it was prisoners at pelican bay who launched a series of hunger strikes and lawsuits against the state of california for this kind of indefinite solitary confinement. led by these men. all of them had spent more than 10 years in isolation. most of them and spent more than 20 years in isolation.
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the hunger strike had about 30,000 people participating. up and down the state. there are people who can't sit in the same room together and they were able to coordinate a demonstration that grips the entire states prison system. 30,000 people participated in that strike in 2013. more people than california incarcerated at the time george jackson was alive. those kinds of policies continued to reverberate through and in connection to the. of the second reconstruction. i want to close with this. george jackson was assembled in his day. he became a symbol of the kind
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of injustices that people faced. in particular is a warning to the kind of injustices that would be in store if we didn't take the problems of prisons seriously. he wasn't talking about mass incarceration back then.
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