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Prison Industrial Complex: Big Brother Watches

Updated on August 23, 2014

According to Critical Resistance, the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) involves: "overlapping interests of government and industry that use surveillance, policing, and imprisonment as solutions to economic, social and political problems."

If the Prison Industrial Complex must continue to survive in this land, it becomes absolutely necessary to promulgate several engines for keeping the PIC conveyor undisturbed and in motion. Frequently referred to as "Big Brother", a conglomerate of organizations with the purpose of overseeing and governing our lives is only one such engine, however it does play a major role within the complex. Surveillance is most fundamental and without it, the PIC is confounded.

The watchful eye of the PIC must hold constant vigilance somehow, and this by and largely depends upon exploitation and use of informants in its various forms. This would include Neighborhood Watch programs in which civilian members of a community become involved in policing through observing activities of others within their local areas. Informants are also derived from the criminal arena, particularly those who can be counted upon to provide consistent, reliable intelligence. In other words, those willing to rat out fellow inmates or crime associates do so with the promise of a less severe punishment or immunity. Sometimes information obtained is reliable and other times it is totally fabricated. Often, inmates are handed out longer incarceration terms or even placed in solitary confinement based solely upon the word of jailhouse informants. Once inside the SHU, an inmate may never get out of prison.

Typical solitary confinement (SHU) cell. Inmate remains in cell 23 hours each day.

Surveillance actually means "to watch."
Surveillance actually means "to watch." | Source

But what is surveillance exactly?

Basically surmised, surveillance involves monitoring people, whether groups, organizations or specific individuals. Its purpose is to run, oversee, direct, manage and protect a system or people.

Surveillance literally means "to watch." How many individuals are prudently aware of the extent to which they are being monitored and watched on a daily basis? The world we now live in has advanced technologically at an exponential pace, and with that comes unlimited ways in which to be observed: video, email, audio, social media, IP addresses, tracking devices, cameras, as well as physically being followed and watched as someone takes note of everything you happen to do. Ratification of the USA Patriot Act of 2001, provides law enforcement officials wide-ranging authority when carrying out investigations of terrorism by utilizing various tactics of surveillance. How many US citizens have read and understand this act and all that it encompasses?

PIC Feeds Off Inequality

The Prison Industrial Complex was inspired and spurred on by passage of the USA Patriot Act and the Big Brother conglomerate is indispensable to its application. Surveillance is primarily directed towards certain groups of people and individuals that are especially vulnerable to being watched such as by owners of businesses, the FBI, INS and police officers. What groups of individuals tend to be specifically targeted?

1) Foreigners.

2) Young folk.

3) The impoverished, especially those who are without a stable home and/or mentally ill. A 2006 United States Department of Justice report states, " ~1/2 of all inmates suffer from mental illness or are developmentally disabled."

4) Political Dissenters. A high school student in Massachusetts recently faced 20 years in prison. Cameron D'Ambrosio was arrested and charged in May 2013 under federal “terrorism” laws for making a Facebook post of lyrics which made a reference to the Boston Marathon bombings. The 18 year old, spent 1 month in jail before being released after a grand jury denied indictment. And there have been other cases just like it, being collectively referred to as the "Facebook Terror Prosecutions."

Racial disparities exist at an alarming rate in the U.S. prison system. According to The Sentencing Project, " 1 in every 3 Black males born today can expect to go to prison, if current trends continue."

Who decides who gets locked up and what, after all are the issues that play a part in arrests?

Police officers ultimately determine why someone is targeted (profiling), as well as who actually becomes a target and it is usually those belonging to one of the several categories stated above. Our court system is just another stop along the continuum, as those who are fed into the PIC are the ones who typically must deal with the court system. Thus, the same targeting mechanism is maintained from arrest to incarceration. This is not by coincidence. The US system of law enforcement is designed to operate the way that it does and unfortunately, various forms of brutality and violence exist. Both have been built into operation of the policing system, particularly within the for-profit prison industry. One prison even went so far as to link up with gangs to control the inmates, while keeping costs at a minimum.

As of year 2013, several state contracts have been terminated in response to the unfettered violence occurring in private prisons, as well as prison officials lying about actual work hours to get paid more money, and just poor health/safety conditions overall. Reports abound of facilities not being adequately staffed, poorly trained guards, cells consistently wreaking of feces and urine as well as inmate calls for medical assistance going ignored, resulting in preventable deaths.


"Banking on Bondage: Private Prisons and Mass Incarceration." ACLU, 2011

"Mental Health Problems of Prison and Jail Inmates." US Dept. of Justice, 2006

"What is the PIC? What is Abolition?" Critical, 2013

Just for Fun:

GANGSTA QUOTES - Memorable quotes from the most notorious of criminals including mobsters, politicians, activists and the most prolific songwriters of our time.


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    • christalluna1124 profile image

      christalluna1124 4 years ago from Dallas Texas

      Excellent article. I wonder how many Americans know the extent to which we are monitered and the consequences of being targeted and arrested. Thanks for a great write. AWESOME!!