The umbrella of moratorium on prison/jail construction is a rare action/ organizing opportunity to clearly say "NO" to cages.

Already, courageous and progressive professionals, ex-prisoners, reformers, abolitionists and other concerned citizens are joining in a vigorous campaign to educate and act together to stop the unprecedented wave of prison/jail construction projects across the country. The wide support for moratorium has produced a wealth of useful statements:

Central to the strategies of prison administrations in the era of convict rebellion is construction of new prisons .... old bastilles should be replaced, say the prison men; some of them are more than a hundred years old, they are too big, unwieldy, unsanitary, overcrowded. The humanitarian reformer will agree, for he has seen the evidence on his television screen and in magazine picture spreads: the tiny, dark cells, rusty iron bars, overflowing toilets, dank concrete, over all an aura of decay. Incomparably worse than any zoo, he will declare! No wonder riots and disturbances are endemic in these places. As long as we must have prisons, let them at least be decent and fit for human habitation.

Significantly, the occupants of these disgraceful dungeons have in no instance joined the chorus of demands for newer and better-built prisons. Search the manifestoes of convict leaders from the Tombs to San Quentin and you will find no such proposal. On the contrary, prisoner and ex-convict groups thruout the country are urging opposition to new prison building, which they see as leading to a vast expansion of the existing prison empire.

-Jessica Mitford, Kind and Usual Punishment, pp. 182-83

In view of the bankruptcy of penal institutions ... the Commission recommends a ten-year moratorium on construction of institutions except under circumstances set forth under Standard 11.1. The moratorium period should be used for planning to utilize non-institutional means ... Each correctional agency administering state institutions for juvenile or adult offenders should adopt immediately a policy of not building new major institutions for juveniles under any circumstances, and not building new institutions for adults unless an analysis of the total criminal justice and adult corrections systems produces a clear finding that no alternative is possible.

-Corrections, Report of the National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals, 1973, pp. 597, 357.

Reducing jail and prison populations thru provisions for community-based correctional programs and other alternatives to incarceration. Until such steps are taken, a moratorium on the construction of new jails and prisons should be instituted by local, state, provincial and federal authorities.

-Resolution, General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association, 1974

No new detention or penal institution should be built before alternatives to incarceration are fully provided for. Specifically, the National Council on Crime and Delinquency calls for a halt on the construction of all prisons, jails, juvenile training schools, and detention homes until the maximum funding, staffing, and utilization of noninstitutional correction have been attained.

-Policy Statement, Board of Directors, National Council on Crime and Delinquency, 1972

If this country is resolved to do something constructive about the crime problem, the immediate thing it must do is call a halt to the building of new prisons, jails, and training schools, at least for a time, while we plan and develop alternatives. We say this for two principal reasons. First, so long as we build, we will have neither the pressures nor the will to develop more productive answers. The correctional institution is the "out of sight, out of mind" response to the problem of crime .... No study that I have ever seen, and there are many, provides any assurance that the prison reduces crime, while there is ample evidence that the fact of imprisonment is a heavy contributor to post-release criminal activity. The prison provides only the illusion, not the reality, of protection against the criminal.

And secondly, jails and prisons are so very permanent .... If we were to begin to replace only those cells in American jails and prisons that were built more than 50 years ago, the price tag would exceed one billion, five hundred million dollars. The result would be that two or three more generations of Americans would be saddled with an expensive and counterproductive method of controlling crime.

--William Nagel, The New Red Barn: A Critical Look at the Modern American Prison

To The Governor and Citizens of the State of Connecticut: At a vote taken by the directors of the Connecticut Prison Association on March 8, 1973, it was unanimously voted by all present, to request a moratorium on the building of any new correctional institutions in the state of Connecticut. This moratorium should last from three to five years, during which time a Blue Ribbon Committee be appointed by the Governor to study alternatives to incarceration of sentenced inmates.

-Connecticut Prison Association, March 1973

To fail to give support for an immediate moratorium on institution construction in favor of tested community alternatives is to allocate six to eight billion dollars for new jails and prisons by 1980. The timing is critical. About three billion dollars are already committed by state and federal governments for rebuilding the old prison system. Soon any viable discussion of the prison of the future will be delayed not for a decade, but for a century.

-Milton Rector, President of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, Fortune News, November 1974

If the Federal Government wants to set up a model, it ought to be doing better things than building prisons, particularly when the trend in many states is toward closing them .... Mr. Carlson undoubtedly is correct that there will always be some offenders who have to be imprisoned for public safety; but these are the few rather than the many, and they scarcely justify the federal government embarking now on a vast program of prison construction. That seems exactly the wrong model to provide, at a time when federal leadership and assistance might go far toward eliminating an American penal system that encourages rather than prevents crime.

-Tom Wicker, New York Times, July 27, 1972

We firmly believe that the moratorium period which we ask you to impose upon the Federal Bureau of Prisons, could be utilized to seek out more viable approaches to the resolution of the problem of crime within our society, resolutions which are directed toward more just and safe communities.

-Testimony of Reverend Virginia Mackey, New York State Council of Churches, Subcommittee on State, Justice, Commerce and Judiciary, House of Representatives Appropriations Committee, March 25, 1976

Moratorium is the first and most important step towards systemic prison change. Tho local organizing on a state or county level will determine the success of moratorium campaigns, the movement to stop prison/jail construction is fortunate in having a strong national organization to provide information, resources and assistance to local campaigns to help facilitate actions. The National Moratorium on Prison Construction (NMPC), based in Washington, D.C., has researched all aspects of the issues related to prison/jail construction. They produce a variety of literature (the source of much information in this section), including "Prison Program Action Packet," which provides basic material on moratorium efforts. Thru the excellent newsletter Jericho, local efforts can be linked to dozens of similar campaigns around the country, strengthening the movement as a whole.

Public education

Arguments in favor of a moratorium on prison construction may be gleaned from almost every page of this handbook. We will state briefly here some of the strongest arguments.

Arguments in favor of prison construction

Some "corrections" professionals who urge smaller, more "humane" prisons, feel that moratorium efforts block "progressive" leadership within the prison establishment, perpetuating overcrowding, unsanitary conditions and a violent environment. Particularly if the large fortress prisons are closed, these reformers propose a building program which gives the best assurance of creating safe and self-respecting conditions for men and women in custody.

Many reformers also feel that prisons will always he overcrowded because it is difficult and perhaps impossible to convince judges and legislatures that sentencing policy should be modified to meet the resources of the "correctional" system. They feel too that efforts to decriminalize or facilitate community alternatives are too long range to effect the immediate needs of those in prison. Thus, they conclude, until alternatives are developed, they will support the building of new prisons.

Finally, others argue that building more prisons has the approval of "affected" people-the victims of crime and those who need the jobs prisons provide in both staff and construction. Moratorium proponents, according to these reformers, should have little to say about matters which so directly affect other peoples' lives.

Moratorium responses

Most moratorium advocates come out of the experience of reform, having devoted boundless energies toward "improving" prison conditions. We will continue to make every attempt to reduce the sufferings of those who are caged, as they request it, and as long as incarceration exists. However, we are convinced that there can never be a "humane" cage. The concept of caging as a response to lawbreaking is inappropriate and brutal. Other solutions can and must be developed. Moratorium is a first step toward new solutions.

Further, there is no evidence to support the results of a small, new prison over a large, old prison. Denial of freedom is the same whether it occurs in a larger space or a smaller space. There are more than enough units in existing facilities to house the population if alternatives are employed. Limiting space forces legislatures to decide who must be restrained, removing the pretense that it's acceptable to imprison anyone the court wishes as long as it is done within modernized and humane facilities.

Questions of employment for prison personnel or construction workers in a society that diminishes its dependence on prisons, are problems which can be remedied thru social and economic planning. New employment opportunities and retraining of guards and other prison personnel are better solutions than increasing dependence on incarceration.

We consider prisoners and their families as the people most directly affected by the prison system. We have heard their cries for release; their grievances about conditions of brutality and injustice; their expressed fears for their welfare; their requests for legal assistance; their demands to be treated as human beings-but we have never heard them ask for smaller, shiny new prisons.

Moratorium is an opportunity to begin dialogue with those who support the building and use of prisons as a response to crime. There are no quick and total solutions to the complexities of crime and criminal behavior, but there are enough alternative choices available now to justify a moratorium on all prison/jail construction. With an end to prison construction, we can seriously examine and implement the use of alternatives as we move toward creating a more just system.

Developing a strategy for local moratorium

A community moratorium group should be prepared to develop a rationale and strategy for halting plans to construct a new penal facility. Tho local situations differ, in many respects prison construction issues are universal. Thus campaigns can draw upon experiences from similar moratorium efforts. NMPC suggests the following general outline for a strategy on moratorium:

Every effort should be made to pursue nonjudicial avenues before initiating legal action for moratorium. Litigation is costly, slow and cumbersome. An evolving moratorium campaign built on factual, economic and practical arguments will help produce the type of evidence and documentation necessary to support a legal case.

If litigation ultimately is necessary, the litigants who first pursue nonjudicial solutions appear more reasonable and responsible. It would also be useful to assemble a group of moratorium advocacy lawyers to assist in developing and shaping a law suit if that becomes necessary.

Researching a moratorium campaign

Educating the public to the prohibitive costs of jails and prisons and the comparative benefits of alternatives requires solid research and concrete proposals.

Do not hesitate to undertake a moratorium on prison/jail construction in your community because you feel you don't have the necessary research, education or action skills. Your participation in a serious campaign will help develop them. There is no mystique to researching if you follow thru on three basic questions:


Here are three important questions we need to answer:

Flow process of existing system

Criminal (in)justice processes are comprised of three general components: police /apprehension, courts /adjudication and "corrections"/punishment. These components can often be found in each tier of government: city, county, state and federal. Usually there are additional separate courts and prisons for juveniles.

It is important to understand the flow process in your community when attempting to stop construction of new prisons/jails. Such information is also central to promoting various alternatives in program, procedure or policy that would diminish dependence on confinement. Appropriate alternatives can be introduced at different points in this flow process that will greatly effect the cost and numbers of defendants passing thru later points. For example, if there is less pretrial detention of poor people, we know that:

It is also important to examine the per capita detention rate of your state, and if possible, your city or county, to determine whether your lock-up rate is greater or less than other states.

Prisoners presently in confinement

Analyzing the imprisoned population, especially those for whom a new jail is anticipated, is an important research task. Information on confinees can usually be obtained from the administrator of the particular facility involved. In some states annual demographic statistics can also be obtained from courts or police agencies.

In terms of reducing dependence on confinement, it is important to determine who of those currently locked up does not require a secure setting. Tho appropriate alternatives can eventually be developed for all confinees, the most logical candidates for immediate decarceration include:

Until that time when abolishing-type changes depopulate the prisons, the reality of prison life must continually be exposed to public view. It is entirely possible that constitutional standards for prisons cannot be met due to fiscally squeezed budgets and because of the lawlessness of the prison environment. Thus the conditions of prison life must be carefully monitored and challenged. It is necessary to seek both the official version of prison conditions and the testimony from persons presently caged or recently released.


It is important to understand which political entity wants the new facility and for which prisoners it is to be constructed. Is it the city council, county commissioner, or state legislature that is calling for the new prison/jail? In some cases it will be a federal prison being planned and at some time prior to construction hearings must be held in the community where the prison is to be located. The community should be alert to such hearings, as it provides an important arena for registering objections and educating the public.

The political unit desiring the new facility will contain within its structure a particular official (county sheriff, jailer, or warden; city jailer or warden; state warden or "corrections" commissioner) who should be able to furnish demographic information about inmates and other data. If officials are uncooperative, a concerted effort by an organized community group will usually be able to get the information.

In the event that such material is withheld, citizens have other avenues for securing what is essentially public information. Since many states have fairly comprehensive public information laws, any withholding of information on the grounds that it is "confidential" can and must be challenged.


A great deal of the homework you discover you need to do, might already have been done, so it is important to be well acquainted with the major sources and publications of the criminal (in)justice systems of your locality. Many states have commissions which gather and publish data important to moratorium campaigns. For instance, in Connecticut, the Connecticut Justice Commission publishes annually a comprehensive document, The Criminal Justice System in Connecticut. Other data is available in that state from the apartment of "Corrections," its business office and various divisional offices.

Each state planning unit which disburses Law Enforcement Assistance Acts (LEAA) funds, has research reports which are public documents. LEAA Guideline Manual 4100.1, Chapter 1, Paragraph 28, states that all identifiable plans, applications, grants or contract awards, reports, books or papers maintained by State Planning Units (SPU's) "shall be made properly available upon request to any person for inspection or copying." LEAA's Washington Information Office very cooperatively forwards documents upon request. Details for researching state budgets and expenditures can be found in "Researching the Prison Power Structure," Chapter 9.

The responsibility for construction of new facilities for most state agencies is usually vested in a "Bureau of Building Construction" or similar agency. Thus, if you want to know who is building a prison/jail already begun and how much it will cost, ask this bureau,- not the Department of "Corrections."

Funding prison/jail construction

Legislative decisions on funding prison/jail construction are made by a city council, county commissioners, regional or special district authority, the state legislature, U.S. Congress, a criminal justice commission or task force or by other official bodies.

Other officials in positions of power who need to be influenced in their decision making are: city manager or mayor or city warden; county executive officer; county sheriff or warden; state governor; "corrections" commissioner; director of criminal justice planning agency; director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons; director of area criminal justice commission or task force and others holding similar power positions.

Funds for prison/jail construction come mainly from the following sources: general revenue, local and/or state, regional; bonds; LEAA, administered via local and/or state Criminal Justice Planning Agencies under various names or subdivisions; revenue sharing; or special tax.

The method of funding the proposed institution should be determined at the first possible moment. Isolating the source of funds, permits the educational program to be geared to the appropriate agency procedures and focusses the lobbying on the proper political figures. It is equally imperative that the use to which the facility will be put is perfectly clear. For instance, if the proposed construction is designed for pretrial detainees, it will be far more vulnerable to legal attack, since there are many established and proven alternatives to pretrial detention.


Prison change requires extraordinary educational efforts and carefully conceived materials which stimulate dialogue and create an environment where change can occur.

Prisons and crime, prisons and fear, prisons and community safety are closely linked in the minds of the general public, making the change process both difficult and delicate. To a society that believes that all problems can be solved, vague promises of alternatives merely reinforce dependence on the familiar-the prison model.

The public or legislators rarely receive information and materials which provide new perspectives on issues of crime and imprisonment. Therefore, freshly conceived information and educational materials disseminated by moratorium campaigns thru community meetings, press releases, pamphlets, newspaper and t.v. free speech slots, can have a profound impact on the public and legislators.

Forms of community action

Because decisions to build facilities often are initated by, or are the responsibility of, an executive or administrative official, such as a department of "correction," or a state or local LEAA planning agency, public effort should be focussed on administrative as well as legislative education and influence. Frequently these executive agencies are required to hold public hearings to air their proposals.

Public hearings are important. Sometimes you will have to demand them. Substantial numbers of citizens should be encouraged to attend. Informed speakers, including the author of any feasibility study, should be prepared to present an articulate discourse on the desirability and economic savings of alternatives to prison construction.

Pressure should also be applied to individual officials by seeking private audiences, writing letters, sending telegrams. Support should be enlisted from other legislators and community leaders who may be influential in persuading individual administrators to consider the proffered alternatives. This may be done by mobilizing a write-in campaign, especially to those serving on criminal justice committees.

Frequently the described types of concerted community actions are successful. However, more assertive action may be required where those methods are unproductive. These tactics include electing new officials to replace intransigents, recalling recalcitrant officials and initiating referendums when that is a legal option. Constituencies can be developed around these issues if organizing networks are maintained with prisoners' families, ex-prisoner groups, reformers, taxpayers' groups, social change groups, the religious and academic communities and interested individuals.

The power of people to make prison change has barely been tapped. Moratorium is the first step in saying "NO MORE CAGES."

What every prison changer should know about LEAA

The Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) is to the criminal (in)justice systems what the Pentagon is to the military. Operating in conjunction with multinational corporations and research institutes, the LEAA has financed the transfer of the techniques and hardware of military and space-derived technology to both police and prisons. Industries which profit grandly from "the war on crime" are in most instances the ones which reaped excessive financial rewards from the war in Vietnam. The social/ industrial complex is a blood brother of the military/ industrial complex.[1]

In June 1968, at the peak of the antiwar and civil rights movements, Congress enacted the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act. [2] This bill laid the groundwork for massive federal intrusion into law enforcement, a function constitutionally and traditionally regarded as strictly local. The statute did not pretend to deal with the conditions that breed crime: unemployment, racism, poverty, slums, powerlessness and a culture that encourages violence and competition. [3]

When the "war on crime" was declared by the federal government, LEAA was the instrument created to disburse the funds, to lead the attack. The emphasis on technology and management techniques, reflects a specific ideology about the sources of crime and disorder. The decision to use a war-model response to problems that are essentially social and political has enormous significance because it is the first serious attempt to develop a national apparatus of control.

Since its inception eight years ago, LEAA has become an immense criminal (in)justice bureaucracy, one of the fastest growing agencies in the federal government and the most heavily funded division of the Department of Justice. LEAA's budget has increased from $63 million in 1969 to approximately $800 million in 1976, funding almost 100,000 programs and pouring close to $5 billion into the nation's criminal (in)justice systems.[4]

LEAA provides thousands of jobs to bureaucrats and criminal (in)justice professionals and researchers who feed off the LEAA pork barrel. But the biggest winners in the LEAA sweepstakes are the manufacturers and suppliers of computers, electronics equipment and surveillance devices. The list reads like the top 100 war contractors: IBM, Burroughs, Motorola, RCA, Westinghouse, Litton, Honeywell, Bell Helicopter, Hughes Aircraft and many other familiar suppliers. Much of the counterinsurgency arsenal field-tested in Vietnam has been converted to the law enforcement market.[5]

The LEAA bonanza continues to serve as a "vehicle for ripping off frustrated taxpayers who want something done about crime"[6] even while serious charges of corruption and LEAA's wasteful spending of public funds are leveled at the agency.[7] The failure of LEAA to meet the stated but unrealistic goals of "reducing crime and insuring justice,'' and their questionable constitutional and moral practices, have attracted severe criticism. Both conservatives and liberals have criticized the bureaucratic inefficiencies of LEAA, with the former emphasizing the structural and fiscal problems and the latter focussing on the need for an efficient, research-oriented and centralized approach to the problem of crime. Additionally, a number of radical scholars, predominantly in the muckraking tradition, have highlighted the paramilitary and repressive functions of the LEAA and its potential role in establishing a "police state."[8]

In California, LEAA was denounced as a waste of taxpayers' money by Governor Edmund Brown, Jr. Shortly after taking office in January of 1975, he cut the staff of LEAA's office of Criminal Justice Planning from over 200 to 40 people. He then threatened to reject California's fiscal 1977 block grant-about $50 million-unless LEAA and its state representatives are able to prove that the funds are having some impact on the crime rate. If they are not, he says, the money would be better used to reduce the federal budget deficit.[9]

Thus, $5 billion dollars after the declaration of the "war on crime," realistic LEAA administrators admit that the program has not only failed to reduce crime, but that the infusion of massive amounts of money at a federal or state level cannot solve or even reduce the incidence of crime.[10] Further, its officials do not know with any certainty how its money has been spent. LEAA is unable to provide a detailed breakdown listing various categories of programs and the exact amount of money expended on each, despite an expensive computer system originally intended to store information about every grant.[11]

Advocates of moratorium on prison/jail construction and other prison changers are in daily touch with the effects of LEAA funding. Since 1968 at least $1.5 billion of LEAA's funds have been expended on "corrections" in a total of 30,000 programs. If one includes other programs that have a direct impact on "corrections" such as pretrial diversion, drug treatment, crime prevention, community education and the "corrections" portion of criminal (in)justice planning efforts, the figure may well exceed $2 billion, 40 percent of total LEAA expenditures.[12] There has been increasing emphasis on funding of "corrections" corresponding to the growing militant activity within prisons.

Because of its massive funding capability, it is difficult to find a community-based "corrections program" or a prominent researcher or for that matter a prison reform organization that has not been the recipient of a LEAA grant. Events as diverse as the abolition of juvenile prisons in Massachusetts and the acquisition of college credits by 40,000 guards and other prison staff on 1,000 campuses across the country have been funded by LEAA. The Minnesota parole /restitution program, volunteer probationary programs, pretrial diversion projects, victim assistance programs, rape crisis centers and multi-million dollar projects to redesign an entire state's correctional system relied on LEAA for their funding. There is no state or territory and very few counties and municipalities that have not received LEAA money.

Thus, as the major force for influencing, standardizing, unifying and coordinating policies and programs for the criminal (in)justice systems, including "corrections," LEAA has been able to directly affect what types of new projects will be sponsored and what kinds of research will be supported. Because both "hard" and "soft" approaches to crime control are fostered by LEAA, most prison changers try to walk the chancy tightrope between reaping the benefits of reformist programs and protesting the ones that are repressive and militaristic.

In 1971, a National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals was selected by the administrator of LEAA to formulate national standards and goals for crime reduction and prevention at the state and local levels. After two years the commission and its various task forces, produced six volumes including the report on Corrections. [13] The Task Force on Corrections included Norman Carlson, director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons and William Nagel, former warden and an outspoken advocate of a moratorium on prison construction, the abandonment of prisons and the creation of community alternatives.[14]

Tho standards and goals recommended in the report on Corrections are diverse, they indicate a move away from incarceration. The report advocates a moratorium on the construction of all adult prisons/jails while alternatives are developed and implemented and the closing of all public institutions for "juvenile delinquents." Many other progressive recommendations and critiques of existing practices contained in the report are useful to abolitionists in pressuring local and state systems to adopt more just and less punitive policies. [15] We perceive such improvements, however, as interim strategies, and not ends in themselves, mindful that the locus of power remains in the public system and not the community.

Prison changers reap other small benefits from LEAA. Many local programs of an experimental nature would not have evolved without LEAA funding. Also, for the first time, prison changers and advocacy researchers have had access to some hard-to-get national statistics and information about the criminal (in)justice systems. But at what great cost!

While on one hand the Corrections report advocates a moratorium on prison/jail construction, with the other, LEAA has been handing out funds to build new institutions. It is impossible to get a detailed breakdown of expenditures on construction and renovation of these institutions from LEAA. Officials contend that the amount of money spent on construction has been a small percentage of the total LEAA budget, and that much of that which has occurred has been for the renovation of outmoded facilities, or for the addition of "program space" to existing institutions.

The largest amount has been expended on the construction and renovation of jails, especially in the rural areas of the country. The amount runs into the tens of millions of dollars, but no exact figures are available.[16] Moratorium researchers can be more successful in pinpointing local and state construction expenditures.

The following information will prove helpful to advocates of prison/jail moratorium who need to understand the workings of the state and local LEAA apparatus:

The State Planning Agency and any Regional Planning Units within the state shall, within their respective jurisdictions, be representative of the law enforcement and criminal justice agencies directly related to the prevention and control of juvenile delinquency, units of general local government and public agencies maintaining programs to reduce and control crime, and shall include representatives of citizens, professional and community organizations directly related to delinquency prevention. (emphasis added)

Abolitionists advocate that as long as LEAA survives, prison changers should:

In the long range, LEAA will fail and he discarded for the reasons stated by Dr. Jerry Miller, a member of the Consultant Committee on "Corrections" which analyzed LEAA's "corrections" accomplishments. The grant approach to "corrections" reform can never work because those proposing the solutions (state arid local "corrections" officials) are part of the problem and as a result most LEAA programs have served only "to sustain and build on existing failure." Most of the LEAA funded diversion and community-based programs have not really diverted offenders from institutions, but have instead, Miller says, swept new people into the system who otherwise would have been ignored. His own experiment in Massachusetts, which abolished existing juvenile institutions, was largely funded by LEAA. This was the unusual, he asserts--one of the very few truly innovative efforts funded by LEAA. [23]

Nothing less than a restructuring of American society and our system of law can be expected to significantly alter the crime situation. Vigorous investigation of boondoggles such as LEAA should be undertaken so that the enormous wastes of taxpayers' money can be exposed and the LEAA or similar models abolished.

Federal Bureau of Prisons: A growth industry

Tho convincing arguments can be made to stop the construction of state and local prisons, extravagant plans of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP) to construct at least 34 new prisons provides an unrivaled focal point for moratorium advocates. Despite impressive rationale advanced by numerous experts and organizations particularizing why the entire federal system of prisons should he abolished, the FBOP unashamedly continues to expand in all directions, augmenting its own bureaucracy with profits gained from the slave labor of prisoners.

The NMPC and other organizations are beginning to muster needed opposition to the huge federal prison boondoggle. However, it will take the support of the entire prison change movement and concerned taxpayers thruout the country to stop further unwarranted expansion of the mammoth federal caging bureaucracy.

There was a time, prior to 1895, when the first federal prison was established in Leavenworth, Kansas, that federal lawbreakers were caged in state prisons and leased out to private contractors-at a handsome profit.[24] But Congress put a stop to that practice in 1930 by passing legislation that authorized the establishment of a complete federal prison system which mushroomed into a major industry-the FBOP. By fiscal year 1977, the FBOP has the authority to employ more than 8,900 career-minded people with a budget exceeding $302 million, an increase of $67 million and 161 positions over fiscal year 1976.[25] Its burgeoning complex of cages, classification categories and diversified industries produce profits that rival those of other huge growth corporations.

Despite a concerted moratorium effort by national organizations, [26] the expressed reservations of the General Accounting Office (GAO) [27] and members of Congress, close to $57 million of the 1977 budget increase provides for the planning or construction of four new prisons. These are merely the tip of the building iceberg. As of June 30, 1975, the FBOPs' ten-year master plan called for building 34 more prisons at an estimated cost of $460 million. This hefty construction plan was shaved down from an even more gargantuan proposal for 66 projected prisons at a potential cost of $670 million.[29]

Presently, the FBOP controls 52 prison/institutions located in 23 states at sites ranging from rural communities to major metropolitan areas. They include the infamous segregation unit at Marion Federal Penitentiary, Illinois, the most open and experimental institution at Fort Worth, Texas and the fearsome experimental center at Butner, North Carolina. At the end of fiscal year 1975, about 80 percent of federal prisoners were in federal prisons and about 20 percent in state and local prisons/jails, totaling 28,600 in all.[30]

Detailed facts and figures on FBOPs' building plans will be available from NMPC as they continue to monitor the program. In addition to strategies already cited for moratorium on local and state prisons, we suggest the following three points be made in pressing Congress to cut construction funds for the FBOP:

Basically, critics contend there is no justification for federal prisons,[32] they duplicate state institutions and move prisoners far away from their communities. Further, federal agencies should not be making plans for their own perpetuation and aggrandizement.

Even if one believed in imprisoning lawbreakers, there is nothing to set federal prisoners apart from state prisoners except that they broke a federal law rather than a state or local law. Federal laws are duplicative of state laws. As William Nagel points out, by far the majority (88 percent) of federal prisoners are confined for the same kinds of crime which might have landed them in state prisons-larceny, drugs, robbery, guns, auto theft and murder. Further, reciprocal agreements already in effect permit state prisoners to be caged in federal prisons and vice versa. This common practice demonstrates that prisoners need not be placed in federal prisons. Advocates for federal prisons lack any coherent rationale on the practice of placing lawbreakers in cages labeled "federal" rather than "state." If, as Nagel hypothesizes, Congress passed a law making all crimes in which guns are used federal offenses, suddenly thousands of "state" offenders would become "federal" offenders. Should the FBOP then build 10,000 new cages? Should the state close 10,000 of theirs? Nagel concludes that given the FBOPs' current trend, if such a law were passed they would probably build those 10,000 cages, call them "rooms" and paint them pastel![33]

Moratorium advocates cite roles for the federal government other than an operational one. As examples, they point to specific services which are mandated and funded by the federal government but operated by state and local governments. This kind of "federalism" serves as an enabling model for vocational rehabilitation services, public assistance programs, medical assistance, mental health, poverty and educational programs. Largely the product of federal standards and money, these services are owned and operated by the states. Measured within this context of "federalism" the FBOP itself is as anachronistic as are its prisons.[34]

The FBOPs' glaring inconsistencies in their stated rationale for building new prisons has been effectively challenged. But alternative recommendations have gone unheeded by federal decision makers.[37] Even if overcrowding is as serious an issue as the FBOP contends, its director, Norman Carlson, already advocates a depopulation solution for state prison systems which could easily solve any real or imagined population problem for the federal prison system:

For example, according to Mr. Carlson, states might consider whether all inmates now in prison really belong there: "Young first offenders, alcoholics and those found guilty of not making support payments to their families" unnecessarily clog the prison system. He argues that such offenders could be handled just as safely in the community. Other offenders who needlessly inflate prison rolls, suggests Mr. Carlson, are those convicted of so-called victimless crimes, such as prostitution, gambling and drug addiction. Those convicted of such crimes are usually nonviolent, and can he treated outside prison if they need "correction."[38]

If the FBOP were to take its director's decarceration strategy seriously, the first wave of prison depopulation could solve all alleged overcrowding as well as other serious problems. Only slightly more than 25 percent of all federal prisoners have been convicted of what the director would call a "violent offense."[39] Thus, by Director Carlson's own standards, on the basis of their having committed unviolent acts, almost 75 percent of the federal population could be released with no threat to the community.

The American prison business could not survive and prosper as it does were it not for those of us inside who labor. As we labor for prison industry profits we also work for the exploitation and degradation of ourselves and our fellows; we labor to maintain our incarcerated and insulted existence .... Rehabilitation in prison has become a code-word for a cheap labor market; and thanks to the George Meanys of this world [one of the directors of the FPI], American prisons will continue to serve as a source of cheap labor [and] huge profits.[41]

As new federal prisons are constructed, they will become factories for expanding the FPI.[42] New products will be added to the seven product divisions already in full operation at factories located in 24 prisons. In 1976, FPI's retained earnings of $6 million, more than doubled those of fiscal year (FY) 1975. Total gross sales increased $9 million, from $72 million in FY 1975 to $81 million in FY 1976. Substantial increases in earnings were realized in electronics, textiles, shoe/brush and metals divisions. Electronics represented the highest division gain, increasing from $10.3 million in sales in FY 1975 to $14.3 million in FY 1976. The Department of Defense is the primary customer for these electronic products used to make weapons of war.

FPI, Inc. is a wholly-owned government corporation established in 1934,[43] administered by a board of six directors appointed by the President to serve without compensation. The board represents industry (Berry N. Beaman), retailers and consumers (James L. Palmer), the Department of Defense (John Marshall Briley), labor (George Meany), agriculture (William E. Morgan) and the Attorney General (Peter B. Bensinger). Norman A. Carlson serves as Commissioner of Industries and David C. Jelinek as Associate Commissioner.

The sale of articles produced in the FPI is restricted by law to departments and agencies of the federal government. In all but a few instances, it is mandatory for federal departments and agencies to purchase products from FPI rather than from other sources.[44] The numbers of products and services available are staggering--and the 1975 Annual Report. Federal Prison Industries, Inc.[45] reads like a prospectus for any large corporation seeking stockholders and further investment. Like it or not--and we don't like it-all U.S. taxpayers are shareholders in the proceeds of captive prison labor.[46]

The fact that FPI is one of the most profitable lines of business in the country is not surprising when we examine the pay rates for prison workers -a small detail not included in the glowing annual report. Current wages range from 26 cents to 70 cents per hour, averaging in the high forty cent range. They report that in 1975 more than 13,300 prisoners were employed by FPI for a total of $4.6 million in prisoner wages. Average daily prisoner employment exceeded 5,200, accounting for more than one-fifth of the entire federal prison population. Nearly 580 staff trained and supervised the prison laborers.[47]

Until the federal prison system is dismantled, prison changers must demand an end to slave labor. We must deny all funds to the builders of prisons and educate the public to the dishonesty involved in the practice of raising the banner of "rehabilitation and training" over conditions of slavery. If prisoners are offered work, they must also receive minimum wages. Vocational training programs can be made available in the community as alternatives to prison industry.

As the FBOP grinds out slick publications and press releases "selling" the public on their staggeringly expensive air-conditioned, carpeted, electronic hi-rise nightmare versions of 20th century prisons, the press naively hails them as "an advance in jail design."[48] A young prisoner tells a different story from inside the federal "Metropolitan Correctional Center" in New York City:

To be lockstepped into the recently opened federal "Metropolitan Correctional Center" in New York City is to be marched into the future. The latest word in federal penology turns out to be a greater obscenity than anything it was designed to replace. It is enough to make one yearn for the up-frontness of iron bars and stone walls.

"Residents" are uniformed in bright orange jumpsuits to match the plastic furniture. They crowd around narrow, never-opened windows 11 stories above a totally soundless city from which they are completely dismembered. They are jammed together on carpeted floors, between paneled or pastel walls, in front of deafening color t.v. sets, around a hustler's pool table. It has all the human gravity of a floating space station. Menus and distribution of food are designed for convenience, not diet, and guards in blazers remain just one step out of sight but never out of earshot.

There is one urinal, one toilet, one shower, two sinks, and two small tables for each twenty residents. Men (and boys) who have just been sentenced to 25 years share and compete for facilities with those who are serving 30 days, and those who are awaiting trial, and those who have to be reminded not to light the filter end of their cigarette. Residents with a past history of resistance to the state are afforded an extra measure of harassment and humiliation. "Counselors" are seldom seen and almost never available.

There is virtually nothing to read. Fresh air is not needed, nor sunshine, nor room to exercise, nor any movement beyond one half of one floor. Pills are liberally dispensed; proper medical care is not. There is a constant white noise coming from the multitude of ventilators along with the incessant blasts of chilling air. There is no place to run and no place to hide; only electric wizardry and closed circuit surveillance, all purposely calculated to minimize any human contact.

All this costs millions and millions of taxpayers' dollars, and it is called "enlightened."

Prisoners have always been seen as nothing other than commodities in a soulless landscape, like goods in a warehouse. What makes the new "MCC" so "progressive" is its highly touted neo-HolidayInn-lobby facade behind which men and women are even more greatly ignored and numbed, manipulated by unseen forces, until vision and hope, like their muscles, atrophy in the face of abandonment. It is a futuristic nightmare where antiseptic trappings disguise the despair within. It says something not only about the future direction of prisons, but also something about the future direction of the country.

The New York City prototype will be duplicated in Detroit and Phoenix. But for whose benefit? Reputations and salaries will be made for young progressive wardens, for innovative architects, for Washington bureaucrats, for academics and criminologists with their precious detachment. Society will not be embarrassed with eyesores, either structural or human: medieval looking buildings or the poor who do not abide by national priorities which put more heat on the already oppressed.

I believe that all confinements of freedom lead to aspects of death. The actual existence of prisons-more prisons, newer prisons, pastel prisons, coeducational prisons, prisons that don't look like prisons, prisons that aren't even called prisons-the actual existence of prisons means living with death's metaphor. It corrupts both the victim and the society.

The houses of those who are made to begin dying will always be with us-like sanctified criminality in high places; like insulation of certain crimes; like the selective enforcement of selective laws to converge on the young, poor and Black. But to consent to these Holiday-Inn hells as an improvement or as somehow more "humane" only enforces the hypocrisy with which death corrupts life.[49]


1. Gregory McLauchlan, "LEAA: A Case Study in the Development of the Social Industrial Complex," Crime and Social Justice, Fall/Winter 1975, pp. 15-16. Also Richard Quinney, Critique of Legal Order, pp. 105-132.

2. For a legislative history of this act, see "Index to the Legislative History of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968," Office of General Counsel, LEAA, January 23, 1973. See also, Richard Harris, The Fear of Crime (New York, Praeger, 1969).

3. Hannah Shields and Mae Churchill, "The Fraudulent War on Crime," Nation, December 21, 1974, p. 649.

4. For funding history of LEAA see The Law Enforcement Assistance Administration: A Partnership for Crime Control, LEAA, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., p. 15. Also Michael S. Serill, "LEAA: A Question of Impact," Corrections Magazine, June 1976, pp. 3-29.

5. Shields and Churchill, p. 648. Also Anthony Platt and Lynn Cooper, eds., Policing America (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, Prentice-Hall, 1974). In addition to corporations profiting from the law enforcement market, the primary agencies involved include The Committee for Economic Development, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at California Institute of Technology, Stanford Research Institute, the Institute for Defense Analysis, the International Association of Chiefs of Police thru its Police Weapons Systems Program, and the National Bureau of Standards. See also The Iron Fist and the Velvet Glove: An Analysis of the U.S. Police.

6. Carl Rowan, 'What LEAA Did Wrong," New York Post, May 14, 1976.

7. Shields and Churchill, p. 648: "By 1972, Government Executive was reporting serious crime among the crime fighters -illegal or improper spending of $475,000 in Florida, $593,000 in Alabama, $4,00,000 in Massachusetts; payment of consultancy fees as high as $75 an hour to such favored firms as Ernst and Ernst; preferred treatment of certain electronic suppliers, such as Motorola, which cornered the LEAA funded walkie-talkie market in Louisiana and Wisconsin without competitive bids and often at higher than list prices."

8. McLauchlan, p. 15. Also, for a discussion of the repressive capabilities of LEAA see selections by Goulden, Webb and Pinto in Policing America.

9. Serrill, P. 17.

10. Ibid. , p. 12.

11. Ibid. , p. 17

12. Ibid. , p. 4.

13. Ibid. , p. 28: The reports were funded with $1.75 million in LEAA discretionary funds. Corrections was the most controversial of the six volumes. It establishes 129 standards for the operation of jails, prisons, probation, parole and community programs.

14. William G. Nagel, The New Red Barn, pp. 137-48.

15. Ibid. LEAA did not adopt the standards as its own. Instead, according to Kay Harris, assistant director of the Commission's Task Force on Corrections, LEAA officials "have been falling all over themselves, disclaiming anything to do with it." While LEAA praised the "process" by which the Commission's standards and goals were determined, they urged the states to emulate the process by setting up their own standards and goals commissions. In a 1973 amendment to the Crime Control Act, Congress required the states to set up standards and goals commissions, and to report annually on the Commission's progress. So far $16.5 million in LEAA funds have been allocated to the various state commissions; and the debate goes on as to the degree to which the states can be pushed by the LEAA.

16. Ibid. , p. 20.

17. See Rowan, who cites the testimony of Robert L. Woodson (National Urban League), March 11, 1976.

18. Serrill, p. 5.

19. Ibid.

20. Ibid. , p. 20.

21. Ibid. , p. 5.

22. A survey of 14 state boards by Network, a Roman Catholic lobby group, showed that private citizens are grossly underrepresented on state boards, with only two of the 14 state boards having the recommended one-third citizen participation. Women and minorities were also consistently underrepresented.

23. Serrill, p. 21.

24. John Bartlow Martin, Break Down the Walls (New York, Ballantine, 1954) p. 146.

25. President Gerald Ford approved the FBOP's total budget request for fiscal year 1977 in July 1976 when he signed the Department of Justice's Appropriations Bill for fiscal year 1977. The Bureau requested $302,012,000 and 8,926 positions, an increase of $67,254,000 and 161 positions over fiscal year 1976.

26. See Jericho, newsletter of the National Moratorium on Prison Construction, May/June 1976.

27. See "Federal Prison Construction Plans Should be Better Developed and Supported," Report to the Congress by the Comptroller General of the United States, April 27. 1976. Available from U.S. General Accounting Office, Washington, D.C. 20548.

28. Jericho.

29. "Federal Prison Construction Plans," p. 6.

30. Ibid. , p. 1.

31. See: "Phasing Out the U.S. Bureau of Prisons," National Council on Crime and Delinquency Board Policy Statement, 1974; John 0. Boone, "U.S. Federal Prison History Unfolded," Fortune News, May 1975; William G. Nagel, "With Friends Like This, Who Needs Enemies?," a paper presented at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, February 7, 1974; and Toward a New Corrections Policy: Two Declarations of Principles, p. 13,

32. See Milton Rector, President, National Council on Crime and Delinquency, "Statement of the National Moratorium on Prison Construction Regarding the Federal Bureau of Prisons Fiscal Year 1977 Budget Request," before the Subcommittee on State, Justice, Commerce and Judiciary of the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee, March 24, 1976, p. 12.

33. Nagel, ''With Friends Like This," pp. 5-6.

34. Ibid.

35. Tom Wicker, "The Wrong Model," New York Times, July 27, 1972.

36. Among hundreds of national figures who have publicly commented on the failure of prisons are a notorious two who might well have experienced the failure from inside the walls: ex-President Nixon, quoted as saying "The American system for correcting and rehabilitating criminals presents a convincing ease of failure," and former Attorney General Mitchell who was "appalled at the situation in many of our prisons today." Quoted in Fred Cohen, "The Discovery of Prison Reform," Buffalo Law Review, Spring 1972, p. 857.

37. Contact NMPC for critique of FBOP's rationale for federal prison construction plans. Also see "Federal Prison Construction Plans" footnote 27.

38. Norman A. Carlson quoted in "Yesterday's 'Baby Boom' is Overcrowding Today's Prisons," U.S. News and World Report, March 1, 1976, p. 67.

39. Norman A. Carlson, in testimony before the Subcommittee on Courts, Civil Liberties and the Administration of Justice, House Committee on the Judiciary. July 30, 1975, p. 8. See also Fred Cohen, P. 883. See also Trial Magazine, November/December 1975, report on Norman A. Carlson's speech before the Fifth U.N. Congress on the prevention of Crime and Treatment of Offenders in Geneva, Switzerland:

"... We believe that whenever consistent with the public interest, maximum use should be made of alternatives to incarceration such as probation and diversion. The real problem is the chronic and violent offender. For this group we believe incarceration in a humane institution is necessary.

40. "Introductory Schedule of Products Made in Federal Penal and Correctional Institutions," U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Prison Industries, p. 1.

41. Tony Medina, #37426, Atlanta

Federal Penitentiary, in a letter to Fortune News, December 1974. He adds: "Prisoners who resent being forced to maintain their own incarceration and who want to resist their self-exploitation should refuse to work for prison industries until at least the minimum wage is made applicable to all who labor in the prison business."

42. "Director Foresees Larger Role for Prison Industries," Monday Morning Highlights, U.S. Department of Justice, February 23, 1976: "Mr. Carlson also announced that industries will be expanded during the coming years as new institutions are being constructed."

43. FPI, Inc., was established under Acts of Congress and an Executive Order which are now incorporated in Chapter 307, Sections 4121 to 4128, Title 18, U.S. Code.

44. ''Introductory Schedule of Products," pp. 1-2.

45. Available from Federal Prison Industries, Inc., Washington, D.C. 20534.

46. See Jessica Mitford, Kind and Usual Punishment, pp. 19697.

47. 1975, Annual Report, Federal Prison Industries

48. Paul Goldberger, "New Detention Center at Foley Square is Hailed as Advance in Jail Design," New York Times, July 26, 1975.

49. John Bach is a member of the Whale's Tale community in Hartford, Connecticut. He has spent 35 months in prison for draft resistance and was recently imprisoned for an act of nonviolent civil disobedience on Hiroshima Day, 1975.