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Sudbury: activism focuses on education over incarceration

Mills College Weekly

Social activist and professor Julia Sudbury returned to Mills
this academic year with fresh ammunition for the “Education Not
Incarceration” campaign, which begins another year of grassroots
activism this Thursday at the Downtown Oakland Library.

Professor Sudbury spent the 2002-03 academic year researching
the relationship between globalization and imprisonment at the
University of Arizona, on an academic fellowship hosted by the
Race, Sex and Globalization project – a project that focuses on how
globalization impacts communities through the lenses of race, sex
and gender.

Her research concentrated on the ways globalization has led to
an increase in the use of imprisonment and on the growth of a
transnational Prison Industrial Complex, a term she says “describes
the complex web of relationships between government agencies and
corporate interests.”

One alarming component of the Prison Industrial Complex, she
explains, is U.S. headquartered multi-national prison corporations
that contract with governments around the world to build prisons
for profit.

“These companies profit from incarcerating people and are always
on the lookout for new markets,” Sudbury said.

Privately-owned American prison corporations have already built
in places like Canada and Europe, but now these companies are
looking to get into the “global south,” third world countries where
poor social conditions force struggling populations to commit what
she calls “survival crimes.”

“These crimes are committed out of desperation to secure the
basic necessities for survival,” she said.

Sudbury argues that the best solution to crime in both
industrialized and third world countries is to invest money in
education, which will bring better social conditions to struggling
populations. Instead, governments are often enticed into an
investment in a company like Wackenhut, a U.S. headquartered
multi-national prison corporation, to solve these problems.

“Wackenhut will then build a high-tech mega prison,” she said,
“with 10 to 20 year contracts, in which the government makes a
commitment to supply a steady stream of prisoners.”

She notes that increasing prison capacity will not reduce crime.
When prisoners are released, they will have lost their homes and
their jobs, and with a prison term on their records, they are not
likely to get back on their feet. This pushes them back to a life
of crime, beginning the cycle again.

While at the University of Arizona, Sudbury discovered 14
academic programs were being closed down and student fees had risen
20 percent due to massive state budget cuts.

At the same time, the state was planning a contract to build two
new prisons, at a cost of several million dollars.

She utilized this opportunity to launch an “Education, Not
Incarceration” campaign, joining with students and former prisoners
to protest cutting educational funding to build penal

This campaign received extensive press coverage because it took
a different angle on this issue, one that had not been presented

“We had a lot of support, surprisingly, even from Republican
legislators,” she said.

Later, Sudbury discovered that Arizona was planning a contract
to build a new women’s prison with a 3,500 prisoner capacity. In
response, she instituted a “Stop the Women’s Prison” campaign,
which highlighted the appalling track record of private prison
corporations in the state.

“Guards at a women’s prison run by the Corrections Corporation
of America had been accused of rape, sexual abuse, and using women
prisoners in a prostitution ring,” she said.

Sudbury’s research also focused on how globalization has created
a new feminization of poverty. “

The Washington consensus is a right wing, U.S. economist’s
vision for economic restructuring,” she said.

Consequently, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) advises
cutting back on social services, government spending, and the
minimum wage. Because of the resulting social conditions, women are
often forced to turn to drugs, prostitution, an theft to feed and
educate their children.

Utilizing the information gathered in Arizona, Sudbury plans to
create a new field titled “Transnational Feminist Prison

She will disseminate her findings with two books, the first an
edited collection of women of color scholar writers, particularly
former political prisoners.

This book will illustrate the connection between prisons,
globalization, militarism and colonization. In the second, which
she plans to call “Punishing Survival. Race, Gender and the Prison
Industrial Complex,” she lays out her principal argument against

Sudbury also received two other fellowships while she was away:
the American Association of University Women during the 2002-2003
academic year, and the GAEA foundation during the summer of

She spent part of the summer in Nigeria at the International
Conference on Penal Abolition, speaking about the Prison Industrial
Complex and fighting the horrendous prison conditions for women she
found there.

“When your teacher disappears for a year, know that we are doing
something productive. We take the things we have learned and
contribute to our students’ education through our teachings, we
write books they can use in their studies, and we hopefully
contribute as much as we can to affect social change… I always
integrate research, teaching, and activism,” Sudbury said.

If you would like to participate in the “Education Not
Incarceration” campaign, helping Professor Sudbury and other
concerned community members shift the values and policies of the
criminal justice system, come to the coalition’s first meeting at
five o’clock on Thursday, September 18th at the Oakland Public
Library, Downtown Branch. For more information call (510)