Lecture & Performance Series: The Prison Machine

CSCRE hosts dialogue on “Race, Torture, and the State.”
by Liz Getman ’09

The United States has the highest per capita incarceration rate in the world, with 2.2 million people currently serving time in correctional institutions. Nearly 40 percent of them are African American — yet African Americans comprise just 12 percent of the overall population. “You are more likely to spend time in jail if you are black than if you are actually convicted of a crime,” says Sean Eversley-Bradwell, assistant professor of African diaspora studies.

To highlight the racial disparities in the U.S. prison system, the Center for the Study of Culture, Race, and Ethnicity is hosting a lecture and performance series this year on “The Prison Machine: Race, Torture, and the State.” The series explores the incarceration of people of color, torture as a means of punishment and control, and the state’s role in the increasing number of correctional facilities throughout the country and its territories. 

“Prisons exist in this sort of parallel universe,” says Asma Barlas, CSCRE director and professor of politics. “We never talk about that universe. This series is [meant] to open up conversation.” It includes a lecture by Joy James, professor of political science and John B. and John T. McCoy presidential professor of Africana studies at Williams College; a dialogue with activists and educators; and a presentation of the performance piece Guantánamo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom.

Alan Eládio Gómez, assistant professor of Latino/a studies, says the series demonstrates that the problems of the prison system affect Ithaca itself. “The argument [of those who would expand the prison system even further] is that prisons would be beneficial to small town communities, particularly in upstate New York, where the economy is poor,” he says. Their methodology includes the idea of increasing employment by opening new prisons; therefore, the prisons must be kept full — and, as Gómez points out, “there’s a particular group of people being incarcerated to keep prisons open.”

Eversley-Bradwell says he hopes IC students come to realize the alarming rate at which their peers are incarcerated. “There are more black men sitting in prisons than in college dorms,” he says. “That should give us some indication that, racially, we’re not doing something right.”