The Justice Department on September 9th released a memo making it a policy to “prioritize the prosecution of individual employees – not just their companies”, in a move widely believed to address the inexcusable failure of the Obama administration to hold the Wall Street Elite responsible for the global economic calamity they caused that did unspeakable violence to our lives. Skeptics have noted that as a policy and not a law, the new rules, which are really reinstated rules that were disposed of in the Clinton era, are guidelines that a prosecutor may interpret per their preferred course of action.
This misses the structural reason as to why no Wall Street Elites will serve time in prison – the prison was created “to act as a ‘street sweeper’ and disciplining device for the mounting urban poor”, that arose in the period shift from feudalism to capitalism, and has remained in place since (Wacquant, “The Wedding of Workfare and Prisonfare Revisited”). The prison system does not exist to warehouse the Power Elite; it exists to warehouse in torturous conditions the victims of the Power Elite, to disappear and silence the human beings that are the collateral damage of capitalism, hiding and removing them from the public’s view and making them a criminal Other that renders them without rights or sympathy, and forestalling the inevitable, rational critique of an economic system that creates such inexcusable suffering. Being made second-class citizens, they are victims of profound discrimination in their attainment of housing, employment and public and private services, often only able to attain employment in the low paying jobs allowed for by the lack of regulation in what Hacker and Pierson call a “politics of drift” that is the hallmark of neoliberal policy-making.
It is a cycle of suffering: rather than funding the government through corporate taxation, the government borrows that money, and being as this money has to be paid back, and thus, as this habit is unsustainable, austerity measures are enacted, which leads to the cutting of public services and benefits, making life unnecessarily difficult for persons with disadvantages and resulting in the general hard economic times that make the poor vulnerable to repeat arrests and mounting fines and fees that end one up in jail. The economist Richard Wolff documents this all quite well. Once brought into the carceral apparatus, these human beings become bodies that much money is spent on for the benefit of corporations and not the human beings themselves. This transfer of money from the state to the corporations that in no way benefits the lives of the incarcerated, is continued in the service industry that has grown from probation and monitoring of persons that are out from behind bars but still under state supervision. They are funneled into the low paying jobs in the impoverished cities that corporate capitalism has gutted in the pursuit of obscene profits. These are the hard economic times that began the cycle, and necessitate its vicious perpetuity. The prison-industrial complex was created for and by the maintenance of capitalism, it will not be wielded against the Power Elite that manipulates and runs the financialized capitalist system.