It is important to note that there is debate about whether “PIC” is an accurate and useful descriptor. Some prefer “corrections industrial complex,” to draw attention to probation and surveillance as the fastest growing part of the industry. Others offer a more far-reaching critique by questioning how industrial and complex the PIC really is since the corrections arena is still overwhelmingly public – the budget is less than 1 percent of the GDP, less than 0.5 percent of the incarcerated being employed by private firms. It is also an overwhelmingly decentralized enterprise, run at the local, county, and state levels rather than masterminded by a central government entity, as is for example the Pentagon vis-à-vis the military–industrial complex.
Even so, the term “PIC” has been useful as a rhetorical device for drawing widespread attention to the exponential growth of prison and policing since 1980 and for highlighting the multiple investments of a wide range of entities. Profit, in this context, is made not only in cash, but also in political power, property, TV ratings, and other resources from economic to symbolic, including the fact that many companies now invest in e-corrections as a fix for prison overcrowding.
If both Appolition and Promise apply digital tools to helping people who cannot afford bail to get out of cages, why is Promise a problem for those who support prison abolition? Because it creates a powerful mechanism that makes it easier to put people back in; and, rather than turning away from the carceral apparatus, it extends it into everyday life.
Whereas the money crowdfunded for Appolition operates like an endowment that is used to bail people out, Promise is an investment and collaborates with law enforcement. The company, which received $3 million in venture capital, is not in the business of decarceration but is part of the “technocorrections” industry, which seeks to capitalize on very real concerns about mass incarceration and the political momentum of social justice organizing. Products like Promise make it easier and more cost-effective for people to be tracked and thrown back into jail for technical violations. One “promise” here is to the state – that the company can keep track of individuals – and another to the taxpayer – that the company can cut costs. As for the individuals held captive, the burden of nonstop surveillance is arguably better than jail, but a digital cell is still a form of high-tech social control.
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