Despite the fact that various social, political, and human rights organizations have condemned the United States’ prison system, it remains one of the biggest businesses in existence today. Did you know that America has four percent of the world’s population, yet still carries approximately twenty five percent of the world’s prison population? That is a staggering number. America has the highest incarceration rate in the world and it is increasing exponentially each year. Almost half of American juveniles will have been arrested before they reach their 23rd birthday, and children as young as 13 years old have been sentenced to die in prison. The cost of this system? Approximately $75,000,000,000 a year…
These are just a few startling statistics outlined in the video below. Check it out.
Big Business or Slavery? The Massive Incarceration Industry
One thing we may not realize about prison is the fact that millions of people within America’s prison populations, predominantly Black and Hispanic, are working for several different industries in exchange for practically nothing. Is this not another form of slavery? Like the cheap labour and child slave labor practices we condemn overseas, the American prison system is simply another form of slavery — to the benefit of corporations, at almost no cost — that has been disguised as a necessary and favourable part of society. Prison is a gold mine of human capital for massive corporations whose unethical business practices are leading to the destruction of our planet, and whose unmitigated influence in the political sphere has given them nearly free reign to dictate government policy.
The truth is, there is a massive contracting of prisoners for work happening right now, and this only provides more incentive to lock people up. This is the income that prisons depend upon, and the prison industry is actually one of the fastest-growing industries in the United States. Its investors are on Wall Street.
“Prison labor based in private prisons is a multimillion-dollar industry with its own trade exhibitions, conventions, websites, and mail-order/Internet catalogs (Pelaez 2008). . . . The industry also has direct advertising campaigns, architecture companies, construction companies, investment houses on Wall Street, plumbing supply companies, food supply companies, armed security, and padded cell manufacturing, all of which rival those of any other private industry (Pelaez 2008). Furthermore, private prisoners at the state level produce a variety of goods and services, from clothing to toys to telemarketing and customer service (Erlich 2005). The private federal prison industry also produces nearly all military goods, from uniform helmet to ammunition, along with durable goods ranging from paint to office furniture (Pelaez 2008).” (source)
Did you know that corporate stockholders who make money off of prison labor lobby for longer sentences? They do this to expand their workforce, and so, according to a study done by the Progressive Labor Party, “the system feeds itself.” They accuse the prison system of being “an imitation of Nazi Germany” with regards to forced slave labor and concentration camps.
If we look at the history of prison labour in the United States, it becomes immediately apparent that the entire system is birthed out of racism. After the civil wars of the mid to late 18th century, the system of hiring prisoners was established in order to continue the slavery that had dominated previous years. This was, of course, a time when racial segregation was legal across the United States.
“Prison labor has its roots in slavery. After the 1861-1865 Civil War, a system of ‘hiring out prisoners’ was introduced in order to continue the slavery tradition. Freed slaves were charged with not carrying out their sharecropping commitments (cultivating someone else’s land in exchange for part of the harvest) or petty thievery – which were almost never proven – and were then ‘hired out’ for cotton picking, working in mines and building railroads. From 1870 until 1910 in the state of Georgia, 88% of hired-out convicts were Black. In Alabama, 93% of ‘hired-out’miners were Black. In Mississippi, a huge prison farm similar to the old slave plantations replaced the system of hiring out convicts. The notorious Parchman plantation existed until 1972.” (source)
Vicky Pelaez, a Peruvian journalist and columnist for The Moscow News, points out that dozens of states have legalized the contracting of prison labor to corporations, which include such names as: IMB, Boeing, Motorola, Microsoft, AT&T, Wireless, Dell, and many more. Some of these inmates are getting approximately $2 a hour. She also outlines how inmates are commonly imported and exported.
Below is a clip taken from the THRIVE movement of an interview with Van Jones, who brings up some important points.
Prisons Do Not ‘Rehabilitate’ People
Again, prison is a business, and given the horrible conditions, poor food, and various other human rights abuses prisoners face, it’s quite clear that something needs to change here.
First of all, if you want to ‘rehabilitate’ and help somebody, locking them up for hours every single day for large portions of their life is, as I am sure most of you reading this would agree, not a solution.
Prison does not address why people are committing these crimes and it certainly does not do anything to help them deal with those issues. Moreover, the punishments rarely fit the crimes; prison sentences are often disproportionately long in relation to the crime being addressed. We are not acknowledging or dealing with the fact that governments have brought drugs into their countries and glorified crime in order to drive up the prison population. There are a number of factors that go into the business of prison, and helping people better themselves as human beings is not one of them.
There are children and men in there who have been locked up for more than a decade… for stealing. Is that really rehabilitation? Solitary confinement, commonly used in prison, is a form of punishment that is regarded as torture (and should be). The Center For Constitutional Rights states:
Researchers have demonstrated that prolonged solitary confinement causes a persistent and heightened state of anxiety and nervousness, headaches, insomnia, lethargy or chronic tiredness, nightmares, heart palpitations, fear of impending nervous breakdowns and higher rates of hypertension and early morbidity. Other documented effects include obsessive ruminations, confused thought processes, an oversensitivity to stimuli, irrational anger, social withdrawal, hallucinations, violent fantasies, emotional flatness, mood swings, chronic depression, feelings of overall deterioration, as well as suicidal ideation. (source)
As the first video in this article outlines, sure, measures have to be taken against certain individuals to keep others safe, but what is happening here is not a solution.
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