The United States is known for its overwhelming prison population. But did you know that 2 million prisoners currently behind bars have never been to trial? It’s a disturbing realization that the U.S. goes against the integrity of the Founding Father’s system they formed to punish the guilty in a way that fits their crimes, while ensuring the innocent avoid false conviction.
With only 3 percent of the people in American prisons having actually been found guilty before their peers of breaking the law, the others remain a horrible statistic that merely mocks the corruption of the system.
The Sixth Amendment states:
“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.”
And yet such an alarming amount of people who are waiting to be seen by independent juries and judges are being abandoned at the hands of shameless profiteering.
“The reality is that almost no one who is imprisoned in America has gotten a trial,” notes award-winning journalist Chris Hedges.”There is rarely an impartial investigation. A staggering 97 percent of all federal cases and 95 percent of all state felony cases are resolved through plea bargaining.” Of those millions who bargained away their right to a trial by accepting plea deals, “significant percentages of them are innocent.”
While many people are currently being held without trial have likely committed crimes, it cannot be ignored that they are being refused their constitutional right to a fair and speedy trial. And no matter which way you slice it, the guilty aren’t being punished quickly enough, while the innocent aren’t being protected quick enough.
Judge Jed S. Rakoff noted in the New York Review of Books that rising crime and immigration rates pressured the system, giving way to plea bargains as an acceptable solution. But it has failed to promote pragmatic justice, and has only exposed that the court system no longer functions for the people. “Our criminal justice system is almost exclusively a system of plea bargaining, negotiated behind closed doors and with no judicial oversight. The outcome is very largely determined by the prosecutor alone,” said Rakoff.
However, if all of the accused actually went to trial, this plea agreement system would buckle. This reality prompts longer sentences for those who demanded a trial to begin with. And so public attorneys pressure their clients into accepting a plea agreement.
The plea bargain system is a perfect tool for the rich, powerful, and guilty to escape significant punishments, while the poor, guilty or not, become victims of the corrupt system.
“If you are poor, you will be railroaded in an assembly-line production, from a town or city where there are no jobs, through the police stations, county jails and courts directly into prison. And if you are poor, because you don’t have any money for adequate legal defense, you will serve sentences that are decades longer than those for equivalent crimes anywhere else in the industrialized world … Being poor has become a crime. And this makes mass incarceration the most pressing civil rights issue of our era.”
More on the massive prison industry in the United States.
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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