I attended the talk “Prison Abolition and the Challenges of Feminism” by Angela Y. Davis on the 4th of this month (April 2011) at Delhi University in India, and bought her book ARE PRISONS OBSOLETE? Which I highly recommend.
First a few Statistics: The US has less than 5% of the world’s total population and about 25% of the world’s incarcerated population! The world’s total incarcerated population is around 9 million, the US incarcerated population is around 2.5 million! Another comparison the total population of the US is about 300 Million with 2.5 Million people behind bars, India Total population is about 1.2 Billion they have around 300,000 people behind bars.
The Economic Impact of Prison Growth (http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R41177.pdf) is a 2010 report created for Congress. I highly recommend taking a glance at this report, it has some very illustrative graphs and loads of info. Excerpts from the report: About 770,000 people worked in the corrections sector in 2008. The U.S. Labor Department expects the number of guards, supervisors, and other staff to grow by 9% between 2008 and 2018, while the number of probation and parole officers is to increase by 16%. In addition to those working directly in institutions, many more jobs are tied to a multi-billion dollar private industry that constructs, finances, equips, and provides health care, education, food, rehabilitation and other services to prisons and jails. By comparison, in 2008 there were 880,000 workers in the entire U.S. auto manufacturing sector…
Correctional spending (and the rate of incarceration) has continued rising, even though the crime rate has declined or stabilized since the early 1990s…
Kevin Campbell, a senior research analyst.. notes that the growth of the prison population has slowed significantly. But even a roughly 2% increase in the prison/detention population represents another 40,000 inmates. Campbell estimates that a 1-2% increase in the prison population comes out to another $2.6 billion in spending annually. (end of excerpt)
Private Prisons are the big “new” (starting in the 80’s) industry it refer to both existing public facilities taken over by private operators and to the building and operation of new prisons by for-profit companies. Nearly all U.S. prisons opened between 2000 and 2005 were developed by private companies. These companies operate under a contract with municipalities, states or the federal government funded by… Yes, we the tax payers on a per-inmate bases. That is NOT a good incentive for reform and keeping people out of jail, do you think? These companies that are profiting off incarcerating people have a deep history of devious tactics such as; building prisons before they even get a contract to pressure the contractors, getting paid for “ghost prisoners” i.e.. empty beds, bribing judges and lawmakers to keep their “quota” of filled cells, cutting corners on training guard, exploiting prisoners with excessive labour, extreme detention, lack of health care (sometimes ending in death), on and on the list of dubious practices goes..
So why do they exist? They say it is because of cost effectiveness. A study by the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) released in 2001 stated that “rather than the projected 20-percent savings, the average saving from privatization was only 1 percent”. The private prison companies also promise small rural towns economic growth by creating jobs and an increase in the security of their communities. Studies show that the economic growth and security promise is not a reality. How do these companies save the contractors money while providing the same services and still end up with a profit? They pay their non-unionized workers much less, and of course they make savings on lowering the quality of prisoner services, health care, food, education, rehabilitation programs etc. It has been said (and there are statistics to back it up) that because of the private prisons poor management it is more likely that prisoners will re-offend and end up back in incarceration, which isn’t a bad thing for their profit motivated business.
We hear our politicians and teachers speak of progress and how we have come a long way since the beginning of civilization, “we have evolved” they say. How is this progress measured? By standard of living? By advances in technology? By wealth? By reduction in crime?
Freedom is the key cornerstone to progress, if you don’t have food, water, self-dignity or opportunities for betterment (education), you are not Free! This in my opinion is why inner-city minorities are much more likely to end up in prison, they lack opportunities to get out of their oppressive environments. The Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) is arguably as impacting to our society and even more elusive than that of our Military industrial Complex. The PIC is a deeply subconscious aspect of our society because it is in the daily images we consume in this modern brainwashed media and entertainment culture, Yet we don’t really think or talk about it and most don’t experience it. We have been fed an opinion on it since the moment we can stare at that bright flickering box. The opinion we are fed is: “Our communities are safer because we lock up the dangerous people.”
When the talk with Angela Davis was over and the floor was opened up to question it was very interesting to hear this deeply rooted “false-sense-of-security and justice” programing coming out of people, one person said “but people who have done wrong in society need to be punished.” Prisons have become a permanent ideology, we can’t imagine life without them.
Angela Davis was very humble in my opinion she wasn’t some radical extremist shouting out “down with the Prison Industrial Complex, this is a racist system” she was saying (not a direct quote) “look, this is how the system is put together, it doesn’t work for the prisoners, it doesn’t work for society, here are the numbers. We need to put our minds together and understand the ROOTS of criminal behavior, address the roots and transition out of this faulty system.”
“Hundreds of prisons, jails, and detention centers in this country are owned and run by for-profit corporations. For these companies, every prisoner is a profit center, every crime a business opportunity, and rehabilitation is bad for business.” – Grass Roots Leadership
There is so much to say about this facet of our society, I am optimistic for the future of a Society based on the value of human life, as Angela Davis declares to be.
One of the few positive impacts of the recession is that states such as Vermont are starting to change the incarceration system starting with alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders, “The Drug War” must end!
Write an incarcerated person, volunteer at a prison, anything you can do is deeply appreciated. Many of these people are “the forgotten ones of society” with no visitors, no love and no support. One letter or package can change someones life!