The Prison Industrial Complex and Mass Incarceration

It has leaked into the general consciousness that the War on Crime has produced staggering and untenable results. The most salient results are the striking growth of privately built and run prisons and the mass incarceration of young urban black and brown men.

The Prison Policy Initiative from March 12, 2014 presented these truly astonishing statistics: In the USA 2.4 million people are incarcerated in 1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 2,259 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,283 local jails, 79 Indian Country Jails as well as immigrant detention facilities, civil commitment centers, and prisons in United State territories.

Even more troubling is that most of the 722,000 people in local jails have yet to be convicted of anything. The United States locks up more people than any other country in the world. Though the United states has 5% of the world’s population we have 25% of the world’s total incarcerated.

Ten years ago the US had 5 private prisons with a total of 2000 prisoners. 10 years later we have 100 private prisons and 62,000 incarcerated in them. These prisons have contracts to employ theses prisoners thus requiring ever more prisons and prisoners to keep pace with contractual obligations that bring them millions of dollars annually. This is one of the country’s fastest growing industries; a modern day workhouse, a form of slavery that, for the moment, is still primarily aimed at people of color.

There are five corporations that are most deeply involved in the business of prisons: Turner Construction builds prisons and between 2007 and 2012 made an annual income of approximately $278 million; BI Inc. specializing in GPS systems, private probation, signed contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) supervising 27,000 undocumented people awaiting deportation or asylum; Aramark provides food service to more than 600 correctional facilities; Seamus Technologies provides telecommunications in jails and prisons where it cost prisoners $1 per minute for phone calls; Bob Barker Industries maker of cheap goods for prisons and prisoners including sandals, board games, t-shirts, black striped canvas shoes.

The explosion of these and other corporations has come as a direct result of the war on drugs which is primarily waged in black and brown communities. The real war on drugs picked up steam under Reagan and has grown apace since then. Whole generations of minority men and women are charged with petty drug crimes, sentenced to prison for their “felonies” and when released are marked as “felon” and dumped into an American undercaste that practically guarantees a high rate of recidivism that supplies these privately run prisons with the capital they need; inmates.

These corporations also heavily support get tough on crime measures as those laws virtually guarantee a steady flow of cheap labor in the persons cycling in and out of their facilities.

The development of prisons as a highly desirable investment opportunity for the wealthy should not come as a surprise. As our voracious imperial capitalism has penetrated markets around the world newer markets are required. Capitalism can only survive as long as it feeds the monster of continuous growth. The domestic and international markets will continue to grow but only for so long. It stands to reason that the owner class in conjunction with their tame government would find predatory ways to criminalize an entire generation requiring the creation of an outsized need for ever more prisons.

The cost to the states and federal government to police, arrest, investigate charge, prosecute, incarcerate and then supervise those who have completed their sentences is staggering. As the amount of taxes available to state and federal treasuries has steadily decreased, financing this prison growth has stripped away money from other lines in state budgets. Thus the advent of the ever increasing drive to privatize various functions of government to relieve the flood budgetary red ink while enriching the prison industrial complex.

The ballooning of resources diverted to prisons has been largely unnoticed by the public until recently. As of 2010 33 of 50 states decreased spending on education while spending on prisons increased. Most states now spend more on prisons than on education.

As an example, the following is from an article, “Education vs. Prisons published in the December 2010 The American Prospect: “In 2009, the School District of Philadelphia faced a projected budget shortfall of $147 million, after losing $160 million in state funding. Yet, during this same period, taxpayers spent nearly $290 million to imprison residents from just 11 Philadelphia neighborhoods, home to about one-quarter of the city’s population.” The public is slowly becoming aware of not only the growth in prisons but the mass incarceration feeding that growth.

In a very real sense, the Prison Industrial Complex and the laws that brought it about are virtually hollowing out state budgets. Money that should be spent on things such as health care and education go begging while millions of our tax dollars are egregiously poured into the bank accounts of a handful of corporations.

This exploitive industry that enslaves and profits on the backs of black and brown men and women needs to be abolished. Not only for those who suffer the misfortune of incarceration, but their families and communities. In a broader sense, this system needs to be abolished for the very real damage it wreaks on education and health care alone. When minority communities suffer even more derangement of their educational and medical facilities they are more prone to the kinds of petty drug crimes that ushers them into the Prison Industrial Complex.

The war on drugs and the mass incarceration it entails needs to be drastically curtailed. We need to undermine the foundation of the prison industrial complex and devise ways to release from prison non-violent offenders and those deemed least likely to become repeat offenders.

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