When someone commits a crime in any society, that person will get punished with a time-out behind bars. But, in America, punishing people have become a billion dollar industry. And when it comes to profits, an industry must do whatever it can to increase its profits. The infamous prison industrial complex sought that move for years. As a result, the U.S. has the highest prison population in the world, and the complex wants it that way.
According to the Sentencing Project’s article, 1999 to 2012 saw an 18% rise in the nation’s overall prison population, and state prison populations grew by 40%. However, and more alarming, federal prison populations in private prisons rose an astronomical 784%! Again, this is all during a ten-year span.
Part of the reason behind this dramatic population increase is due to mega prison companies – such as Correction Corporations of America (CCA) – granting contracts to state and federal levels. Bascically, they will give contracts if state and federal agencies provide them with products in order to make huge profits. Theses products are human beings, most of whom are sent for minor, nonviolent offenses and some who are completely innocent. Yet, to companies like the CCA, that is just good business.
This invasion of hyper-capitalist greed is evident in the horrific case of two Pennsylvania judges who accepted millions of dollars of kickbacks from private juvenile facilities in exchange for sending children to jail from 2003 to 2008. Judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan sent thousands of children to prison. Some were as young as 11. Most of them were sent to prison for minimal offenses such as trespassing and shoplifting.
Another part of this super-sized prison explosion is due to the rise of immigration detentions. Immigration convictions have risen in record numbers fueling private prisons. Many of them are sent for simply crossing the border. For three years in a row, more people have been convicted for immigration offenses than for any other crime.
Last, but not least is the troubling “War on Drugs” or rather the “War on Black and Brown Communities”. Police have stepped up their surveillance in marginalized neighborhoods which include stopping and frisking based on pure “suspicion”. Cops continue to see young black and brown males in urban streets as suspected drug dealers and drug users. The premise, or excuse rather, is that drugs are heavily concentrated in poor, urban communities of color when studies show that the rate of drug use is no different in white communities.
Yet, this so-called war is targeting black/brown communities based on stereotypes. Harsher sentencing is given based on the supposed difference of crack vs. powder cocaine. And poor neighborhoods end up severely economically and emotionally crippled right down to the family structure. It is all documented in Michelle Alexander’s groundbreaking book The New Jim Crow how this is just another attempt to criminalize black men.
When you ask the average person why is there so many people – black people – in prison, some will reply with “Because they commit the most crimes.” This is the rationale behind the continuous heavy influx of poor blacks and why ‘stop and frisk’ must be enforced. It is not racist; it is public policy.
However, it is not as clear cut as that. More shocking (to them) is that it’s not even about justice and safety.
Most blacks in prison are sentenced for nonviolent offenses. Most of them involve drugs, which are not confined to black communities and can be found lurking in supposedly ‘safe’ white neighborhoods at about the same rate. So, one needs to ask why is the hood singled out in this con?
Racism is one part. The other part deals with connections. Some of the people in these white neighborhoods are cops, lawyers, judges and politicians. Those are the people prison corporations want to hook up with in order to make a big business deal. If some of them or their family members are doing drugs, or any other kind of dirt, they have enough pull not to end up in terrible trouble and maintain their “wholesome” image.
At the same time, they will criminalize communities of color. They will campaign around as leaders ‘getting tough’ on crime. They will call for more cops on the street and harsher sentencing laws. And before you know it, the prison population expands because they made a lucrative deal with the complex.
We live in a world where hyper-capitalism is running amok. I call it ‘hyper’ because people are trying to make big money off of necessities and misfortunes. The complex makes money by imprisoning more and more people by the day. There is hardly any sort of “corrections” in these facilities. Why would there be? If an ex-con lands back into prison because he was unable to turn his life around, partly due to hiring prejudices, that means more money in the pocket for a company somewhere. Of course this is a human rights crisis of epic proportions, another form of modern day slavery. But, for companies like CCA, it is just good business.