Submitted by Daniel B on Fri, 04/27/2012 - 7:52am
Growing up, the ominous “DONG-DONG” heard most nights from the TV meant only one thing: “Law and Order.” The show painted a picture of a justice system that sought to better society by bringing criminals to face responsibility for their law-breaking activities. Although a rare occurrence, the virtuous prosecutors and police officers did not always get the bad guys. The show never claimed our way of justice is perfect, but it suggested that the American system is exceptional.
It wasn’t until I was older that I discovered two monumental fallacies in the show. The first was that the opening sound I had believed for so long to be made by a strong, heavy instrument was little more than a synthesizer. The serious tone that stood as a metaphor for the equally strong justice system portrayed in the show had been misleading. In one of his weekly commentaries – “Jailing Americans for Profit: The Rise of the Prison Industrial Complex” – John W. Whitehead tackles the second of my misconceptions with his debunking of the actual “justice” dispensed by our judicial system.
As we watch powerful corporations shape everything from what we eat to who becomes president, we have failed to notice the corporate imprisoning of our prison system. Justice is becoming decreasingly blind, as Greed carefully lifts the blindfold from her face and trades the scales for a fat coffer. Slowly but surely, the transformation of our beloved justice system into what Whitehead sees as a “cash cow for big business” is becoming a frightening reality.
This reality has spread across the country as states with financial woes outsource to corporations like Corrections Corp of America, GEO Group (a favored investment of Wells Fargo), Halliburton, and Ballour Beatty Moseley LLC (the company that built the $105 million prison near my hometown of Independence, VA). These companies gladly offer to build and run prisons …as long as 90 percent occupancy is maintained in these facilities for a minimum period of 20 years. Legislation that increases prison sentences in order to maintain these numbers are already in place in states that have “three-strike” laws. Nearly every state has been approached by these prison companies.
Anyone with even the most basic understanding of economics understands the correlation between profit and expenses; greater profit comes from spending as little as possible; and more business means more profit. In this emerging industry, more prisoners (business) means more profit. This $70 billion industry relies on the population of its inmates. What does this mean for the prison system business? Rehabilitation and reintroduction of inmates into society becomes subordinate to the dollar.
Even though the United States has experienced a decline in violent crime for decades, the incarceration rate has more than tripled. Today, six million Americans (1 in 50) are in the clutches of the prison system, and every 1 in 100 is behind bars. Most, of course, are for non-violent drug offenses (marijuana, mostly … and don’t even get me started on that topic).
The future looks bright for these corporations as they target a new group: immigrants. Minimum-security facilities for illegal immigrant women and children are being constructed across the southwest with many more planned.
With the future of American society facing complete corporate takeover, we will at least have the illusion of a fair system…
To learn more troublesome facts about the American prison system, as told by Stephen Fry on the British show QI, click on this link.