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  • Monday, May 22, 2006


    Prisons are a Growth Industry

    According to a headline on Democracy Now!, the US prison population is nearing 2.2 million people.
    1 in 136 U.S. Residents Now in Prison
    The country’s prison population has reached almost 2.2 million. One in every 136 U.S. residents is now behind bars. The nation’s prison population increased by more than 1,000 inmates a week last year. New data also shows that 12 percent of African-American men between the ages of 25 and 29 are now incarcerated. That is more than ten times the incarceration rate of white men.
    Below are some statistics compiled from The Real War on Crime: The Report of the National Criminal Justice Commission, edited by Stephen R. Donziger (HarperCollins, 1996). Obviously a little out of date but still showing trends. If you think they've gotten better, I assure you they have not. Most trends have continued to accelerate. I found them on the Maoist International Movement (MIM) site, not exactly my first choice as a source but I've got others further down.
    Remember these are stats from around 1996, ten years ago. What follows is from the Department of Justice's report (pdf version and text version) on prisoners in 2004 (released Oct. 2005).
    * State prisons were between 1% below capacity and 15% above; Federal prisons were operating at 40% above capacity.

    The rate of incarceration in prison at yearend 2004 was 486 sentenced inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents -- up from 411 in 1995. About 1 in every 109 men and 1 in every 1,563 women were sentenced prisoners under the jurisdiction of State or Federal authorities.

    Overall, the United States incarcerated 2,267,787 persons at yearend 2004. This total represents persons held in --
    -- Federal and State prisons (1,421,911, which excludes State and Federal prisoners in local jails)
    -- territorial prisons (15,757)
    -- local jails (713,990)
    -- facilities operated by or exclusively for the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (9,788)
    -- military facilities (2,177)
    -- jails in Indian country (1,826 as of midyear 2003)
    -- juvenile facilities (102,338 as of October 2002).

    1 in every 138 U.S. residents in prison or jail at yearend 2004.

    The rate of incarceration in prison and jail was 724 inmates per 100,000 residents in 2004, up from 601 in 1995. At yearend 2004, 1 in every 138 U.S. residents were incarcerated in State or Federal prison or a local jail.
    Wikipedia has a short article on the Prison-Industrial Complex which is worth a look if you've never thought about prisons for profit.

    The reliance on prison as a solution for social problems is very disturbing to me. Are there dangerous people who need to be dealt with by society? Certainly. But if the incarceration rate is this high, I have to question the foundations of the society rather than seeing such a percentage as somehow "normal".

    I postulate that the laws of the US are constructed in such a way that the vast majority of adults have committed deliberate or unintentional crimes during their lifetime which, if brought to court, would result in large financial penalties and/or jail time. Even the most law abiding have
    done this. Think carefully about it. A parking transgression? Perhaps jaywalking? Oh, those aren't really serious crimes, you say. Just a ticketing offense. Maybe. If you jaywalk a lot and know it's wrong, there's a name for it: scofflaw. Or chronic offender.

    I just pulled that example out of the air but I believe you could, with a little thought, come up with personal examples, probably much more serious in nature. Because we are used to thinking of jailed offenders as violent, we don't think much about the myriad little ways many of us fudge the line of legality. We almost always think of ourselves as good guys trying to get along, not as criminals or subverters of the law. I think this is an illusion, a necessary delusion. The facts might tell a different story.

    [Addendum: SourceWatch, a project of the Center for Media & Democracy has a Wiki-type page with many links on the subject of the Prison-industrial complex.]

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