Saturday, December 09, 2006

US: A Nation of Prisoners

More news which casts the United States in an unflattering light is the prison situation. Prisons are popping up like dandelions in the spring. These statistics are absolutely embarrassing:

According to the International Center for Prison Studies at King's College in London, more people are behind bars in the United States than in any other country. China ranks second with 1.5 million prisoners, followed by Russia with 870,000.

It wasn't so long ago the United States was consistently in concert with Western European nations in a broad range of positive criteria. Increasingly we find ourselves lumped in with such non-luminaries as China, Russia, even Iran.

The U.S. incarceration rate is 737 per 100,000 people .... followed by 611 in Russia and 547 for St. Kitts and Nevis. In contrast, the incarceration rates in many Western industrial nations range around 100 per 100,000 people.

Reports such as this should be throwing up red flags in the minds of all thinking Americans, and I still cling to the belief that is at least 51% of us. Unfortunately, in our fear-based society this news will most likely be shrugged off or perhaps even praised, without so much as casual examination.

"The United States has 5 percent of the world's population and 25 percent of the world's incarcerated population. We rank first in the world in locking up our fellow citizens," said Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance, which supports alternatives in the war on drugs.

Never mind the number of non-violent offenders, many of whom are locked away for drug charges, being given ridiculously long prison sentences.

Ryan King, a policy analyst at The Sentencing Project, a group advocating sentencing reform, said:

Drug offenders account for about 2 million of the 7 million in prison, on probation or parole, adding that other countries often stress treatment instead of incarceration.

The criminal justice system in the US is abysmal and getting worse.
"If these were public schools or publicly traded corporations, we'd shut them down," said Alexander Busansky, executive director of the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America's Prisons, established by a private think tank in New York. Rather, the commission said, Americans view prisons with detachment or futility, growing interested when a riot makes the news and then looking away, "hoping the troubles inside the walls will not affect us."

Here are some highlights from the report mentioned in the link, titled "Confronting Confinement," by the National Prison Commission:
*Violence remains a serious problem in prisons and jails, with gang assaults, rapes, riots and, in Florida, beatings by "goon squads" of officers.

*High rates of disease in prison, coupled with inadequate funding for healthcare, endanger inmates, staff and the public, with staph infections, tuberculosis, hepatitis C and AIDS among the biggest threats.

*The rising use of high-security segregation units is counterproductive, often causing violence inside prisons and contributing to recidivism.

In California, the Office of the Inspector General acts as a watchdog, investigating reports of abuse, assaults and fatalities. But the media are limited in their access to the state's 33 prisons, and legislative efforts to overturn such restrictions have been vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his predecessor, Gray Davis.

All 20 members supported the report's findings, concluding that "we should be astonished by the size of the prisoner population, troubled by the disproportionate incarceration of African Americans and Latinos, and saddened by the waste of human potential."

Not only are we not astonished, the vast majority of Americans have no idea, nor do many of them have any interest in understanding this problem.

Another growing facet of this is the issue of privately-run prisons. As with any business, they are in it to make a profit. To make a profit, they need a steady supply of customers. How perfect that their customer base just happens to be delivered to them in large numbers.

Read the article at The Drug Policy Alliance site called A New Slavery.

Who is Profiting?

In the United States, prison architects and contractors, corrections personnel, policy makers and academics, and the thousands of corporate vendors who peddle their wares at the annual trade-show of the American Corrections Association - hawking everything from toothbrushes and socks to barbed-wire fences and shackles. And multi-national corporations that win tax subsidies, incentives and abatements from local governments -- robbing the public coffers and depriving communities of the kind of quality education, roads, health care and infrastructure that provide genuine incentives for legitimate business. The sale of tax-exempt bonds to underwrite prison construction is now estimated at $2.3 billion annually.(5)

Last year, the Wackenhut Corrections Corporation - which manages or owns 37 prisons in the U.S., 18 in the U.K and Australia and has one under contract in South Africa -- tried to convert a former slave plantation in North Carolina into a maximum security prison to warehouse mostly Black prisoners from the nation's capital. Promising investors to keep the prison cells filled these corporations dispatch "bed-brokers" in search of prisoners - evoking images of 19th century bounty-hunters capturing runaway slaves and forcibly returning them to the cotton fields.

I do not understand why this infuriating situation continues to fly under the radar.
Geo Group, Inc., located in Boca Raton, Florida, is a company that specializes in privatizing prisons. Recently, Geo Group, Inc. was awarded a $20 million contract just two months after giving a $10,000 contribution to Governor Schwarzenegger's Recovery Team. Not only have they given large sums of money to Schwarzenegger and his campaign, they also hired lobbying firms and consultants with close connections to the Schwarzenegger Administration.

Correctional Properties Trust, a spin-off of Geo Group, named former State Finance Director Donna Arduin to their board of directors. If that isn't bad enough, according to a recent article in the Palm Beach post, Geo Group overcharged the State of Florida by $5 million.

Not surprisingly, this has been very much on the radar in the financial sector...
3 prison stocks poised to break out.
In what might be a revealing commentary on our country's state of affairs, the nation's private prison companies look like solid investments for the next several years.

Sorry, I'm all for making a profit in the market, but not on the backs of the incarcerated. It seems rather... criminal.

Related post: Incarceration of women.

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