At the convergence of sensitive national issues such as racism, sadism and huge scale capitalism, lies various concerns with the United States Prisons and Rehabilitation Services. One such issue with growing public interest and widespread notions is what is referred to as the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC). Prison Industrial Complex is just one of the many matters and growing worries within the US Prison Industry today, some of which include; solitary confinements, healthcare in prison, rehabilitation, retribution and many others. This discussion however chooses to solely focus on Prison Industrial Complex due to the complexity of the issue and different arguments surrounding it, seeking to clarify and present more knowledge based on credible sources.
To begin with, prison Industrial complex can be formally defined as a situation whereby the prisons are privatized for profit making. This is a trend that has grown over the past few decades in which both the state and federal governments have pacts with some private corporations to manage some of the prisons for profit. These corporations make massive profits from paying pennies to the prisoners for labour from the correctional facilities that they run. Moreover, such corporations have most of the times been associated with leaders who have a great deal of involvement in political lobbying, such that they always influence the legislation to support the profitability of their privately managed prisons (Stanley et al., pp. 77).
This term prison industrial complex first came up in 1997, made up by an activist, Angela Davis, in her description of the veritable young men, especially those of colour who were subsumed by the archaic American prison system. Given the ever-growing numbers of such people who are incarcerated behind bars, prison industrial complex is matter of great significance per se, that needs further discussion and comprehension. Statistics show that, the United States is one of the countries with the largest prison population globally. Further ranking of the crimes for which one gets sentenced reveal that most of these people have committed small crimes such as possession and sale of controlled substances and nonviolent robbery; crimes that are committed mostly as a result of poor economic conditions. Crimes like murder don't even appear among the top ten reasons for incarceration in California. These facts evidence the monumental commitment by the US Prisons to lock a sizeable portion of their population by giving out harsh sentence to 'small offenders' (Eisen and Lauren-Brooke, pp. 100).
As aforementioned, the prison industrial complex entails the interweaving between private corporations and the interests of the government. Within this relationship, prisons function as a very big business in which two birds are killed with one stone; the government ensures social control while also gaining profits, usually under the hidden public rationale of fighting crime.
In the near past, communism was the trending topic or argument, in which communists ended up demonized for justification of large military expenditures on the pretext of protection to the citizens. Today, the demonization of offenders and fear of crime basically functions in the same ideology. The government justifies its use of massive tax dollars to incarcerate and continued repression of an increasing proportion of the US population. The reality however, is that most the 'offenders' who are locked up are the poor who are forced to commit nonviolent crimes out of their basic needs. As the dread of communism in the Cold War, horror of crime has been used as great tool to sell this dubious product. This is further amplified by the omnipresence of media blitz about violence, missing people and serial killers as such, that continues to feed this fear of crime intrinsically.
As with the development and maintenance of weapons, the maintenance and development of prisons has also become a major business. Investment companies, construction firms and architects are just but a few to mention who benefit greatly from the prison industrial complex phenomenon. Also, other groups that offer support services such as provision of food, transport and medical services all stand to gain more profits in the expansion of prisons (Eng, pp. 20).
The prison industrial complex in America is serviced and fed by culture of apprehending and sentencing criminals for even crimes that are considered small and nonviolent. One may wonder, what are some of the factors that constitute the social construction of criminals and crime? Murder, extreme violence, rape, theft and sexual assault are some of these constructions. However, homelessness and being undocumented are also coded as criminal and are punishable by law, leading to a prison sentence.
The prison industrial culture is based on culture of surveillance that biasedly targets individuals of colour, particularly the men, who are much stronger and can work for the privately-run prisons for miniature remuneration. For instance, the stop and frisk policy in New York that has been linked to racism, targeting of coloured drivers and the three strikes policy. All these policies continue to funnel a pipeline of veritable men who are nonviolent offenders into various maximum-security prisons. Moreover, once an individual is released from incarceration, their disenfranchisement begins. Ex-convicts are stripped of their voting rights, a factor that has been greatly likened to a reminiscent of the slavery days in which coloured individuals weren't permitted to have a voice in the political system as such (Herivel et al., pp.7-11).
As a matter of fact, the prison industrial complex in America is has a lot in common with slavery, particularly since the development of the capitalist industry that today is a norm rather than the exception. To this end, huge businesses and firms have been taking advantage of cheaper prison labour, reaping huge gains off the backs of those who have been imprisoned for nonviolent crimes, mostly people of colour (Eisen and Lauren-Brooke, pp. 154). The fact that these corporations are predominantly run and managed by white men with a great deal of political lobbying, further adds to this disgusting coldness of the US Prisons System. Not to mention all the others who benefit from this metaphorical freeway hooked on the Prison Industrial Complex, including telecommunication companies who monopolize inmate communication services and the whole bail bond industry.
While in theory, prisons are meant to serve as rehabilitation centres for offenders, in practice, this is quite the opposite in the United States. The extremely high rates of recidivism in the country indicate that incarceration only further hardens criminal behaviour. Recidivism is the rate at which previous offenders get re-imprisoned. Prison violence, for instance sexual assaults only further strips those who are incarcerated of their dignity, doubled up with the lack of mental health check-up and treatment after these rape ordeals further contribute to the breaking of prisoners in ways that ensure they are kept entrenched within the prison industrial complex.
Most of the criminals who are sentenced for nonviolent crimes are placed in maximum security and privately managed prisons to bolster the returns of these firms that capitalize on cheap prison labour. The prisoners are specifically vulnerable to the dreadful social conditions of the prison industry that ends manufacturing more criminals instead of rehabilitation and reabsorption into the society. Many scholars have demonstrated how entry into the prison industrial complex, even for innocent defendants shifts the inmate's life trajectory into that of crime when they are released.
The sole function of this intricate and pervasive prison industrial complex is therefore continued generation of huge returns off the backs of the inmates, while at the same time dismantling their humanity to ensure their longevity in the system as such. As long as there is still money to be made, especially in the privately managed prisons, the state and federal governments will still continue replenishing the prison coffers with men for labour. After all, the owners of these corporations make huge political donations. Since the ultimate goal of the prison industrial complex s to create profits for a small group of politically influential persons, it will still remain a comprehensive top to bottom socio-political system in which profitability is ensured while at the same time trampling on human rights per se (Herivel et al., pp. 10-30).
Currently, the prison industrial complex is not only responsible for this inhumane treatment of inmates but also through endowing them with inalienable rights as per the American constitution, the system is responsible for the inmates' sociocultural and psychological positioning, in which they are viewed as pathological dangers to the other law-abiding Americans (Stanley et al., pp. 83). In a nutshell, Prison Industrial Complex, can indeed be termed as modern day slavery, which is only getting worse under the current American political administration.
Eisen, Lauren-Brooke. Inside Private Prisons: An American Dilemma in the Age of Mass Incarceration. , 2018. Internet resource.Eng, Mercedes. Prison Industrial Complex Explodes: A Poem. , 2017. Print.
Herivel, Tara, and Paul Wright. Prison Profiteers: Who Makes Money from Mass Incarceration. New York: New Press, 2007. Internet resource.
Stanley, Eric A, Nat Smith, and CeCe McDonald. Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex, Second Edition. Edinburgh: AK Press, 2015. Internet resource..
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