Prison Industrial Complex
By: Naheim Banks
The Criminal Justice Complex is the term used to describe the overlapping interests of government and corporations that often use policing and imprisonment as solutions to economic, social and political problems. The United States of America currently holds just 5 percent of the world’s prison population. There are currently 35 states in the U.S. that incarcerate more people than entire countries (source). Yet, the U.S. contains a quarter of the world’s prison population. U.S. prisons are extremely overcrowded, compact, and fail at rehabilitation, the sole purpose and use for prisons. According to the Bureau of Justice, about 2.2 million people were held in America’s prisons. The incarceration rate is 698 people per 100,000 in the United States compared to just 75 people per 100,000 in Norway, which has one of the most humane prisons in the world. Prisons abroad, like Norway, focus on motivation, bright cells, and professional and vocational education to help reintegrate their incarcerated back into society. As a result, Norway boasts a recidivism rate of just around 20 percent. America often states that their prison system is all about rehabilitation, however, in actuality, it focuses on confinement (looked at around the world as torture) and punishment, often taking the form of sentencing enhancements, three strikes laws, mandatory minimums, and incentivized imprisonment due to the creation of private prisons.
America’s prison system did not just grow out of thin air. It is a result of centuries of slavery, the racist and disastrous War on Drugs campaign, the cash bail system, the establishment of for-profit prisons and simply, racism. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, approximately $80 billion is spent each year on public prisons and jails (source). By comparison, the U.S. only spent $64 billion on education in 2020, which is 10 percent below the 2019 fiscal year (source). While there are multiple pieces of legislation to address prison reform solutions on the federal level, most reform efforts should focus on state and local governments which hold more than 1.3 million people in prison and two-thirds of all inmates in local jails. Many inmates in local jails hold people in prison due to America’s broken cash bail system. Bail is a set of pre-trial restrictions that are imposed on a suspect to ensure they will comply with the judicial process, including returning for a hearing. The cash bail system makes it impossible for poor defendants, often Black and Latino people, to get out of jail and are held until their trial which may take months. The bail bond business brings in about $2 billion a year according to the ACLU and the Color of Change.
The United States’ stance toward drugs and the criminalization of drug possession and drug usage due to the War on Drugs is largely responsible for America’s bloated prison population. According to the Bureau of Federal Prisons, nearly half of all inmates are nonviolent drug offenders (source). These offenders do not receive rehabilitation services in prison and serve very long and lengthy sentences because of strong drug laws enacted during the Nixon and Reagan Presidential Administrations. Due to the lack of education and rehabilitation services offered in the United States, it took half of 25,000 offenders tracked by the U.S. Sentencing Commission to be rearrested in less than two years (source).
The War on Drugs and harsher sentencing prompting the establishment of private prisons across the nation beginning in the 1980s. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, the U.S. has the world’s largest private prison population with 8.5 percent, 127,063 people incarcerated in private prisons (source) while 73 percent of people in immigrant detention facilities are confined in privately run facilities according to the Detention Watch Center and Center for Constitutional Rights (source). Since the passage of the Sentencing Reform Act and the War on Drugs the number of people incarcerated has increased drastically and continues to increase with the Federal Government holding almost 34,159 inmates as of December 31, 2016 compared to 94,164 on the state level according to a report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (Source). The Sentencing Project offers remarkable data here.
- The Criminal Justice Complex is the term used to describe the overlapping interests of government and corporations that often use policing and imprisonment as solutions to economic, social and political problems.
- The racist and disastrous War on Drugs and the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 drastically led to the mass incarceration of millions of Americans.
- The United States has just 5% of the world’s overall population, but 25% of the world’s prison population.
- The Sentencing reform Act, part of the Comprehensive Crime Control Act, reimagined and was the first change and revision in the U.S. Criminal Code since the 1900s.
- There are 35 states in the U.S. that incarcerate more people than entire countries.