People are taught at a young age to believe that anyone who breaks the law (a criminal) is a direct threat to our safety. Therefore, people who suffer most because of poverty, racism or other forms of oppression, tend to be criminalized while simply trying to survive. In fact, thousands of new offenses have been created by the criminal justice system to have these people incarcerated. As a capitalist country, the prison industrial complex has allowed the rich to get richer and profit from these so called criminals. The U.S. uses prisons as a tool to control surplus labor and increase the labor market for the workforce. Although the prison-industrial complex currently removes criminals and threats off the streets, they are being used in a lucrative and dangerous way that is unjust.
Firstly, the current prison system is ineffective; many are being readmitted to prisons because the rehabilitation program right now is unnecessarily harsh. The Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) is defined as “the overlapping interests of government and industry that use surveillance, policing and imprisonment as solutions to economic, social and political problems” (Empty Cages Collective). It is considered a complex because of the network that essentially exploits free labor (that is prisoners), between the police, privately-owned prisons, companies, the courts, and so forth. The prisons harm people who are not behind bars; which affects the interrelationships that involve their families and friends, lovers, and their communities. If the detainee ends up in a private-jail, they are more susceptible to companies profiting from the prison system also known as privatization, from small things like electronic tagging, to larger things like even running the lockup themselves. Harm reduction, rehabilitation, overcrowding potential, and fair work hours (since prisoners are hired for labor to pack products into boxes, for example) are at an time low because profit and business goals are of higher priority.
Many who are incarcerated are poor, mentally ill, and/or abuse drugs which mean they are more likely to lack financial means to post bail. Therefore, if you are rich and have money, you can avoid jail time. This is because incarcerated people who do not have money are unable to get a job due to their criminal records, and are stuck in an endless cycle, leading to a larger prison population. This is why private prisons are considered bad because they support the increase in the prison population. Instead of investing time in private-prisons, we should look for solutions and alternatives to incarceration. As long as for-profits are benefiting from the government, it detracts from the main conversation to keep people out of prison.
Many argue for the reform of the prison program because of its inhumane practices. The Department of Justice during Obama’s term began phasing out the use of private prisons to reduce the prison population; however GOP Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently slowed down the process. Although private prisons are only 10% of the nation’s prisons, they still have prisoners work for free, and inherently profit off of them through free labor, while simultaneously punishing them.
Additionally, in regards to humanity, many people would say that efficiency is considered less humane. As a country we should make prisons and penitentiaries more humane at the cost of efficiency. Assata Shakur of the Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army describes what she saw during her time in prison, and demonstrates the inhumane lifestyle that some people had to experience, in a piece called “Women in Prison: How We Are.”
A summary of her experience begins at the prison cells on Riker’s Island where she was detained. Several women were convinced they were not doing hard time, thus not really in prison. Most of the guards were black, usually from working-class, upward bound, civil service oriented backgrounds, and felt trapped by their jobs. Regardless of how much they hated the military-style structure, the infighting, and ugliness of their tasks, they were very aware of how close they were to the welfare lines. Without this job most would be underpaid or unemployed while losing the feeling of superiority and power. This demonstrated that, prison was not different from the streets, as it was a place to rest and recuperate from the stealing and hustling necessary for the survival. Jobs are scarce and welfare is impossible for a family to live on. This exemplifies that American capitalism is in no way threatened by the women in prison on Riker’s Island. It is one of the large reasons why incarceration still happens since people have no choice but to stay in prison due to their very unfavorable economic circumstances.
Private prisons, however, also exist for a reason and offer some benefits. Private prisons are more cost efficient; however, with exponential growth in the prison population. Over the last several decades the government has been pressed to accommodate for it. Private prisons outperform the federal government’s prisons in terms of efficiency, and though the cost does not take care of the sick, it is ultimately cheaper for taxpayers. Additionally, for-profit prisons were created to help ease the burden of inhumanity by preventing overcrowding in other facilities.
In my VoxPop that I created for my topic this semester of Prison Reform and Incarceration, I interviewed over 10 people to ask them about their thoughts on the United States holding 25% of the world’s prison population, and how they would help change the current state of prisons. In general consensus, the desire to decrease is by-partisan, meaning everyone agrees that we should not have a large prison population. Some mentioned that profiting off of prisoners is not right, and we should create a more rehabilitative program with precautionary steps to make sure people who are released avoid getting sent back to jail.
Ultimately I believe that private-prisons should be eliminated. However, it is not as simple as closing these institutions down, because they have many ties to the government and other large businesses who will still fund their programs. One step we can take towards reaching this goal however, is that we can request a new jail-time program that can ensure the success of minor-offense convicts. Of course private prisons offer cheaper alternatives for taxpayers and remove the burden of overpopulation from other facilities, but they offer no practical skills and are inhumane; some red flags to an ineffective system. Therefore my advocation is to teach the future generation about this topic in a more relatable way through the use of a remix video, in order to ultimately change the way prisons should be run.