World’s Prison Capital is Also #1 in For-Profit Prisons
May 16th, 2012
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The world’s prison capital is not the United States, per capita, although it leads the world for its overall prison population. One state far outdoes America itself and incarcerates nearly double the national average.
First among Americans means first in the world. Louisiana’s incarceration rate is nearly triple Iran’s, seven times China’s and 10 times Germany’s. (Source)
The U.S. prison business has become the essence of predatory corporatism: it¬†privatizes profits and socializes losses. This combination has led to a situation where correctional facilities have very little incentive to correct the behavior of those who reside within their walls, but every incentive to ensure that new bodies arrive as fast as possible, and keep them in a state of indentured servitude.
Naturally, this is exactly what is happening in Louisiana, as the vast majority of inmates are¬†not¬†housed in state-run prisons, but in those owned by private corporations. The social fallout has been profound.
Corrections Corporation of America has led the charge toward creating a sound business model for those who would profit from crime and punishment since it won the first private prison contract from Tennessee in 1984. CCA has expanded nicely, recently submitting letters to 48 states with an offer to buy their prisons: “In exchange … for a 20-year management contract, plus an assurance that the prison would remain at least 90 percent full.” (Source)
America already holds 25% of the world’s prison population, with the number of these prisoners held in private prisons rising dramatically over the past 10 years from 2,000 housed in 5 private prisons, to more than 60,000 housed in 100. It is a number expected to rise to 360,000 prisoners over the next decade. (Source)¬†Moreover, as the economy declines, there has even been a revival in¬†debtors prisons, formally abolished in the early 1800s. Perhaps more troubling is the heightened¬†criminalization of children¬†for behavior which previously was considered merely a¬†nuisance, not something worthy of handcuffs and the big house.
A human product clearly has been created and fostered by a system which values the worth of potential inmates as greater than their worth as free human beings. ¬†This has led to a captive population that can be put to work creating goods for a multitude of industries for¬†as little as 25 cents per hour, effectively creating a growing resurgence in open slavery; all while a misinformed majority believe that more people under lock and key translates to safer neighborhoods, towns and cities.
The above trends all have converged in Louisiana, and yet have dispelled the myth that more prisoners leads to more safety for the wider society at large. In a comprehensive article for the¬†Times-Picayune of New Orleans, Cindy Chang writes:
In the past two decades, Louisiana’s prison population has doubled, costing taxpayers billions while New Orleans continues to lead the nation in homicides.
The states write the legislation that paves the way for more criminals to be guaranteed lengthier stays within prison walls where corporate profits can be reaped for shareholders. It is the worst of both worlds.
A nation that still purports to be the Land of the Free simply cannot continue to say that slogan with a straight face when it has literally invested in slavery. A predatory system — even if some believe it only preys on other predators — can only lead to a ruined social landscape like that of Louisiana; a state which should be more properly viewed as a canary in the coal mine for what lies in wait for the rest of America should it fully embrace the monetary value of a prison society.
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Contributed by Joe Wright of Activist Post.
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