On the American Prison-Industrial Complex – Conservative Article
The American Prison-Industrial Complex (PIC) is a lesson in governance, a harrowing one. Corporatism and incarceration should not mix for it changes the end goal of the whole penal operation: from justice to profit. As a Brit, I write this hoping that we never follow this example.
So what is the PIC? It can be rudimentarily summed up by the following: (1) governments hand over large areas of the prison sector to private companies; (2) in turn, this prison sector is run for a large profit by these companies; (3) politicians are influenced by said companies — often on their payrolls — and consequently create favourable conditions for them; and (4) the direct consequence of this is the explosion of the prison population in America, despite the vivid drop in violent crime.
Of course, I believe in there being repercussions for crime. However, my issue with the American phenomenon is with the word ‘crime’: the vast majority of this new prison population are NON-violent criminals. In many other countries, Britain included, one would merely be fined for offences that, in America, would land you an extended stretch behind bars. The proportion of violent criminals has generally stayed the same, despite the rhetoric being sold.
The politicians passed bills that imprison more people, for longer periods of time, for pettier crimes. Why? Three reasons: (1) their being ‘tough on crime’ got them elected; (2) the PIC creates growth for many depressed local economies; and (3) politicians benefit financially, often through campaign donations, from deep-pocketed corporate payrolls.
I have no issue with governments contracting in some services — such as catering, for example — and using market pressures to get the best service for the best price. Yet, the American model seems to have flipped this: billion-dollar companies contract politicians.
Some, and I am fondly referring to my Labour colleagues, will view this as an explicit reason to reevaluate our continuation with capitalism. Unsurprisingly, I do not agree. Capitalism, despite clear drawbacks, has done the most for humanity, in terms of bringing large swathes of it out of absolute poverty, of any other system. In this instance, the PIC is the fault of massive state overreach. Corporatism is not capitalism.
A profit motive is fine during cooperative exchanges, both parties can agree or disagree. However, the penal system is not a cooperative exchange. It, necessarily, relies on coercion to punish those that negatively affect society. An individual cannot opt-out of the judicial system. In many cases, the resisting of arrest will forfeit one’s life. Therefore, we simply trust that the law has justice in mind.
In perhaps a more sensationalist sentence: the PIC has indirectly commodified the freedom of hundreds of thousands.
The point of elected officials is to represent their constituents and act in their best interests. The practice of being on corporate payrolls is anathema to this. This issue, however, concerns the most powerful in America. It is very, very firmly entrenched. To remedy this situation would be a monumental task of bipartisan cooperation, that would need to be immune from the allures of deep-pocketed special interest groups.
So, what can be done? In reality, perhaps very little. But, hypothetically: (1) remove mandatory minimums; (2) lessen the number of jail-time offences; (3) massively scale-back the ‘war on drugs’; and (4) dampen the impact lobbyists can have on politics.
America dominates, both in absolute numbers & rate, the international incarceration statistics, despite being nowhere near the top of international violent crime statistics. There is a dissonance here. I see this as a tangible systemic issue that should be addressed.
Now, there is cause for optimism: “America’s incarceration rate is at a two-decade low”. Long may this trend continue. It is very easy, as I have found, to get lost in the numbers. To forget that each ‘statistic’ is a life & future. We must punish those that overstep, yes, but it must be done with a balanced hand, and for the right reasons.
Written by Conservative Writer, Alexander Dennis
Point of Information
All the right answers for all the wrong reasons! – a Liberal response
Week after week, Alexander proves himself as one of the best up and coming writers at POI. He again has written an extremely strong article. However, he has completely missed many other important factors.
Firstly, the reason for such high imprisonment of non-violent offences is down to the ‘three strikes and you’re out’ law. As possibly one of the most unfair and ridiculous laws implemented, it is responsible for the huge increase in prisoners in America. It states that if you commit three crimes – any three, regardless of how petty – you receive life imprisonment.
This law saw the number of prisoners balloon to around 2.3 million in America. This law was also recently implemented in the UK and has had the same effect.
Secondly, the UK currently has 14 private prisons. The UK’s prison system already desperately needs reform. I think Alexander should have focused more on deploying the message that we must also stop private prisons growing in the UK too.
Finally, I am surprised Alexander didn’t talk about prisoner slave labour in America. 98% or more of ammo, bulletproof vests and paint made in the US is made by prisoners. Unlike most nations who pay prisoners for their work, America generally pays less than a dollar an hour. Some states don’t even pay them at all, but private companies certainly make a profit from it. This is slave labour. How they allow this to continue is frankly worrying and disgusting.
Written by Liberal Writer, Max Anderson
Overcrowded prisons and private profits, are we talking about the UK? – a Labour response
The “America First!” chant is a sad reminder of crowds at Trump’s rallies. After reading the above article, I wonder whether they understand the crushing irony of such a statement. As Alex makes painfully clear, the US is a world leader, but only when it comes to the millions of lives trapped in a torturous prison system.
His arguments condemning the disgraceful prison-for-profit system are impressive. Which makes his ignorance on the realities of incarceration in the UK even more disappointing.
We currently have the highest level of people locked up in Western Europe. As my Liberal colleague outlines in his response, the adoption of American policies is a worrying trend that has only worsened our situation. Privatisation of parole services, for example, has been such a disaster that the current government is being forced to re-nationalise them.
The adoption of these systems in the UK shows that under the Tory party, profit and punishment are always put first (your weekly reminder: current home secretary Priti Patel has a history of supporting the death penalty).
Alex might enjoy making cheap comments about Labour’s scary “Marxist agenda”, but we should all be far more worried about his party’s Victorian attitudes, which are as ineffective as they are inhumane. With the threat Covid-19 currently poses to our prison population, now is the best time to make changes to our broken system. Doing that would be a real reason for optimism.
By Chief Labour Writer, Evan Saunders
Hello, I’m Alexander Dennis, and I am going into my third undergraduate year at the University of Exeter. I study Politics & International Relations, with a possible year abroad hanging in the balance. My particular interest in politics really started in early 2016: yes, it was ‘Brexit’. I was at once intrigued, and confused, by something so critical. From that baptism, I have become somewhat addicted to political discussion, intrigued by issues ranging from drugs policy to taxation. So I followed my nose: I applied for a degree in the subject.
I am currently in my second year of reading Politics at the University of Exeter. My first interaction with politics was at the tender age of four years old.
I’m a third year University of Manchester student, currently studying in Lyon on my Erasmus year (by sheer coincidence I’m writing this hours after parliament has voted to end British involvement in the 30 year programme, so just to be on the safe side I promise not to use the NHS/European Declaration of Human Rights/anything at all anytime soon).