In 2008, the United States passed a benchmark previously unheard of. For the first time in the nation’s history, every one in 100 adults was behind bars, making it no question that the USA is number one in the world when it comes to making people prisoners.
Since 1980, the overall prison population has seen a 400 percent surge.
For almost 30 years the people of this nation have watched blindly as state and federal legislatures composed hyperbolic crime-fighting schemes with euphemistic titles like: “tough on crime,” “truth in sentencing,” “three strikes,” or “The War on Drugs.”
We ate up the façade of security while they scaled back the evolution of the American justice system.
There exists, in this country, a prison industrial-complex.
An organized and systematic network of interest groups, lawyers, politicians, prison guard unions and construction companies, who form the cyclic mechanisms which hold the socially destructive machine in place.
They are the profiteers of imprisonment, bound not by the desire to correct or rehabilitate, but by the scent of big business.
We sat around and watched as they built them up, one by one. Big concrete blocks built to hold as many human bodies as they could.
In some cases private companies built their for-profit prisons before they had even received a contract from the government.
In one such case in 1997, a company called Corrections Corporation of America (a major contributor to the American Legislative Exchange Council) built a 2,000-bed facility in California at a cost of $80-$100 million with no contract from the California Department of Corrections.
“If we build it, they will come,” said one of the company officials.
They did come, and that is the problem.
The prison industry has seen a massive boom in last few decades, and when the industry that symbolizes crime-fighting sees a boom, we are led to believe that it is crime that suffers.
Politicians gawk at the chance to rubber stamp their name on anything that will equate to positive crime-fighting statistics.
Yet, is it logical to believe that the true path to achieving a society less rampant with crime is to lock up one of every 100 citizens?
The state of California has been a prison playground for this past boom in corrections.
However, with the economy $41 billion in the hole, and prison overcrowding increasing faster than they can build prisons, it is incredibly imperative that action be made to twinge the machine rightward.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to eliminate parole for all offenders not convicted of violent or sex-related crimes, reducing the parole population by about 70,000.
He also wants to divert more petty criminals to county jails and grant early release to more inmates - steps that could trim the prison population by 15,000 over the next 18 months.
These actions may very well represent the light at the end of a tunnel, an indirect chance for Legislature to stop concurring with those out to make money in the “prison business” and a chance to bring the cogs of the complex to a complete stop.
If Schwarzenegger makes these changes then there is hope.
Our fiscal troubles as a state put us in a position to stand up to those lobbying for the imprisonment of more and more Americans in order to tell them that the expense will no longer be paid.
One of 100 is a number that will not be accepted, no one has that many criminals.