On this past Memorial Day weekend, most Americans honored those who have served, had barbeques, and wondered why Game of Thrones didn’t air. On Memorial Day, we are to show thanks for the freedom we are so blessed to have. Though most Americans can feel grateful for freedom, some cannot. And by some, I mean 2.4 million people.
Those people make up the U.S. prison population. I’m not saying all these people don’t deserve prison, but having the largest portion of a population imprisoned than any other country begs a second look. The United States holds only 5 percent of the world’s population but holds 25 percent of the world’s prison population. So what I’m saying is this: America must be the most dangerous place on earth or some of these people shouldn’t be in prison.
So, why does America have so many prisoners? Many blame the failed Reagan drug war for the overpopulation of our prisons. This is understandable, seeing in 2012, there were an estimated 749,825 arrests due to crime related to marijuana. Were all these arrests of drug lords and smugglers? No, out of all these arrests in 2012, only 91,593 arrests were of people with intent to sell. So, the people who were getting arrested were less like Tony Montana and more like Seth Rogen in Pineapple Express.
From 1970 to 2005, the prison growth rate increased 700 percent while the general population growth rate increased only 44 percent. Is this due to violent crimes? Prisoners in state prisons with nonviolent offenses make up almost half of the prison population. Again, I’m not saying people don’t need to be locked up. I’m saying the punishment should fit the crime. America is worsening its reputation by throwing every pothead in jail. America now has more people under correctional supervision than Stalin had in his gulags, yet we still somehow represent a beacon for freedom.
The old joke “What do you call a white guy surrounded by 500 black guys? The prison warden.” (or Dirk Nowitzki) is not without a basis in reality. 1 in every 106 white males 18 or older are in prison. 1in every 36 Hispanic males 18 or older are in prison. A shocking 1 in 15 black males 18 or older are in prison. Poverty is a factor in crime, but denying the racism in the courtroom is absurd. Mandatory minimums are an institutionalized form of racism locking up historically socio-economically oppressed black by making crack punishments much harsher than cocaine, more expensive and more common in white culture, punishments.
And what Contra article would be complete without bashing the 1%? The recent move to privatize prisons has fueled overcrowding as much as the drug war and racism. States can save money by outsourcing prisons to private corporations. The states pay the companies to hold prisoners, but to make a profit these companies must spend as little as possible on the prisoners. Due to private companies controlling the prison system, prisoners are treated as products. The more prisoners there are, the more prisons there will have to be. As long as the bottom line is in the black, it doesn’t matter how many blacks are on the bottom line. CEOs are the new prison wardens. One of the largest private prison companies Corrections Corporation of America, has a revenue of 1.736 billion dollars and a net income of 162.51 million dollars.
As Wall St. has a bigger and bigger hold on our democracy, private prison companies will have more of an influence in law making. Putting the law in the hands of businessmen is dangerous for the lives of all Americans. More unfair and biased laws will increase the prison population and cause more problems in the Criminal Justice System. Just goes to show: mo’ problems, mo’ money.