• Our Prisons are Us

    December 10, 2015

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America


    A society’s prison system mirrors the society. What does America’s say about America?

    Some numbers: With only five percent of the world’s population, the U.S. has more than 20 percent of the world’s prison population. America has the largest actual prison head count in the world and the second-highest per-capita incarceration rate (first place is held via a statistical oddity by the tiny Seychelles island nation.) In the U.S., from 1978 to 2014, the prison population rose 408 percent, to the point where the nation is closing in on a full one percent of the entire population being in prison proper. If you include all forms of correctional control –prison, jail, parole and probation — about three percent of Americans are included. The numbers are currently as high as they have ever been in history.

    The world’s self-proclaimed freest society is anything but.

    It actually gets worse when one looks at the statistics broken down by race. Black men are six times more likely than white men to be in prison. Hispanic men are 2.4 times more likely than whites to be locked up.

    And all this comes at a cost: the American prison system runs an estimated $74 billion a year, more than the GDP of 133 nations. A report by the organization The Price of Prisons states that the average cost of incarcerating one inmate $31,307 per year, though in states like Connecticut, Washington state, New York, it’s anywhere from $50,000 to $60,000. That’s a teacher’s salary, or a nurse’s.

    Those are the costs. But what does America get for its money?

    Not much. Despite locking up more people than any other place on earth, American society remains one of the most violent; there is almost no comparison outside of actual war zones. About the same number of people are killed by guns alone in Miami as in Colombia. L.A. has more gun deaths than the Philippines, Phoenix more than Mexico.

    If America’s prison population, 2.2 million people, was a city, it would be the nation’s fourth largest, behind only New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. But it would clearly be America’s most violent city, a place where residents suffer routine cruelty at rates unlike anywhere else in the country, where they are raped and beaten by both their neighbors and by the officials paid to keep them safe. Some four percent of inmates report sexual assault, while 16 percent say they are physically assaulted. It is plausible to assume unreported incidents keep the numbers low. Like our society, our prisons are terribly violent places.

    The U.S. remains also the only Western nation to impose the death penalty. World leaders in sentencing people to death alongside the United States include China, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and many African nations. Awkward company given the image Americans otherwise hold of themselves.

    Yet at the same time, sending people to prison in America does not stop them from committing new crimes once released. Again, the statistics are appalling. One study found that within three years of release, about two-thirds of released prisoners were rearrested. Within five years of release, about three-quarters of released prisoners were rearrested.

    America has clearly chosen to use its prisons for punishment, not rehabilitation, despite the former most obviously not working. What about elsewhere?

    Norway is one of many examples of simply the opposite of the United States. Its incarceration rate is just 75 per 100,000 people, compared to 707 people for every 100,000 people in the U.S. It has one of the lowest recidivism rates in the world at 20 percent. Its prisons are clean, more like dorms than medieval facilities, and seek to prepare inmates for life on the outside with vocational programs. Inmates enter as criminals and emerge as people.

    In Japan, the prison population is relatively small, as crime throughout the nation is low. Conditions in prison are harsh, in a military-style way, but there is no danger to prisoners and near-zero inmate-on-inmate violence. The system is clear on its goals: in almost mimicry of Buddhist tradition, prisoners are subjected to austere conditions. The goal is for them to see they have, through crime, been selfish, placing their needs above society’s. They must repent, and then serve their term as penance. Recidivism is around 40 percent, mostly among hard-core yakuza gang members. Most other inmates enter as criminals and emerge as people.

    We know — by statistics, by the fear we have inside our urban neighborhoods — that in America inmates enter as criminals and emerge as criminals, often beaten and raped in between. Our society remains the most violent among industrialized nations. Our prison populations reflect the sad racism that still plagues our nation. America must face itself and know that our prisons are us, and cannot be made like Norway’s or Japan’s.

    We can’t fix our prison system until we fix us.

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  • Recent Comments

    • bloodypitchfork said...


      quote”We can’t fix our prison system until we fix us.”unquote

      Yeah…. when pigs fly. In reality, this is EXACTLY what the .01% want. By keeping education at a level of halfwittery, it breeds the poverty which breeds the crime, which in turn feeds the corporate private prison industry. Most of the prison population are previously, non-low violent, drug offenders, sent for long, mandated prison terms manifested thanks to Clinton’s war on drug crime policy’s. Unfortunately, while in prison, formally low violence offenders become violent precisely because of self defense in prison.

      Meanwhile, because the San Bernadino attack has caused America to explode in fear for their lives, in turn has caused gun sales to skyrocket beyond belief.
      Which in turn has caused the “anti-gun” collectivists to double down on anti-gun rhetoric to the point of calls by some of the more unhinged, for total gun confiscation. Unfortunately, these morons haven’t got a clue to the bloody civil war that would ensue, and given 4th Gen warfare’s main thrust is to kill those that govern first, these same collectivists will have signed their own death warrants.
      And lest you think we aren’t approaching that day soon, here’s a somewhat amusing, if not stupid, vision of what might happen….


      On the other hand..Mike Vanderbough tells it like it really will be like should the collectivists try it…


      Meanwhile, an anti-gun State Senator collectivist, reveals the hypocrisy inherent in all collectivists…


      And now……HE FACES PRISON TIME!!


      Irony of ironies

      12/10/15 9:57 AM | Comment Link

    • Bloozguy said...


      It’s like your forever war, too many people making money off of it all.

      12/10/15 10:27 AM | Comment Link

    • teri said...


      Let’s consider the US “prison truth” with the US “violence abroad truth”.

      Criminals (violent crime, nonviolent crime, plea-bargained but might have been found not guilty at a trial, mistaken identity – count them all as “criminals”) go into jail, get treated violently, spend time doing solitary (which leads to psychological problems) and are raped or beaten by guards and other inmates and come out angry, mentally scarred, unable to find work and are likely to re-offend.

      Abroad, the US bombs and invades countries that do not pose a threat, arms and finances terrorist groups, imposes deadly sanctions, razes entire countries to the ground, kills civilians with drones and illegal bombing campaigns on a routine basis, interferes with and/or runs coups against the governmental systems and leaders of sovereign nations, and then steals the resources from as many countries as possible. Anyone in these countries who attempts to defend their own country from these actions is referred to as a “terrorist” or an “insurgent” by the US. Some people in the foreign nations so treated come out the other side angry, mentally scarred, unable to resume the life they formerly lived in their own homes, and vowing to seek revenge.

      In both cases, the US is completely incapable of the introspection necessary to perceive that these results are predictable, inevitable, and preventable.

      12/10/15 12:21 PM | Comment Link

    • bloodypitchfork said...


      teri said…

      the truth.

      12/10/15 7:56 PM | Comment Link

    • tamarque said...


      Missing is any structural analysis of the role prisons play in our society. All social institutions fit into the totality of what a culture it about. So what role do prisons really play.

      First, we need to toss the b.s. about prisons being necessary to stop/control crime. They were never designed for that in this country. Thus, the poor treatment of inmates and the high recidivism rate needs to be seen thru different lens.

      Second, prisons are the extension of racism and xenophobia that prevails here. They represent the new form of slavery. Free, or almost free labor while the owners rake in billions from the public coffers. Almost all prisons are today privatized and operate for profit. They take contracts from industry to produce many things such as technology for IBM and other tech industry corporations. The incentive is there to lobby for harsher sentences and increased incarceration.

      We are also the only country that totally disempowers/disenfranchises inmates for life. Great way to prevent the Black vote from impacting right wing political agendas. Doubt this? Remember Florida and Bush? 60-80,000 Black people prevented from voting based on the supposition they were felons. Despite the falseness of these accusations, most of these folks have never had their voting rights restored!!!!

      Prisons are the extension of a racist society that sees Black people, and others of color as less than human, less valid as human beings, people not needed or wanted except to create fear in white people in order to control them. Thus, the Tea Party, Sarah Palin’s rants, and now Trump. Of course they are not unique. Rand Paul ran on a platform that supported segregation rights for business owners.

      Someone here talked about education opportunities. Poor education facilities, and teachers are only the tip of the iceberg here. Housing needs, decent food availability, communities not wrenched apart by police tactics designed to humiliate and destroy any kind of stability in families. Health care virtually non-existent. Jobs not available. It is not just unemployment in Black communities, but the white skin privilege for others that gives them that sense of entitlement and confidence.

      Of course we see that working whites are getting angry as they see the betrayal of these expectations for themselves. They are the once who for the most part, if not totally, are the mass shooters. San Bernadino, was not typical as it was not a lone shooter, taking psychotropic drugs and flipping out on others, often Black people. One article read the other day noted that stats are often missing showing the high percentage of people shot in these killings are people of color. Of course some men go after women so we are still second class people who can be seen as the enemy and destroyed.

      Law enforcement began with slave owners hiring people to go after run away slaves. Mine owners used good squads to control striking miners, often very poor whites or people of color. These hired guns and goon squads morphed into government paid police departments and the FBI!
      They were always in the service of the wealthy.

      PBS did an excellent documentary 3? yrs ago. Its name was something like Slavery By Another Name. Look it up and watch it. Most white folk haven’t a clue–but need to develop one is they want to have any understanding of what our prisons are really about.

      12/11/15 10:08 AM | Comment Link

    • bloodypitchfork said...


      quote”Most white folk haven’t a clue–but need to develop one is they want to have any understanding of what our prisons are really about.”unquote

      Well, here’s one white guy who’s soon gonna learn. As a cop, who sexually abused black women under the color of his badge, I’d submit this scumbag won’t live a month…and by the look on his face when sentence was passed, he knows it.


      12/12/15 3:24 AM | Comment Link

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