July 27, 2007
"I asked a man in prison once how he happened to be there and he said he had stolen a pair of shoes. I told him if he had stolen a railroad he would be a United States Senator"
Consider this disturbing fact: the United States now has the world's highest incarceration rate outside of North Korea. Out of 1,000 people, more Americans are behind bars than anywhere in the world except in Kim Jong-Il's Neo-Stalinist state. The US has a higher incarceration rate than China , Russia, Iran, Zimbabwe and Burma - countries American politicians often berate for their human rights violations.
Well over two million Americans are behind bars. Let us agree that violent criminals and sex offenders should be in jail, but most Americans are not aware that over one million people spend year after year in prison for non-violent and petty offenses: small-time drug dealing, street hustling, prostitution, bouncing checks and even writing graffiti. Texas, with its boot-in-your-
Somewhere along the line, the Lone Star State becomes the Lock-Down State: Rodney Hulin, a 16 year old in Texas, was caught setting a dumpster on fire and sentenced to 8 years in an adult prison. Despite pleading to be removed to another section, prison officials found no reason to extract him from the general population (despite Rodney's official pleas). He was then repeatedly raped and infected with the HIV virus that causes AIDS. He ended the nightmare by hanging himself in his cell.
Even "progressive" states like California are eager to lock up the hapless and the marginal. Billy Ochoa, for example, is serving 326 years in a "SUPERMAX" (super maximum security) prison for welfare fraud. Billy is an addict, an inept burglar, and not-very-good trafficker of food stamps. Under California's "three strikes and your out" law, he is locked up in a tiny cell for 23 hours a day.
Arguably, continuously lowering the bar for what it takes to be jailed threatens the liberty of all Americans. And having one million non-violent offenders in prison (often for absurdly long periods) makes it that much easier, in the near future, for the return of debtors' prisons and dissident detention centers. This approach to locking up everyone possible undermines both the liberal emphasis on personal liberty and the conservative emphasis on small government.
At this pace, the US is in danger of witnessing the development of a kind of "gulag" to jail the entire lumpenproletariat, the flotsam of society, a population that cuts across racial lines to include the men and women who never seem to break free of the tentacle-like criminal justice system. Women, actually, are now the fastest growing prison population, and many of them are young mothers with babies.
Of course, we'll never know how many prisoners are even guilty. They have been locked up through mass "plea bargaining" agreements. Originally conceived a the exception to the rule, plea bargaining has become a conveyor belt for prisons, running against the grain of the Fifth Amendment's right to a fair trial and, more specifically, to the US Constitution, Article III, Section 2: "The trial of all crimes, except in cases of impeachment, shall be by jury."
While might be a time and a place for plea bargaining, it has become a scam in which prisons are basically guaranteed a minimum flow of prisoners.
Here's the deal: Plead guilty to a lesser crime (to something you might not have done) and go to jail for 3 years - or risk a trial and the chance of doing 15 years. It's a no-brainer.
The Founding Fathers would be rolling in their graves even faster than they already are if they knew that prisons are now lucrative corporations. These "McJails" receive money from government on a per-prisoner, per-day basis.
No doubt, had the framers of the Constitution imagined that future Americans could descend to such depths they would have banned the commercialization of prisons outright.
Not surprisingly, the executives of these for-profit prisons sponsor "tough-on-crime" legislation and even line the pockets of politicians who back "mandatory sentencing" laws. For-profit prisons even get to write new mandatory sentencing laws to guarantee the raw material (the rabble of society) for an emerging prison-industrial complex.
In a Great Leap Backward, American politicians have also repealed two federal laws (the Hawes Cooper Act and the Ashurst-Sumner Act) that virtually outlawed prison labor, making it a felony to move prison-made goods across state boundaries. Stamping state license plates for cars was generally acceptable, but these Acts tried to end the leasing out of prisoners to private companies - they tried to eliminate prison-plantations and "factories with fences."
In the 1970s, a Supreme Court Justice, Warren Burger, proselytized for more leeway as to what kinds of "projects" prisoners could work on. Before too long, Congress amended the laws, and by 1990 it was permissible for prisoners to produce products entering the stream of interstate commerce.
Many of the largest corporations in America have taken advantage of prison labor in what might be called "Operation Sweatshop."
"Corrections Corporation of America is the nation's largest owner and operator of privatized correctional and detention facilities and one of the largest prison operators in the United States, behind only the federal government and three states" (Corrections Corporation of America).
Thus, the "tough on crime" propaganda masks a profit motive. Naturally, no politician can say that "my campaign was paid for by corporate lock-downs" or "I help run prison sweatshops." Representatives in Congress -
mostly the "Big Government" Republicans but also many "Nanny-State" Democrats - are becoming the new goons in an emerging for-profit police state.
Call your broker.