“The prison has become a looming presence in our society to an extent unparallelled in our history—or that of any other industrial democracy. Short of major wars, mass incarceration has been the most thoroughly implemented government social program of our time. And as with other government programs, it is reasonable to ask what we have gotten in return.” (Elliott Currie).*
Prison is big business. On any given day the United States confines some two million of its citizens in penal institutions throughout the country.* Prisoners are boarded by the busload, cattle-like, from urban centers to the rural outskirts of some small town where the farms are fading and the coalmines and factories are mostly robotic. A new phenomenon confronts our intellect: Prison Town USA.
On once green fields, huge slabs of concrete surrounded by gleaming razor-wire fences were erected back in the 90s at an alarming rate. Terms like Correctional Facility and State Correctional Institute entered into the common language. Though, in the words of Emerson, an institution is still the lengthened shadow of one man, these prisons, or warehouses, took on a much different form from that of our forefathers, and were the perfect compliment to the tough-on-crime frenzy years of the Reagan and Bush administrations. Somewhat of a new industry was born in the dark corporate hallways of American Justice—somewhat because, after all, it is a modern version of an old trick: to line the pockets of those in power and keep the wheels to the War Machine greased and turning.
There’s been a lot of talk amongst the Right and the Left regarding the soaring costs associated with this industry—the industry which Angela Davis, distinguished scholar and activist, aptly termed The Prison Industrial Complex. “What many have called the prison industrial complex,” says Dr. Randall Shelden, Senior Research Fellow at the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, “represents an interconnection among the prison system, the political system and the economic system…”* Clearly, the politicians, in speaking about this industry, do not see it in the same light as Davis or Shelden. That would be against the political aspirations of any American machine-man. On either side—Democrat, Republican—all talk from a politician is vote-driven and prefabricated; a song and dance for the constituency.
We are told that tens of billions of dollars are spent each year on corrections. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, over $70 billion was spent in 2007 alone. “That’s Billion with a B,” we can all envision some vote-soliciting hack reminding us on the nightly news. To him and his cronies, we should inquire how much money is generated each year by corrections—and not just by corrections, but by the entire system of crime and punishment. Such an inquiry would raise the alarm flags in the halls of power. The leaders, corporate and political, have something to hide.
In terms of the total amount of money generated, we can only imagine. It is vast and complex. The few fragments we can discern are staggering. The New York Times estimates that one out of every nine state workers are employed in the correctional industry. A huge portion of federal, state, and local funds go to paying the salaries of persons employed by prisons and jails (correctional officers, counselors, therapists, teachers, doctors, nurses, maintenance and food service staff, etc.). Think about the massive amount of money these workers pump into the economy. Then, of course, there are the judges, lawyers, police officers, parole and probation officers—all of whom are employed in this closely related industry; whose jobs, were it not for the mostly unjust laws and corrupt policies of this country, would certainly not exist in their current numbers.
Do not think for a moment that this business is confined to the public sector. Prisoners themselves are money-generating machines for the institutions they reside in and the businesses who cater to them. Most institutions have a commissary store in which inmates can purchase (with money sent to them via friends and family members or earned through prison jobs) phone cards, clothing and footwear, tobacco, coffee, food and hygiene products, etc. For the most part, private companies supply these goods. They are awarded the very lucrative opportunity of doing business behind bars. Take, for example, Keefe Commissary Network, largest of them all, with service centers in ten states and distribution centers in six. Says Keefe, “Corrections is Keefe Commissary Network’s only business, which allows its dedicated staff to focus exclusively on this unique market.”* Keefe Commissary Network and other similar companies rake in hundreds of millions of dollars each year doing business in America’s correction facilities. (It should be noted here that Keefe has a history of ties to corruption and unfair business practices. Click here and here for more information).
Telecommunications companies, such as AT&T and Sprint, also have their hands in the pot, cashing in on the desire for prisoners to connect with the outside world. According to a 1995 survey by the American Correctional Association, New York and California earned $15 million and $9 million, respectively, during one year in commission revenues from phone companies. By 2000, they, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons, would be earning more than $20 million each in such revenues.* These are but a few examples. There are fifty states in this country and thousands of jails and prisons.
Let us, again, consider who is employed and who benefits from the industry of crime and punishment. We have: judges, lawyers, police officers, parole and probation officers; we have: correctional officers, counselors, therapists, teachers, doctors, nurses, maintenance and food service staff; we have: companies like Keefe, AT&T, and Sprint. We have all of the support staff (clerks, secretaries, etc.) associated with each occupation. We have the company who builds the prison and the landscapers who plant the flowers and trim the hedges.
When we consider the economic input (the money earned) by each public and private institution, and by each worker employed, directly or indirectly, in the field of crime and punishment, we have in our minds a ghastly figure that far exceeds the amount it took to earn such money. If our high school accounting classes have taught us anything worthy of remembrance, they have taught us that these are matters best relegated to the balance sheets and income statements. Thus, we call the money earned, revenue; and we call the amount it took to earn such revenue, an expense. If we are still sane, we call the end result (revenue minus expenses), a profit. And in this regard, and in this regard only, do we call this industry successful: it stimulates the economy, provides jobs to millions of American workers, and increases the wealth, power, and influence of our corporate/political leaders.
Let us not be mistaken: crime and punishment in this country is a business. There is no justice. The public generally does not realize how integral this business is to our society. It, along with warfare, finance, and illegal drug-trafficking, is a key factor in our economy. Imagine if all of the prisoners suddenly vanished into the thin air! Imagine if people stopped committing crimes! The economy would collapse.
It is true, some men are arrested for heinous acts. And thieves are captured nightly. But are we safer? And what becomes of these criminals once imprisoned? Are they returned to society in a greater or lesser degree—did our correctional institutions correct them?
Nationwide, the recidivism rate has consistently hovered around 40% for some time now.* Within three years of release, at least four out of every ten prisoners will find themselves back in prison either for committing a new crime or violating some condition governing release. (Do not be misled into thinking the other 60% are safe and have no worries. Many of them will return to prison also—just not within the given time frame (three years) of the Pew study).
“The new figures suggest that despite the massive increase in corrections spending, in many states there has been little improvement in the performance of corrections systems. If more than four out of ten adult American offenders still return to prison within three years of their release, the system designed to deter them from continued criminal behavior clearly is falling short. That is an unhappy reality, not just for offenders, but for the safety of American communities.” (Pew study).*
And so we ask you, Mr. Machine Man, Mr. Correctional Officer, what exactly do your correctinal institutions correct? And we tell you, in all sincerity, that your methods are more dispicable than crime itself. Your justice, if we shall call it that, is counterproductive to the end you claim to serve—namely, to protect society and foster an atmosphere in which the criminal can be reformed.
Click on any asterisk (*) within the essay for source material.
Here are the poems that were created by myself and a few other poets in honor of National Poetry Month. Thank you to Roy, Angel, and Brian for participating in Project Blackout.
Untitled, by Roy Anthony Shabla
preparing a soul
for release of suffering
Deadly (In)Equality, by Angel Michele Heller
a new birth
of North Korea
and other nations
to specify accord
Ore, by Brian Bermingham
Associated Seoul digging appears to be preparation for a third intelligence.
The excavation at nuclear and final stages was shared with the associate.
Its release as a long-range other is fire on the united.
The administration would consider both a rock and an underground act more isolated.
Each indication at the leadership level not to end its isolation and depravation would be a blatant violation of internal security.
“Council, I discuss this fashion to launch subsequent actions,” she said.
A repeat of criticism weeks later, a year later, covertly would be provocation.
Intelligence is digging a new addition to its existing two at the tunnel entrance. Something experts say is needed before “high possibility”.
Stage test the final step, its the only reason for atomic vice needs. A third animated analyst state for analyses in Seoul.
She was in a position to be “highly provocative” and equally bad, if not worse. Urging to dissuade preparations that threaten the right of the birth.
Sung promise-engaging activity; Agreed to enrichment in associated press redistributed.
Blackout 4, by Daniel O’Donnell (Me)
South says North is, “Digging”.
A new tunnel appears to be, “Preparation”.
The excavation is
In. Its. Final stages.
Shared. Its release comes.
Prepares to launch a long-range rocket
That, is a cover, That, could be used to.
Fire! on underground highly provocative acts,
More (isolated) in each case.
That, This, would be an indication
At. The leadership level.
A short, but power speech by Dr. King.
Thought I was just another gloomy poet? Think again!