America now has the biggest prison population in the world. The majority of those behind bars are non-violent offenders, two thirds are African American or Latino. It is a failing system. The UK should pay attention, because it’s the only country in the western world that’s imitating American correctional practices.
In an age when freedom is fast becoming the exception rather than the rule, imprisoning Americans in private prisons run by mega-corporations has turned into a cash cow for big business. At one time, the American penal system operated under the idea that dangerous criminals needed to be put under lock and key in order to protect society. Today, as states attempt to save money by outsourcing prisons to private corporations, the flawed yet retributive American “system of justice” is being replaced by an even more flawed and insidious form of mass punishment based upon profit and expediency.
Human rights organizations, as well as political and social ones, are condemning what they are calling a new form of inhumane exploitation in the United States, where they say a prison population of up to 2 million – mostly Black and Hispanic – are working for various industries for a pittance. For the tycoons who have invested in the prison industry, it has been like finding a pot of gold. They don’t have to worry about strikes or paying unemployment insurance, vacations or comp time. All of their workers are full-time, and never arrive late or are absent because of family problems; moreover, if they don’t like the pay of 25 cents an hour and refuse to work, they are locked up in isolation cells.
There are approximately 2 million inmates in state, federal and private prisons throughout the country. According to California Prison Focus, “no other society in human history has imprisoned so many of its own citizens.”
The figures show that the United States has locked up more people than any other country: a half million more than China, which has a population five times greater than the U.S. Statistics reveal that the United States holds 25% of the world’s prison population, but only 5% of the world’s people. From less than 300,000 inmates in 1972, the jail population grew to 2 million by the year 2000. In 1990 it was one million. Ten years ago there were only five private prisons in the country, with a population of 2,000 inmates; now, there are 100, with 62,000 inmates. It is expected that by the coming decade, the number will hit 360,000, according to reports.
Meanwhile Britain plans to spend £25 million on a new prison in Jamaica so hundreds of foreign criminals can be sent home to the Caribbean rather than serve their sentences in the UK. The foreign aid-funded project has been agreed to break the deadlock in lengthy negotiations over a compulsory prisoner transfer deal between the two countries.
More than 600 Jamaican nationals are behind bars in Britain – the third most from any country – but cannot be repatriated because of fears that poor jail conditions on the island would allow a successful challenge under human rights law. David Cameron announced the deal – which officials say could save taxpayers £10 million a year when transfers begin in 2020 – as he arrived in the Commonwealth country for a short visit.
The Prime Minister had been at the United Nations in New York, where he joined allies for talks on how to step up the fight against the Islamic State group (IS). More than 300 existing offenders are expected to be sent back under the Jamaica prison scheme, which covers those sentenced to at least four years who have 18 months or more left to serve in custody.
The UK’s contribution represents around 40 per cent of the cost of the planned 1,500-capacity jail. As long as their have been human societies, there have been criminals. Despite the best efforts of lawmakers and religions, humans can’t be trusted to do the right thing, even when we’re aware of the consequences. The prison system used to be a last resort, a place you sent people when other forms of punishment were ineffective. Now it’s grown into something much darker, and even less rehabilitative.
Unbeknownst to many, the prison system has become a for-Profit for business in which inmates are the product–a system that has shocking similarities to another human-based business from America’s past: slavery.