How US Prison System Preys On Vulnerable Communities To Get Profits For Corporations
According to President Barrack Obama, 25 percent of the prison population of the world resides in America. African-Americans form the majority of America’s prisons because they are the most vulnerable group that has been systematically imprisoned to generate profit for corporations. Even though slavery was abolished, things became progressively worse over the years.
Slavery did not end after the Civil War; it only took another form under capitalism. Slaves became criminals and the previous oppression continued under the umbrella of a new economic system. The 13th amendment makes it unconstitutional for someone to be held as a slave until and unless they are criminals. That was the loophole in the constitution which people were looking for to exploit the African-American community.
Since slavery was an economic system, the economy of the southern half was left in tatters once it was abolished. The majority of the people who had been freed did not know what to do with their newfound freedom.
The problem that emerged was rebuilding the economy without free labor. The 13th amendment gave policymakers the opportunity reestablish the old system by enslaving African Americans but this time, they would be enslaved as criminals. Since criminals were not granted any form of freedom, they could be exploited in numerous ways. Hence, African-Americans were arrested on a large scale. The freed slaves were arrested for minor crimes and once in prison, they would provide free labor to rebuild the economy.
Media played a major role in portraying people-of-color as criminals and as a threat to the community. The news over-exaggerated crimes committed by a small section of the African-American community, generalizing this image to the whole of the community. People-of-color were compared to animals which created a deep-seated fear in the hearts of citizens. They became known as super predators and were portrayed as beasts that needed to be caged.
After the Civil War, the prison rate was stable until the 1970s when mass incarceration began. During the 1970s, President Richard Nixon began his War on Drugs campaign. His assistant, John Ehrlichman, later confessed that the aim of the campaign was to target the civil rights movement and throw people-of-color in jail rather than eliminating the use of drugs. Due to this, the African-American community became associated with hard-core drugs.
When Ronald Reagan came into power, the US prison population increased from 357,292 in 1970 to 513,900 in 1980. This was because Reagan converted the War against Drugs from a rhetorical war to a literal war against the African-American community.
Some of the most detrimental laws were introduced during Bill Clinton’s term. He came out with the ‘Three Strikes Law,’ as well as the ‘Mandatory Minimums’ which exacerbated the mass incarceration system. These laws proposed by Bill Clinton were devised by ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) — a political lobbying group funded by numerous corporations that helped pass laws.
The Three Strikes Law sent people to prison for life if they were convicted of three felonies and the Mandatory Minimums sent people to jail for longer sentences regardless of their crime. Clinton later admitted that he made the problem worse by introducing the bill.
The Correction Corporations of America, a private prison facility set up in 1983, began to flourish after the 1980s when the prison population started increasing. CCA also advanced a series of bills with the help of ALEC which would directly benefit it. For example, the Three Strikes Law and the Mandatory Minimums benefitted the CCA since it led to an increase in prisoners which would, hence, increase the corporation’s profit. The only way to continue making profits was to keep the prison facilities filled even if nobody had committed a crime. It is heartbreaking to see how multi-billion-dollar corporations are involved in prison management and are capitalizing on punishments. Daniel refers to this as the Prison Industrial Complex which is a system of mass incarceration that has become heavily monetized.
What some may find confusing here is how keeping people in prison would generate profit. Keeping prisoners wasn’t the catch, the point was to exploit these prisoners by providing free labor for the production of goods and services for companies such as Microsoft, Victoria’s Secret, and Starbucks. Food and healthcare providers also made large amounts of profit due to the constant concentrated demand.
The reason why many people are still stuck in prisons is that they are too poor to get out. The criminal justice system treats the rich and poor differently. The majority of the people plead guilty to crimes they didn’t commit to avoid Mandatory Minimums and longer sentences. If someone does use their right to a trial and are convicted, they are punished more. This means that courts are preventing prisoners from taking their cases to trial.
The only solution that the American Bail Corporation could come up with to target prison overcrowding was to imprison people in their own homes with the help of electronic bracelets. This helps companies profit off the GPS monitor system. The only reason why ALEC took a turn to focus on crime reforms this time was to generate profit. Their reforms do not actually solve the problem but only change its form. If real reforms were brought in, their flourishing prison business would collapse.
Bio: Bilal Mustikhan is a Social Development and Policy graduate from Habib University. He can be reached on twitter @BMustikhan