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The Rise in the Prison-Industrial Complex

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Timeline of total number of inmates in U.S. prisons

Timeline of total number of inmates in U.S. prisons, jails, and juvenile facilities. From 1920 to 2006.

The Rise in the Prison-Industrial Complex (PIC) has been coined to attribute rapid expansion of the US inmate population due to political influence of private prison companies and suppliers to government prison agencies. PIC, a term borrowed from the Military-Industrial Complex that President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned of in his 1961 farewell address. Has the belief that imprisonment is the quick fix to society’s problems?

The current incarceration rate in the United States is the highest in the world. There are approximately 13 million people jailed in the U.S. each year. Six million are under supervision by correctional facilities. This means that one in 50 of our citizens are currently working their way through the U.S. prison system. The prison system includes those who are serving time, being placed on probation or being paroled. The Federal Bureau of Prisons state that most people being held in federal prisons have been convicted of drug offenses; specifically, most offenders are in prison for marijuana. At the present time, one out of every 100 people in the United States can be found serving time in jail.

Promotions of jobs created of prison building and the use of inmates for labor are cited as elements of the prison complex. Groups who promote this type of job creation often involve those whose motives are solely for profit versus the need for punishing or rehabilitating criminals or the reduction of crime rates. Those in opposition of this view believe that growth of the prison industry and incarcerated individuals has increased based on the sole desire of monetary gain.

This may explain the overcrowding of the prison system. While maintaining housing, food, security and medical care for six million of our citizens is causing a financial drain for many of our states, the leaders of the for-profit prison contractors are earning record profits. The prison business is a 70 billion dollar a year business in the U.S. The private prison corporations of Corrections Corp of America and GEO Group have presented proposals to 48 state prison officials. They are offering to buy and run their prisons for substantially less than they are currently paying.

However, there is a caveat; the prisons must have a minimum of 1,000 beds, and each state would have to legally commit to maintain at least 90 percent occupancy rates in their prisons for a minimum of 20 years. While this scenario might be a tempting offer for some states, the obligation to keep 90 percent of their prisons full would create the necessity to impose and maintain the most severe sentencing laws possible. Without this, the private prison corporations would not earn the high volumes of cash that their investors have come to expect.



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  1. Ed Griffin August 4, 2013 at 11:44 pm - 

    Great website and full of information. If only the government just looked at the hard facts. Thank you.

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