Relationship between government, private interests and the use of imprisonment

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New JPI report examines relationship between government, private interests and the use of imprisonment




The Justice Policy Institute (JPI) released a new report this week examining the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC)--the relationship between government and private interests that use imprisonment, policing, and surveillance as a solution to social, political, and economic problems. Moving Target: A Decade of Resistance to the Prison Industrial Complex, examines the progress of reform 10 years after Critical Resistance first launched its efforts to dismantle the PIC. The report underscores:

Despite crime rates at 30-year lows, the criminal justice system has under its control more people than ever.

  • More than seven million people live their lives under the control of the criminal justice system in the United States.
  • More than seven million people live their lives under the control of the criminal justice system in the United States.
  • Spending on the criminal justice system, including police, corrections, the judiciary, has increased 64 percent between 1996 and 2005 to a total of $213 billion.
  • The prison system disproportionately impacts communities of color. African Americans and Hispanics make up one third of the U.S. population but makeup 61 percent of the imprisoned population.
  • Incarceration rates continue to increase whether crime rates are up or down.

Economic incentives encourage the growth of prisons and support increased surveillance, arrests, and imprisonment.

  • Private Prisons:  Corrections Corporation of America's stock price has been steadily rising. CCA recently posted a $35 million profit in the last quarter of 2007, up from $32 million in the same period in 2006.
  • Prison Industries:  Federal Prison Industries, a corporation of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, has an online catalogue of merchandise for purchase by other federal agencies, including office furniture and clothing. State prison industries employed 56,000 people in prison in 1999 and, according to research published in Labor Studies Journal in 2002, generated $3 billion in sales and $67 million in profits for the states.
  • Private Industry in Prison:  In 1979, Congress established the Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program to authorize private companies to employ people who are held behind bars and to execute contracts. Companies frequently pay people in prison below minimum wage for these "low-skilled" jobs and prisons garnish their wages further by charging for room and board. This process ensures that resources are pumped back into prisons and that individuals see little of their earnings.
  • Industry for Surrounding Communities: Although public officials will often claim that prisons will bring jobs to rural or economically depressed areas, actually there is often little or no economic improvement or revitalization of the community.

Investments in policing and surveillance have increased, thereby widening the gateway to the criminal justice system.

  • Although local police still receive the majority of funding, increases at the federal level are the most dramatic. Between 1982 and 2005, federal expenditures on police protection have increased 945.1 percent, from $2.15 billion in 1982 to $22.5 billion in 2005.
  • Law enforcement agencies have significantly increased their surveillance capacity and presence in certain areas: in just three years the number of police departments using video cameras increased 15 percentage points. In 2000, 45 percent of local police departments regularly used video cameras. By 2003, 60 percent regularly operated video cameras, and an estimated 48,800 in-car cameras were in use.
  • Cop-watching groups are increasing and becoming more organized in cities across the counties as a way to monitor police behaviors.
  • Specialized police, particularly in schools, has also increased dramatically. In 1999, 54.1 percent of students ages 12 to18 reported the use of security guards and/ or assigned police officers at school, compared to 67.9 percent in 2005.

The prison industrial complex relies on the criminalization of certain actions to thrive.

  • Federalization of certain offenses: The U.S. has added one new federal crime to the books every week for the past 7 years. This increase in crimes has directly added to the federal prison system, which has grown at triple the rate of state prison populations.
  • War on Drugs: The war on drugs is increasingly waged with paramilitary- style tactics. In the past 20 years, there has been a 1,400 percent increase in the total number of SWAT team deployments.
  • Criminalizing Poverty: More cities are relying on policies that are meant to address "quality of life crimes" by having a zero tolerance approach to behaviors such as panhandling, loitering, and "camping." A report in 2006 that surveyed 224 cities around the country on their laws involving the criminalization of homelessness and found that 27 percent of cities prohibited sitting or lying in certain public places and 43 percent prohibited begging in certain places.
  • Criminalization of Immigration:  The number of USBP agents nearly tripled between 1990 and 2005. In FY 2006 alone, 1,500 more agents were added. Since 1995, the number of people held by ICE in prisons and jails has increased more than 200 percent.

Media messages, public opinion, social policy, and government agencies legitimize the criminalization of certain behaviors to the benefit of the prison industrial complex.

  • Crime and Public Safety: The frequency with which media reports crime does not fluctuate with actual crime rates. In 1994 when the violent crime rate was at its peak, there were more than 2,500 media crime stories. But as the violent crime rate continued to fall, the number of crime stories continued to fluctuate for the next 10 years, regardless of trends in violent or property offenses.
  • Criminalization of Poverty: Researchers have found that television media relies on stereotypical assumptions about poverty and the symptoms of poverty (crime, drug use, mental illness) by linking those symptoms to visual cues and language ("abandoned house" or "drug-infested" ). In one study, of the 239 news stories that mentioned symptoms of poverty, approximately 147 stories showed crime, drugs, and gangs as a manifestation of poverty.
  • Criminalization of Immigration: Public opinion polls document public fear about Latino immigrants coming to the United States not to commit a terrorist act but to take jobs and use services typically guaranteed to U.S. residents, and to commit crimes. This is despite research which shows that while the number of undocumented immigrants increased 57 percent from 1990 to 2000, crime rates plummeted to some of the lowest in U.S. history.

Communities of color and people living in poverty are overwhelmingly disproportionately affected by the prison industrial complex.

  • Data shows that in 2002, 8.5 percent of whites used illicit drugs, compared to 9.7 percent of African Americans. However, African Americans are admitted to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of whites.
  • Bureau of Justice Statistics revealed that 83.5 percent of people in jail in 2002 earned less than $2,000 per month prior to arrest.
  • People of color are disproportionately affected by poverty and, thus are also more likely to be imprisoned. African Americans made up about 13 percent of the general population but approximately 22 percent of the people living in poverty and 40 percent of people in prisons and jails in 2006.

The report concludes that advocates must be just as innovative and flexible as the prison industrial complex in order to dismantle the system, while resisting so-called reforms that inadvertently expand the reach of the criminal justice system. Positive social investments in education, employment, mental health services, and substance abuse treatment are cost effective means of creating strong communities. For more information about the
Justice Policy Institute, or about Moving Target, contact LaWanda Johnson at (202)558-7974 x308.

Publié dans War-Racism

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