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# The United States Prison Industrial Complex.

## 78 posts in this topic

- About 1% of the population of the United States is in prison.

- About 3% have been in prison.

- The "three strikes" law means that on your third criminal conviction you are put in prison for an absolute minimum of 25 years, even if its a case of shoplifting.

One thing that worries me is that it seems Europe is trying to catch up with America on this...

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If you don't want to go to prison, don't break the law. What a concept...
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[quote name='ChurchSkiz' timestamp='1306852471' post='4817883']
If you don't want to go to prison, don't break the law. What a concept...
[/quote]

1 in 100 citizens of the United States being in prison doesn't bother you? Doesn't such a large proportion strongly suggest that US laws are too harsh and are not a good solution to the social ills the country suffers from? What happened to liberty? What happened to the idea that the United States is a country that values freedom?
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What bothers me is the cost of all these prisons and supporting all these prisoners. If someone shop lifts 3 times for say $100 item (this is$300 stolen), but the US tax payers are gonna pay for his/her food and prison room for the next 25 years? That doesn't make sense at all. Even if it was just 1 year in prison it would be too expensive.
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[quote name='Quat' timestamp='1306855280' post='4817898']
What bothers me is the cost of all these prisons and supporting all these prisoners. If someone shop lifts 3 times for say $100 item (this is$300 stolen), but the US tax payers are gonna pay for his/her food and prison room for the next 25 years? That doesn't make sense at all. Even if it was just 1 year in prison it would be too expensive.
[/quote]

I think that expense is covered by forced labour. If I'm not mistaken putting citizens in prison is a lucrative buisness in the US hence why there's so many prisoners.
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[quote name='forsandifs' timestamp='1306852789' post='4817884']
[quote name='ChurchSkiz' timestamp='1306852471' post='4817883']
If you don't want to go to prison, don't break the law. What a concept...
[/quote]

1 in 100 citizens of the United States being in prison doesn't bother you? Doesn't such a large proportion strongly suggest that US laws are too harsh and are not a good solution to the social ills the country suffers from? What happened to liberty? What happened to the idea that the United States is a country that values freedom?
[/quote]
Doesn't bother me. It shows to me that some people have a serious lack of self control though. You'd need to look at why these people are in prison. You listed shoplifting, but how stupid does someone need to be to get caught shoplifting three times fully knowing that on their third time they'll be sent to prison for 25 years? It's not like we hide the fact, but there are a lot of stupid people in the US. Should they be put in prison because they can't make logical choices? It's a pretty simple solution really.

The three strike law was basically designed to stop this "oh it's not a big deal to break the law". When there's no punishment criminals will just continue on their way.
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When 1% of your population is in prison, you're doing something very wrong imo. EDIT: Please note that this is more than any nation in history... EDIT: will you still be brushing it off when it gets to 10%? What about 25%? Is 50% enough? ...

Anyway, the few replies have confirmed my most pessimistic prediction of the outcome of this thread. People are aware of this and they don't care. However I hope one day you realise the importance and value of one of the most American of phrases, "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness".
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I'm certainly concerned about the number of people in prison in the US. But that's not a precise enough question to be meaningful. It's totally possible for there to be a large proportion of people who commit not-so-severe crimes and deserve a short jaunt in prison. Whether or not prison is the ideal solution in many situations is debatable.

But there are serious issues with the US prison system. The fact that there are so many privately owned for-profit prisons is deeply disturbing, considering that they have an active lobby, because they have no interest in reducing crime rates or making America safer or rehabilitating criminals or any of the things that prisons are supposed to do. They have an interest in rising crime rates and more and worse sentences for criminals.

The other issue is that the current system is badly in need of reform. It is not effective at its stated goals, and privatizing the system has not made them moreso. Imprisonment doesn't appear to have a huge deterrent effect, especially as contractors keep building new jails and they keep getting filled up. And the recidivism rate is pretty high (though there's a lot of variation in that by crime and facility), so the whole rehab angle isn't doing so well. It's very expensive for taxpayers regardless of whether the facility is state owned or private, and we're really not getting our money's worth.

It's all well and good to be tough on crime. But it isn't working. In my opinion, too many people who aren't directly involved with the system let a kind of detached moral reasoning govern their attitude, ignoring important things like efficacy and the root causes of crime. The people who are directly involved are lining their pockets or filling the cells, and neither group has both the power and the incentive to affect any change.
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[quote]
I think that expense is covered by forced labour. If I'm not mistaken putting citizens in prison is a lucrative buisness in the US hence why there's so many prisoners.
[/quote]

I doubt the cost of labor comes anywhere close to compensating taxpayers. In California we have extremely strict 3-strikes laws that lockup way too many people. All the jails are at like 175% of capacity, hence the recent supreme court ruling.

However it is very lucrative, not for the state, but for the prison guards' union. Its quite perverted, but that group is the biggest sponsor of all tough-on-crime laws in the state (three-strikes law was pushed by CCPOA), and they throw more money behind them than any other group. More prisoners = more guards = more union dues.
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[quote name='forsandifs' timestamp='1306852789' post='4817884']
[quote name='ChurchSkiz' timestamp='1306852471' post='4817883']
If you don't want to go to prison, don't break the law. What a concept...
[/quote]

1 in 100 citizens of the United States being in prison doesn't bother you? Doesn't such a large proportion strongly suggest that US laws are too harsh and are not a good solution to the social ills the country suffers from? What happened to liberty? What happened to the idea that the United States is a country that values freedom?
[/quote]

The statistic doesn't tell you what the prisoners are there for. If 1% of the population is in prison for victimless crimes (ie drug use), then yes I would say there is a problem. If the prison population is made up of rapists, thieves, and muggers, then I wouldn't care if it was at 75% as long as they are behind bars.

The US values the right to live, work, own property, etc. if someone tries to take that right from you, they deserve to be in jail.

[quote]
I think that expense is covered by forced labour. If I'm not mistaken putting citizens in prison is a lucrative buisness in the US hence why there's so many prisoners.
[/quote]

You have any facts to back that up? The working prisons I know of all pay the prisoners (albeit not at the same rate they make). However, it's usually a special program and not all prisoners get to be involved. The ones I've seen are hugely successful for businesses, the prison, and the prisoners. Florida's working rehabilitation has something like a 90% success rate in terms of convicts not returning to prison (compared to around 50% normally). Think about it, you're a convict sitting in a cell all day, now you get paid, have a job, and when you get out you are qualified for a job.

[quote]
Doesn't such a large proportion strongly suggest.... not a good solution to the social ills the country suffers from?
[/quote]

Anyone that says prison is a good solution to social ills is delusional. However, it's a better system than just letting people go free. I'd like to see better rehabilitation programs instead of just kindergarden for lawbreakers, but we can't even agree on how to teach our children, so I'm guessing this won't happen for a while. In the meantime, I think programs like what Florida and Arizona are doing are a step in the right direction. Give inmates the ability to turn their life around, groom good daily habits, give them job training, and reward them for performance. That way they have something to look forward to when they get out (ie a job).

http://www.dc.state.fl.us/oth/inmates/wr.html
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The 3 strikes law is just a tool for congressman to get elected. They claim they will "up the war on crime." Instead of trying for more jobs, (more opportunity) which would lower the crime rate, they add a silly 3 strikes law. Obviously getting 25 years for shoplifting 3 times is stupid. The punishment should fit the crime...goes to show how stupid the political climate has become
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Hey... another problem in the US that could be easily solved by a better education system...

Someday a politician will think of this.
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Does that mean that 97% of the population have never broken the law? I'd say that given putting criminals (charged with anything) in prison is a fair and constructive concept, its amazing its not more.

I think more than 3 in every 100 i know have committed a crime, and a barely know anyone besides law-abiding people.
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Does that mean that 97% of the population have never broken the law? I'd say that given putting criminals (charged with anything) in prison is a fair and constructive concept, its amazing its not more.I think more than 3 in every 100 i know have committed a crime, and a barely know anyone besides law-abiding people.

(So I don't think it's too much. It's probably too little, but as Khaiy says: "[color="#1C2837"][size="2"][i]Not all crimes will land you in prison, and not all criminals are caught"[/i].[/size][/color])
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[quote name='way2lazy2care' timestamp='1306860289' post='4817929']
Hey... another problem in the US that could be easily solved by a better education system...

Someday a politician will think of this.
[/quote]
I think it might involve environmental problems also. Lack of education might be part of it, but there are probably a lot more causes. As mentioned jobs for one. A person wouldn't steal if they had a good job. (Or so I think, but then again people act irrationally for a high).
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Not all crimes will land you in prison, and not all criminals are caught.
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[quote name='SuperVGA' timestamp='1306860932' post='4817935']
Does that mean that 97% of the population have never broken the law? I'd say that given putting criminals (charged with anything) in prison is a fair and constructive concept, its amazing its not more.I think more than 3 in every 100 i know have committed a crime, and a barely know anyone besides law-abiding people.

(So I don't think it's too much. It's probably too little, but as Khaiy says: "[color="#1C2837"][size="2"][i]Not all crimes will land you in prison, and not all criminals are caught"[/i].[/size][/color])
[/quote]

I think of people I know over 50% have committed a crime that would apply to the three strikes laws, but I only know I think 3 people who have gone to prison for it.
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[quote name='ChurchSkiz' timestamp='1306859371' post='4817924']
[quote]
I think that expense is covered by forced labour. If I'm not mistaken putting citizens in prison is a lucrative buisness in the US hence why there's so many prisoners.
[/quote]
You have any facts to back that up?[/quote]

Please see 2.20 to 3.06 in that video I linked in the OP. I admit its just things a respectable T.V. presenter said in his show, which in this particular I haven't followed up any further (being less concerned about the work/buisness side of it and more concerned about the sheer number of people being put in prison).

EDIT: also others in this thread have made some interesting statements on that point.

P.S. I'm glad and relieved to see that some people at least realise there are worrying aspects to the issue raised by the OP.
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[quote name='way2lazy2care' timestamp='1306860289' post='4817929']
Hey... another problem in the US that could be easily solved by a better education system...

Someday a politician will think of this.
[/quote]
But what happens when the people themselves are unwilling to learn?
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[quote name='Moe' timestamp='1306865766' post='4817961']
[quote name='way2lazy2care' timestamp='1306860289' post='4817929']
Hey... another problem in the US that could be easily solved by a better education system...

Someday a politician will think of this.
[/quote]
But what happens when the people themselves are unwilling to learn?
[/quote]

...then we'd have the same issues that we have today, minus forcibly marginalizing people by restricting their ability to learn via a crappy system. It's a non-unique harm, and a pretty sweeping thing to posit anyhow.

There's a difference between people making the (terrible) decision not to learn and maintaining a system that removes that decision from the learners.
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[quote name='ChurchSkiz' timestamp='1306852471' post='4817883']
If you don't want to go to prison, don't break the law. What a concept...
[/quote]A program about Miami jails in the UK recently made the point that those giant jails are exclusively for those awaiting sentence, i.e. not guilty... they can be in maximum security violent facilities for years while still legally innocent.

How's that for a concept.
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It certainly is bothersome to me -- at 1% of the population I believe that's anywhere between 2.5 and 3 million people. To put that into perspective, that's 5-6 cites the size of Seattle worth of people -- or about all of the Seattle-metro area, which includes 6 counties and 5 major cities (Seattle, Tacoma, Everett and Bellevue).

I think that, most definitely, all criminals should be in jail for a period that fits the crime and damaged caused, with consideration given for criminal repetition, pattern of crimes (is the person a serial burglar, are their crimes becoming increasingly risky or violent), and mitigating circumstances. I do think we need to re-define what constitutes crime, re-examine penalties attached to various crimes, and to completely do away with three-strikes, at the very least for non-violent crimes (I would define violent as the threat of a weapon, or actual use of physical force).

I think the biggest part of the mess is the criminalization of Marijuana and all the low-level crimes and arrests surrounding that. I think decriminalization of simple possession and legalized sales would make a huge dent in annual prison intake. I would also advocate that people in jail or prison for simple possession, or for which simple possession make up a portion of their three strikes be unbound by the minimum and commuted to appropriate sentences, less time served.

Another more general problem with three strikes, minimum sentences and "tough on crime" is that we've taken the ability of Judges to... you know... judge. That is their job after all -- they have two essential duties -- to conduct the trial, and to determine punishment based upon the jury conviction, the facts of the case and considering mitigating circumstances. Granted that a freer system can be abused, and will no doubt end up in a criminal who slips through the system with minimal punishment and then goes on to commit some henous act (generally the scenario that brought about 3 strikes and manditory minimums), but as tragic as that might be, we'd probably come out ahead on the balance of the whole.

Of course, as nice as this might be, we won't see these changes, certainly not now when people's concerns are elsewhere, and their biggest fear is some newly-released criminal either a) taking their job, or b) finding no job and resorting to crime.

Certainly its not a simple problem to address though, there's a whole web of socio-economic and other issues that drive criminal activity.
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Some related stories.

---

[url="http://blog.imperfectparent.com/2010/02/18/12-year-old-girl-arrested-for-drawing-on-desk/"]http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/35257428/ns/us_news-crime_and_courts/t/nyc-student-arrested-doodling-desk/[/url]

A 12 year old girl was handcuffed, arrested, detained, and criminally convicted for writing "Lex was here 2/1/10" on her desk.

Not an isolated incident...

[url="http://blog.imperfectparent.com/2010/02/18/12-year-old-girl-arrested-for-drawing-on-desk/"]http://blog.imperfec...rawing-on-desk/[/url]

In 2007, [a] 13-year-old wrote “Okay” on her desk, and police handcuffed and arrested her. She was one of several students arrested in the class that day; the others were accused of plastering the walls with stickers.

At schools across the country, police are being asked to step in ... a food fight at a middle school in Chicago, Illinois, resulted in the arrests of 25 children, some as young as 11.

I wonder if these will count towards their three strikes...

---

From wikipedia:

"The term police state describes a state in which the government exercises rigid and repressive controls over the social, economic and political life of the population. A police state typically exhibits elements of totalitarianism and social control, and there is usually little or no distinction between the law and the exercise of political power by the executive."
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[quote name='d000hg' timestamp='1306869479' post='4817985']
[quote name='ChurchSkiz' timestamp='1306852471' post='4817883']
If you don't want to go to prison, don't break the law. What a concept...
[/quote]A program about Miami jails in the UK recently made the point that those giant jails are exclusively for those awaiting sentence, i.e. not guilty... they can be in maximum security violent facilities for years while still legally innocent.

How's that for a concept.
[/quote]

That's a different discussion. If people that are awaiting trial are stuck in prison for years then that is a major issue.

Also, awaiting sentencing is not the same as not guilty. Awaiting sentencing means you are a convicted criminal but your sentence hasn't been decided yet. Maximum security could be appropriate depending on the crime. If you're in maximum security you probably won't get out for time already served at sentencing so I can't see this would be a problem in all but the rarest of cases.
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[quote name='forsandifs' timestamp='1306874303' post='4818012']
Some related stories.
[...]
[/quote]
Parents are finicky about what happens to their children. It's sometimes easier to just have police deal with vandals. Maybe the kids will get placed in safe homes with proper parenting. If the teachers do anything else they could be held responsible or worse sued which schools can't really afford.
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