Locked In

I’m sure I’m not the only person in the country that has a loved one on an extended long stay in the prison system. The U.S. likes locking people in for long stretches. So much so, that it is now a full-on business…profitable as hell for many private companies who donate funds to politicians that allow this to continue. I would say this is like slavery, but that’s being a bit generous. It IS slavery, and now, as a “civilized nation” we need to think more about ending this practice for real. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of people still need to go to jail, but the sentences need to be changed and how jail is used needs to be corrected.

a bunk bed with striped linen behind bars
Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

We’re Number 1

The United States is known for doing a lot of things in excess, when compared to other nations. We bathe more, drive more, eat more, spend more, play more, earn more, and lock up more. Incarceration is the stat we are absolutely killing the game with. The U.S. is home to 5% of the global population and 25% of the global incarcerated population. The U.S. has 2.12M and counting locked behind bars. China is catching up, with 1.7M, but China has 1 billion more people than we do, so their incarceration rate is far lower. It wasn’t always like this. Mass incarceration isn’t brand new, but at this scale is crazy.

Between 1980 and 1990 the number of inmates pretty much doubled from roughly 350K to about 700K people. From 1990 to 2000 it doubled again from 700K to 1.4M. Since the year 2000, we’ve seen highs of 2.3M in 2016, luckily, it’s down to 2.1M now…still 700K more than what we saw in year 2000. What is more alarming is private industries using prison labor to make their goods. Since 2000, the number of inmates serving time in privately run prisons has gone up 32%. Those private, for profit increases primarily occurred in states that are politically conservative and/or former confederate states. Thanks to that caveat in the 13th Amendment, slavery is still legal if a person is convicted of a crime. Prisons cost money, so what changed in the South to make them so eager to lock people in?

Unusual Suspects

In 1973 this group of conservative politicians and conservative minded businessman teamed up to start doing dirty, nasty things with politics. This group of supervillains are currently known as ALEC, however when it began it was known as the Conservative Caucus of State Legislators. Their number 1 goal was/is to write policy to advance their conservative agendas and benefit their pockets. They started small with abortion rights and discrimination against gay people, but they found their footing in things that actually bring in money. Haters gonna hate, but they need money to do it effectively. Their strategy was pretty sound though. Start at the state level, which is basically like college basketball, indoctrinate the brightest stars so when they make it to the pros (Federal) you have representation there as well. 

We have a criminal justice system which is superior to any in the world; and its efficiency is only marred by the difficulty of finding twelve men every day who don’t know anything and can’t read.

Mark Twain

Ahh The 90’s

judgement scale and gavel in judge office
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hallway with window
Photo by Jimmy Chan on Pexels.com

1994 FOX added what was at the time one of my favorite shows. That show was New York Undercover with Malik Yoba and Michael DeLorenzo, who looked more like a Broadway performer than a cop. 1994 also saw Bill Clinton pass a crime bill that basically put a green light on locking folks up for stuff. ALEC had a few fingers in the pot with the Truth in Sentencing and Three Strikes initiatives. This is important to note because two of the largest private prison companies are contributing members of ALEC. Common sense would say that’s a conflict of interest but seeing as most D.C. politicians are reactionary and not long game planners, signing the sexy bill that seemingly addresses the crime people are worried about was more important than vetting the writers and their motives.

Truth in Sentencing sought to keep people in prison for the duration of their sentences without parole and the Three Strikes element sought to capitalize on recidivism by giving life in prison after a 3rd felony and somehow no one seemed to care at the time. One more thrust was this bill removed the ability for inmates to get higher education grants while incarcerated. Effectively ending any idea of rehabilitation…but I digress. 

Foul Undertones

This brings us back to those conservative states. Of the top 20 states locking people up, 18 of them are traditionally conservative, 11 of which are former Confederate states, where they fought four straight years to maintain the practice of slavery. Though they lost the war, they got a “pretty favorable for them” compromise in the 13th Amendment. As a result, Black people could be and were locked up for any and everything immediately following “abolishment”. Fast forward to right now and very little has changed.

This isn’t a right-wing or left-wing issue, it’s an American issue. Don’t tell the politicians though, they seem to enjoy pushing blame without accepting responsibility. The 1994 Crime Bill passed the Senate with 94 Yay’s 4 Nay’s and 1 Declined to Vote. Of the Nay’s, the split was 2-2 between the parties. That said, the dirt is on both hands. So to fix it, both hands must come together sensibly. Imagine how that would work with a conservative group vying for more incarceration, ghost writing bills and paying politicians to keep their agendas alive. Those hands will never come together when there’s funding holding them back.

What Is Prison For

It’s called the penal system and they are living up to that. It’s punishment for crimes. However, the stated role is to rehabilitate criminals to make them contributing members of society. The American way is punishing people for the crime, then punishing them for having ever committed a crime once the initial punishment ends. It’s sad that a person can work in prison making bras and panties for Victoria’s Secret, but then get release after serving their time and be denied a job because they have a felony on their record. That’s the cold reality we live with. Prison conditions are less than ideal, even for punishment. There is very little focus on preparing them to re-enter society, and a great deal of effort put into them re-entering the prison system. It’s cheaper to do nothing, doing nothing leads to recidivism, which leads to more prison labor (slavery) profits for quite a few companies and those dollars make it into the pockets of conservative politicians by way of campaign donations by ALEC and its affiliates. Pardon me for connecting those dots.

Who Cares Though

The facts are the facts, what we do with them is what matters. There are people simply incapable of looking beyond their limited world view and there are others that live for that. Addressing crime in a common sense way would be funding education, improving after school programs, improving opportunity for the underserved and under privileged. We all should care. While we look at the top 1% of earners and wealth holders favorably, 1% of the prison population is the estimated amount of wrongfully accused people in jail…given our lofty stats, that equates to 20,000 people serving time for crimes they didn’t commit. That’s like watching a pro basketball game and realizing all of the faces in the stands are wrongfully convicted. Our system is out of control and failing some people on purpose. It’s not a conservative or liberal issue, it’s not exclusive to one race either. Our criminal justice system is broken and it’s well past time to change that.

More Information

I decided to update this post because there is a video that truly drives the point home by one of my favorite content creators. If you have the time and open mind to watch, please do. I’ll give one spoiler, the last legitimate slave in the United States of America was freed a few decades into the 1900’s. Checking out the video below.


    • It was a pretty tough one to write. There are a lot of stats and inconvenient truths I omitted to keep the post relatively brief. Coincidentally, one of my favorite YouTubers posted a video that addressed those omitted truths and more. If you have the time and patience, it’s a very informative watch, not conspiracy theory stuff. Thanks for reading these thoughts of mine. 🙂

    • I updated the post to include the video at the end. It’s titled Neo-Slavery, created by the Knowing Better channel.

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