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Monday, December 11, 2023


The prison-industrial complex offers no way out

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Our nation has gotten into the business of locking up its citizens at an unseemly rate and it’s frightening because business is good. The U.S. makes up under 5 percent of the world’s population yet it houses nearly 25 percent of the world’s prison populace.

Business is so good that the government has resorted to contracting help from outside sources which has created the monster known as the private prison industry. Companies are literally out to make a buck on the misdeeds and misfortunes of human beings.

As a convict, if you’re lucky enough to reach the end of your dreadful sentence, you’re likely to exist in the shadow of your record after prison. One look at it by another person will make you appear as if you are without virtue. The stink of your past follows you, making it difficult to find work, housing, and redemption. For these individuals, society has no pity and the private prison industry is banking off that.

How did we get here?

People are driven by many factors, but fear remains among the strongest. Fear has been a powerful tool throughout history to control the masses. In the ’80s with the War on Drugs, it was used to push politically motivated agendas that led to the fanatical political indoctrination of every candidate since Reagan being “tough on crime” leading to the mass incarceration rates we have today.

Private prison companies have gone on record for stating that their business model depends on high rates of incarceration so they politically contribute to candidates who advocate stiffer penalties and longer sentences. They then sleep on a bed paid for by billions made off their human rights violations that society could care less about.

The primary purpose for the existence of private prisons is to cut the costs associated with over incarceration. These cuts come in the form of food unfit for human consumptioninsufficient psychological and medical treatment, and insufficient security and staff.

Many people feed their cognitive dissonance by convincing themselves that prisoners don’t have the right to complain about free food, housing, and medical treatment because they’re getting punished for what they did.

We’re not talking about giving prisoners the equivalent of reservations at Dorsia every night, we’re talking about food that isn’t rat-dropping infested, moldy or rotten like that which has been provided by companies like Aramark to prisons. We aren’t talking about lush stays at the Four Seasons, we’re talking about a 6-by-8 foot jail cell where your wake-up call is your cellmate sitting on the toilet.

We aren’t talking about weekly appointments with some swanky downtown psychiatrist to discuss why your fortune can’t buy you happiness, we’re talking about treatment for mental illness that has gone undiagnosed for decades.

We must stop pretending that every person locked up is a dangerous murderer, rapist, or child molester and acknowledge that most inmates are nonviolent offenders. The only thing that separates some of us from some of them is chance and circumstance. We can’t be the free world’s reigning leader and continue to dehumanize our fellow citizens to the point where we allow private firms to strip them of their basic human rights and dignities.  

We live in a culture where the only method being advocated to lower the crime rate is to lock up even nonviolent offenders with mandatory sentences for things like drug possession. There is no concern for the disproportionate racial bias or recidivism that is rampant in the current system. A justice system that once existed has decayed into today’s legal system, where justice is no longer for all.

First we need to re-evaluate our sentencing policies and decriminalize relatively harmless offences such as marijuana related charges. Next we need to rehabilitate those who we realistically can, to help them while they’re inside as recompense for consistently failing a lot of them as a society on the outside. And finally, we need to end the profiting off the misery of others and put a ban on all private prison systems.

The fear that is used to convince us these atrocities are necessary and acceptable are unfounded and detrimental to our health as a nation. Fear leads to irrationality and irrationality helps construct an Orwellian narrative.

Columnist Anup Desai is a pre-business sophomore and can be reached [email protected]

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