According to the annual report from the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, one in every 32 American adults were doing hard time, were on probation or on parole last year. 2.2 million were incarcerated; 4.1 million were on probation; nearly 800,000 were on parole.
Gender inequities, family devastation, drug use, Race and profiteering in the Prison-Industrial Complex are all major factors that create the justice system in the United States.
Men still far outnumber women in prisons and jails, but the female population is growing faster. Over the past year, the female population in state or federal prison increased 2.6 percent while the number of male inmates rose 1.9 percent. By year’s end, 7 percent of all inmates were women.”Today’s figures fail to capture incarceration’s impact on the thousands of children left behind by mothers in prison,” Marc Mauer, the executive director of the Sentencing Project, a Washington-based group supporting criminal justice reform, said in a statement. “Misguided policies that create harsher sentences for nonviolent drug offenses are disproportionately responsible for the increasing rates of women in prisons and jails.” From 1995 to 2003, inmates in federal prison for drug offenses have accounted for 49 percent of total prison population growth.
Racial disparities among prisoners persist. In the 25-29 age group, 8.1 percent of black men _ about one in 13 _ are incarcerated, compared with 2.6 percent of Hispanic men and 1.1 percent of white men. And it’s not much different among women. By the end of 2005, black women were more than twice as likely as Hispanics and over three times as likely as white women to be in prison.
Is the justice system in the United States skewed to punish the poor, the unlucky and those with darker skin? Do drug addicts really belong in jail? Is it possible to keep the family core intact if mothers and fathers of young children are incarcerated?
Shawanna Nelson, a prisoner at the McPherson Unit in Newport, Ark., had been in labor for more than 12 hours when she arrived at Newport Hospital on Sept. 20, 2003. Ms. Nelson, whose legs were shackled together and who had been given nothing stronger than Tylenol all day, begged, according to court papers, to have the shackles removed.
Though her doctor and two nurses joined in the request, her lawsuit says, the guard in charge of her refused.
What is the cause of the rise in the prison/parole/probation population? Are we getting tougher on crime or are criminals just getting bolder? How many new prisons can we afford to build?
With last fall’s opening of the 100-bed women’s work release center at Women’s Correction Institution, Taylor said the 1996 prison expansion program is wrapped up. But the prison system is again experiencing overcrowding, with prisons about 300 to 400 people over the planned 6,687-inmate capacity each week.The state needs to replace or renovate aging units at the Sussex Correctional Institution, Baylor and the Plummer Community Corrections Center. He said architects are working on all the projects but costs and specifics won’t be ready until spring.
How many prisoners are illiterate and unable to provide informed consent to treatments they may not understand are voluntary and unnecessary?
More than 100 prisoners in Washington and Oregon were paid $10 a month to have their testicles irradiated by government researchers. Prisoners in Pennsylvania were among those who had dioxin rubbed into their skin. They were also given LSD and other hallucinogens by military scientists.
These abuses continued well into the 1970s. And until the early 1990s, private companies used prisoners in Arkansas and Arizona as plasma donors, which dramatically increased the contamination of the U.S. blood supply with hepatitis and HIV.
The United States has a lengthy history of abusing prisoners in the name of medical research. It was this well-documented history that led to the near prohibition of federally funded prisoner medical experimentation by the 1970s. The Institute of Medicine’s proposal to loosen these recommendations is ill-advised and shows a poor understanding of the modern American prison system.
The Prison-Industrial Complex rivals that of the Military and they both serve the same end: Punishing security threats by enriching private enterprise as author Eric Schlosser argued in The Atlantic Monthly nearly a decade ago:
The prison-industrial complex is not only a set of interest groups and institutions. It is also a state of mind. The lure of big money is corrupting the nation’s criminal-justice system, replacing notions of safety and public service with a drive for higher profits. The eagerness of elected officials to pass tough-on-crime legislation — combined with their unwillingness to disclose the external and social costs of these laws — has encouraged all sorts of financial improprieties.
The Carceral Citizen will soon be each of us as we police each other and punish ourselves by providing Old West instant justice that can never be revoked or paroled and in that hard lesson of our death shall we learn the true meaning of living in an incarceration nation.