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.

We already have the NYPD Panopticon imprisoning innocent citizens in Harlem — can the carceral state be far behind if profit dictates punishment?

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.


  1. Hi David,
    Pretty soon nothing will be private in our security state — especially when every office building, shopping mall, and airport gets the “strip search” x-ray machine that can see through clothing.
    I wonder if we’ll see people lining up to get a job as the strip search x-rays become more widespread?

  2. Chris!
    I agree we are moving from police state, to carceral state to a Carceral Citizen where are too afraid to speak or think in our daily lives because the punishment will outweigh the perceived threat against the state.
    Those X-Rays that see through clothes are just unthinkable to me. They will be used more for thrill seeking and mocking than defeating terrorism.
    What is the answer to crime? Build more prisons? What happens when one in 10 Americans have done time or are serving time? Will we as a nation hope the ratio drops to 1:5 before we start seeking underlying causes and other paths of punishment than workhouse prisons?
    Australia is supposed to be the “Convict Nation” but I think we’re fast approaching that non-coveted title.

  3. Chris!
    Exactly! The enemy in your email is you! I was planning on talking about that tomorrow, but since you brought it up today and linked it so well to the Carceral state, we should definitely discuss it now.
    I think that new email rule is chilling! It encourages VPN and offsite email addresses and spoofing in order to go undetected.
    I’m sure the cellular companies love it because they will all have a lot of cellular PC Cards selling fast so people can connect to the web off of their work IP while at work to do the private business they were doing on the work backbone!

  4. Hi David,
    I’ll send in a Feedback report.
    Sometimes the online world feels like a carceral state where one is automatically suspect and has to prove good intentions.

  5. Hi David,
    No place is going to be safe. I read someplace that cell phone emails and text messages will have to be saved as well. If you use a VPN or other method of electronic interaction, I’m sure it will be viewed as “trying to hide something.” The fact someone is using that kind of service might be viewed as something suspicious.

    In addition to e-mail, companies will need to know about things more difficult to track, like digital photos of work sites on employee cell phones and information on removable memory cards, he said.

    Source: RedOrbit.

  6. Chris!
    Good! I’m glad you’re sending in Feedback. Make sure you tell them you’re getting caught here at least once a day so they can check the logs here.
    Akismet has obviously used some algorithm to determine your guilt, Chris, and who can argue with a computer?
    It is going to be harder and hard to keep the idea of the presumption of innocence alive as we move forward because software, and not people, will begin to pulse popularity and honors and guilt and innocence and we’ll just keep giving up our personal rights because the government requires us to in order to “live free” with licensing and health care and voting — all while we breathe in our own death.

  7. Hi Chris —
    If cellphones and PC Cards are owned by the employee and not the company, how can the company be legally held responsible for what the employee owns and uses?

  8. Hi David,
    That’s the problem. Let’s say you connect to the office computer via VPN from home. Does that mean if someone sues the company, the plaintiff’s attorneys get to request your computer files as part of discovery?
    If you own a Blackberry, but check office emails does that open that device up for scrutiny?
    I have a feeling that the rules will be interpreted to allow access to as much information as possible since providing a loophole for privately owned equipment will be seen as a way to hide electronic data.
    I’m thinking it might be smart to keep business and private completely separate so that someone doesn’t get to look at your wife’s Turbo Tax documents if your employer gets sued for something.

  9. The one saving grace is that you can always object to discovery requests on the ground that the information sought is not admissible in evidence and does not appear to be reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.
    This would seem to be applicable to requests that would seem to fall outside of the scope of the litigation, as in a request for copies of all the electronic information on a personal computer kept at home.

  10. “Is it possible to keep the family core intact if mothers and fathers of young children are incarcerated?”
    I think this is just another way the system create criminals to catch. If a family is already on the poorer end of the spectrum and is left with little, if any, parental guidence/emotional support and lack of finance, it seems that they may be left with a desire to belong and a means to funding which may make gang life or drug dealing appear rather appealing.
    It seems that rather than putting funds into building new prisons, the funds would better serve the community if it was focused the funding on those who need it (ie. better schools, tutors, health care in lower income neighborhoods, etc.).

  11. Chris!
    If you’re on the company VPN, then I think any interaction you take — even from home — is fair game for discovery. That’s why I think services like Anonymizer and Iron Mountain and other virtual-VPN encrypted portals will see their stock soar!
    As for getting access to files on your home computer, encrypt everything and then forget the password. There’s no way using DES-level encryption that your files could be broken in time for a trial if you were cooperative and forgetful and everyone has forgotten their password now and again!
    I think BlackBerries will be totally keen ways to avoid detection. You’re on the RIM network. You’re on a BlackBerry email address. You pay the bill. The information stored therein belongs to you. I wouldn’t touch my office email for anything other than formal stuff and I’d use my BlackBerry for everything else.
    I remember CNN was the first company many years ago to break the mold of any perceived privacy at work. They make it clear – TED TURNER MADE IT CLEAR – that all work resources belonged to him and that meant your internet surfing, your email, anything typed on your computer and — the thing that upset most of his employees — your Voice Mail. Several high profile personalities quit the network in protest to this “egregious” violation of their privacy at work.

  12. Hi Chris!
    My feeling is a judge and an opposing side will always press for more information. I know you can’t just go foraging, but a good attorney can make a case you have secrets in your wife’s Turbo Tax file and what’s the hurt in just looking at it to make sure she’s clean and not helping you?

  13. A S!
    I am so glad you hit upon another important part of today’s post: Incarceration currently tears families apart.
    Years ago most prisoners could have in-person visits from family and their children and even conjugal visits. That interaction from the outside world, I argue, is what kept them human and made them hope for a release date.
    Now we treat prisoners like sub-animals that deserve no kindness or understanding and people tend to behave as you expect them to behave.
    It may be true many of them do not deserve humility in handling, but that inevitably takes us back to the young prisoner as a child of five.
    What was imprinted on that young mind?
    What violence was that young mind exposed to every day?
    What values were presented for mimicry as a good citizen of the community?
    Only when we begin to find the answers to those hard questions will we will begin to defeat the increase in the prison population.

  14. Hi David,
    Anonymizer sounds like a great product. I’m thinking about checking it out.
    The result of the new rules will probably be a reduction in email traffic and the reduction of electronic information to short statements kept extremely brief and tightly focused on the issue at hand.

  15. I am reminded of a Psych Ward test for sanity I read in an email a while back:
    Fill a bathtub with water.
    Give the individual a spoon, a bowl and a bucket.
    Ask them to empty the tank.
    Someone says, “Oh I get it, the normal person will use the bucket.”
    The person running the Psych Ward says, “No, they will pull the drain.”
    I think too often we as a society try to use the spoon, bowl or bucket. Prisons as we know it is only an out of sight out of mind mentality towards the real issues.
    While there are certain programs out there run by different groups to help the children of people in prison during the holidays (ie. project angel tree which people buy presents on behalf of prisoners for their children) there doesn’t seem to be as much for them during the rest of the year — And that’s a shame.
    I’m glad you are blogging these issues and hope that greater awareness of the human condition would lead to a better society.

  16. Hi Chris!
    Anonymizer is a great product. Very robust. There are sites, however, that block it because when you’re under its spell not all information is returned and that ticks off some sites.
    I agree these new rules will once again make popular the “Three Martini Lunch” where everyone has a happy time “off-the-record” as real business gets done without any snooping eyes.

  17. A S —
    I agree today’s topic deserves our in-depth attention while Lindsay Lohan can rot on the dung heap for all of eternity for all I care — but we are giving up our popularity to talk about incarceration and the Carceral Citizen.
    Your story about the bathtub reminds me of one from my youth long ago in Junior High School. I believe I was 13 when this happened in a Social Studies class.
    Our student teacher handed out a paper with 10 extremely specific instructions. She said you must follow each one to the fullest extent possible. She told us we had an hour to finish the test.
    When she handed out the test the first task read, “Write your name on this paper and hand it in.”
    I wrote my name on the test and handed it back in to the astonishment of my student teacher and the rest of the class.
    I sat back down wondering why everyone else was standing up and doing jumping jacks and writing their 10 favorite colors on the board and doing all the rest of the outrageous tasks on the test.
    The student teacher and I sat there and smiled at each other — we were seeing the sheep in action while we just sat there for an hour. It was quite a silly spectacle!
    When the hour was over and the student teacher called “Time.” She told the class I was the only one who did the test right.
    She asked them why they kept doing all the tasks and the other students responded they “wanted to finish” and “they didn’t want to question authority” and they “didn’t want to miss anything.”
    The lesson of the test was not to question authority, but to do as you were told without questioning authority even though there were other authoritative mandates on the test. The only people who received the irony of the experience were the student teacher and me — the rest of them, I think, are still trying to finish…

  18. “we are giving up our popularity to talk about incarceration and the Carceral Citizen” I’d like to think that some people would come across this article and be moved to action because they were drawn in by the popularity of other articles herein rather than the depreciation of popularity on the basis of writing something of greater social purpose.

  19. Our latest figures are :-
    Male 75,522
    Female 4,482
    No. of prisoners held in police cells under Operation Safeguard 171
    TOTAL 80,175
    Operation safeguard – means they have run out of prison cells and they are held in police cells instead.
    This does not include those “in transit.”
    There are regular questions in the House of Commons about the numbers in transit – this is the number that there is no place for at the time.
    There is debate in the UK about privatising prisons as the current system cannot cope.
    My suggestion would be to stop making laws and criminalising people who do not warrant it.
    We should be looking at the causes of crime, and addressing those .
    I could be really radical and say that we need state apothecaries that sell licenced drugs in the purest form in small doses with very heavy sentences for those that continue to traffic – I think this would cut out a major proportion of crime.
    You may want to take a look at
    Please let me know if you can or cannot see it – it has been removed from googles listings.

  20. Nicola!
    Thank you for the UK view on this terrible, important, shared matter!

    I could be really radical and say that we need state apothecaries that sell licenced drugs in the purest form in small doses with very heavy sentences for those that continue to traffic – I think this would cut out a major proportion of crime.

    Yes, I agree with you! We legalize booze, why not every other dangerous drug out there? Give free access. Give free needles. Give free condoms while we’re at it!
    In high school I had a teacher who said “take all the drug users and put them on an island and give them any drug they want as long as they stay on the island away from us.”
    That, too, is a smart idea. There are broken people who require medication — illegal medication — so legalize it, tax it, and provide it without charge to those who would steal and kill to get it.
    I can see the website you provide! Wow! There’s some heavy thinking there, thanks!!!

  21. “We should be looking at the causes of crime, and addressing those .” — I fully agree with you on this Nicola. But I also think that we need to figure out how to get past the stigma of past offenses. The fact that society continues to judge someone on the basis that they were incarcerated upon their release only makes it more difficult for them to be reintigrated into that society in order to make an honest living. Failure to move beyond that will only push people back to criminal activity.

  22. A S —
    You bring up a fascinating topic that you should write up as an article for publication here!
    I will let Nicola answer your keen inquiry, but I want to expand your response into wondering about mandatory neighborhood notice for convicted pedophiles who have done their time and served their sentences. Do you agree with that notification or not?
    What do you make of the idea of a “sex offenders map?”

  23. A S
    I am not sure how the system works where you live.
    In the UK it works along these lines. From the Liberty Guide to Human Rights.
    “One particular kind of information that a person may understandably want to keep confidential is that relating to a past criminal conviction. On the other hand, other people may have a legitimate need to know about previous convictions so as to protect vulnerable people.
    The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 allows people to start with a clean slate after they have paid their debt to society, but provides for exceptions to this general principle.
    The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 applies to all types of sentence, whether it is a term of imprisonment, a fine, probation, absolute or conditional discharge, findings in a juvenile court that an offence has been committed, and convictions of certain offences in service disciplinary proceedings.
    The length of the rehabilitation period depends on the sentence and runs from the date of the conviction. When the relevant rehabilitation period has expired, the conviction becomes ‘spent’ and usually will not need to be disclosed in the future, for example, when you are applying for a job, completing an insurance proposal form, or applying for credit facilities or a tenancy of property.”
    “Spent convictions and the rehabilitation of offenders
    Rehabilitation Period per Sentence
    Prison for more than two and a half years – never
    Prison for more than six months but less than two and a half years – 10 years
    Prison for six months or less – 7 years
    Fine – 5 years
    Dismissal with disgrace from Her Majesty’s service – 10 years
    Dismissal from Her Majesty’s service – 7 years
    Detention in respect of conviction in service disciplinary proceedings – 5 years
    Borstal – 7 years
    Detention for over six months but less than two and a half years – 5 years
    Detention for six months or less – 3 years
    Probation – 5 years
    Hospital order under Mental Health Act 1983 – 5 years
    or 2 years after order ceases to have effect, whichever is
    the longer
    Absolute discharge – 6 months
    Conditional discharge, probation order, binding over,
    care order, supervision order – 1 year after conviction of
    the order or 1 year after the order ends, whichever is the longer
    Disqualification – The period of disqualification
    Note: These periods are reduced by half if the offender was under eighteen at the date of conviction.
    The following sentences can never become spent:
    • A sentence of imprisonment, youth custody detention in a young offender institution or corrective training, for a term of more than two and a half years.
    • A sentence of imprisonment for life.
    • A sentence of preventive detention.
    • Detention during Her Majesty’s pleasure or for life. ”
    That is the official view – however dealing with it on a personal basis in the neighbourhood is a different matter.
    There are some places where a *term* inside is a badge of honour and all part og the *learning* process , a learning process that you cannot graduate from unless you have *done time*.
    In some places prison is no longer a deterrent. You get your own cell, TV, computer games , heat, light, water – some people feel they are better off inside prison.
    The BBC have an in depth view

  24. Nicola!
    A S will answer you, but WOW! What a great comment. What a fascinating and fair system you have in the UK.
    What does “Detention during Her Majesty’s pleasure or for life” mean?
    In America there are some people — the homeless and the mentally ill — who cannot survive poor and broken on the street and so they find prison more welcoming because they get “Three squares and a cot.” Three square meals a day and a prison cell where they can sleep.
    It’s sad, really, that prison gives them the comforts of home they cannot earn on their own.

  25. “mandatory neighborhood notice for convicted pedophiles pedophiles who have done their time and served their sentences.”
    If a person is prone to have sexual desires towards children, perhaps they should not be put in charge of a day care, but to carry the stigma with you from neighborhood to neighborhood seems to forcibly disconnect you with the rest of society. What can we conclude then but that the person’s mind will wander back towards tendencies that they already have.
    It is also quite unfair towards those individuals when we realize as there are many out there who may have pedophile instincts who were never convicted.
    While I must acknowledge that I may feel differently about this had I any children, I must say that it would be quite unnerving to walk around with my long list of faults and have others judge me based on prior lapses of judgment before they even get to know me.

  26. Nicola,
    Thanks for the details. I am glad that after a certain time it seems to be esponged from the system. It’s sad isn’t it that there are people that are “better off inside prison”? Too bad the system doesn’t seem to create a better life outside so one doesn’t have to resort to commiting a crime to in order to enjoy the benefits of human comforts.

  27. A S —
    I agree with you if the idea of prison is to reform and not punish, then we need to give people a chance to change once they’re released.
    To tag anyone with a lifetime mark as an offender with no way out is a little scary because then the accusation becomes the new imprisonment.
    If nobody wants to live next to a pedophile, where are they supposed to live?
    You’re right there are more dangerous things lurking out there that are unpunished and unidentified that are much more threatening to the welfare of a child than a convicted pedophile.

  28. I think prisons are both to punish and reform. But the punishment should end at the time of full release. If someone is under parole, they should still report to their parole officer but once that is over it should be just that — over.
    It is sad that we have not moved farther from the puritanical labelings and continued persecutions as experienced by the Hester Prynne’s of the world.

  29. We are definitely going the wrong way as a nation, A S. The freedoms and liberties we have won over the years are slowly being taken back by the state.
    Did you read Newt Gingrich’s speech last week where he favors censoring websites and blogs so they can’t be used by terrorists to communicate? It is unreal and unworldly.

  30. “censoring websites and blogs so they can’t be used by terrorists to communicate”
    Terrorists can already get around this and communicate in other methods. It seems more likely a plan limiting freedom of speech in the guise of protecting the nation.

  31. I agree with you, A S! There are too many ways to broker repressed speech so why bother tamping it down?
    There’s a Canadian company that now provides servers for people in countries where free speech and access to information is restricted. We may need their services soon!

    Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich yesterday in Manchester said the country will be forced to reexamine freedom of speech to meet the threat of terrorism.
    Gingrich, speaking at a Manchester awards banquet, said a “different set of rules” may be needed to reduce terrorists’ ability to use the Internet and free speech to recruit and get out their message.

  32. Absolutely!
    I used to sort of appreciate the guy’s daring ideas — but he’s now gone Neo-Con and Ultra-Right and he wants no personal freedoms.

  33. David – from Wiki
    The term is used to describe detainment in prison for an indefinite length of time.[1]
    A judge can rule that a person be “detained at her Majesty’s pleasure” for serious offences. This is sometimes used where there is a great risk of reoffending; however, it is most often used for juvenile offenders, usually as a substitute for life sentencing (which would naturally be much longer for younger offenders). For example, the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000 states:
    “Where a person convicted of murder appears to the court to have been aged under 18 at the time the offence was committed, the court shall (notwithstanding anything in this or any other Act) sentence him to be detained during Her Majesty’s pleasure.”[2]
    Prisoners held at Her Majesty’s Pleasure are frequently reviewed to determine whether their sentence can be deemed complete; although this power traditionally rested with the monarch, such reviews are now made by the Home Secretary. Minimum terms are also set, before which the prisoner cannot be released; these were originally set by the Home Secretary, but since 30 November 2000 have been set by the trial judge.[3] Prisoners’ sentences are typically deemed to be complete when the reviewing body is “satisfied that there has been a significant change in the offender’s attitude and behaviour”.[3]
    The phrase “at Her Majesty’s pleasure” derives from the fact that the authority of the law, including the Courts and the Prisons, is derived from the Crown, and the fact that prisoners are detained until the monarch pleases — although in reality this power is delegated to the Home Secretary.

  34. Hi Nicola!
    Fascinating! Why is “the crown” still embedded in the justice system in the way you describe?
    “Her Majesty’s pleasure” sound so historic but not really reflective of what the term truly means.
    Could the Queen have someone released if she wished? Does she have pardon power?

  35. Oh, Nicola! It is so chilling. Information means freedom and governments and states and nations can’t have that sort of freedom of access to the truth because then they can’t control the minds of the populace. This is pretty scary stuff.

  36. This is wild stuff from your BBC link:

    A historic feature of the UK constitution, the Royal Prerogative gives the Crown (the monarch) special powers, including the power to declare war, to make treaties, to pardon criminals, and to dissolve Parliament.
    Today the role of the monarch in such matters is largely ceremonial, but the Royal Prerogative gives considerable powers to government ministers acting on the Queen’s behalf.

    Wow! I got lost in Old Bailey! What fantastic stuff. The Drawing and Quartering is rough: Foucault draws a story about how it was done with four horses in France long ago in his book on crime and punishment.

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