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America’s prison industrial complex

October 12, 2013

Having previously examined U.S. war crimes and the case for legalizing marijuana, the guys from Criminal Justice Degree Hub have produced another thought-provoking infographic, this time on the U.S. prison industry.

The data demonstrates the shocking rise in the U.S. incarceration rate in recent years, which has coincided with the increasing privatization of America’s prisons.

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, far worse than the likes of Cuba, Russia or China (North Korea’s incarceration rate is unknown but estimated to be roughly equal to the U.S. rate). Incredibly, the “land of the free” is now home to five percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of its prisoners.

Locked Up in America

Source: Criminal Justice Degree Hub

Modern-day slavery

The expansion of America’s inmate population has been driven by the powerful private corporations that have begun to take hold of the nation’s prison industry. These corporations prefer to exploit prison labor because inmates are entitled to only minimal salaries and require no insurance; they cannot strike, they work full-time and never arrive late.

Great profits can be reaped from exploiting this defenseless labor force, and – most disturbingly – the more people that are incarcerated, the more that the corporations stand to gain. Thus the dramatic increase in the number of jail terms given in recent years – many for very minor crimes – can be seen as an effort to meet an ever-increasing quota of cheap labor.

Crack versus powder cocaine

Draconian dug laws provide the easiest means of filling America’s jails with potential workers. Indeed, drug offenses currently comprise 46.8 percent of crimes for which people are held in federal prisons in the United States.

As a previous infographic revealed, African Americans are arrested and incarcerated at an entirely disproportionate rate for possession of marijuana – they are three times more likely to be prosecuted than white Americans, even though their consumption rate is the same.

But nothing demonstrates the institutional racism inherent in the U.S. justice system like the different laws on crack and powder cocaine – two distinct forms of what is essentially the same drug.

The most significant difference between crack and powder cocaine is that, statistically, the former is most prevalent in poor black neighborhoods while the latter is more commonly used by more affluent white Americans.

For decades, federal drug laws dictated that anyone caught in possession of crack would receive the same punishment as someone arrested with 100 times as much powder cocaine. Thus, an African American caught with a small quantity of crack for personal use would often receive a much harsher sentence than a Caucasian coke dealer found with a much larger amount of what is, to all intents and purposes, the same substance. Furthermore, there was a mandatory, five-year minimum sentence for possession of crack, which did not apply to powder cocaine or other drugs.

To its credit, the Barack Obama administration has taken some action to rectify these blatantly racist drug laws. In August 2010, Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act into law, eliminating the mandatory, five-year minimum sentence for crack users, and reducing the powder-to-crack weight ratio from 100-to-1 to 18-to-1.

However, this still means that you could be caught with a large quantity of powder cocaine and receive the same sentence as someone caught with one eighteenth of that amount in crack. If a government is going to criminalize narcotics users than consistency in terms of sentencing should be the very minimum requirement of its drug laws.

Click here for a more in-depth study of all this.

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