Prison Industrial Complex: Study Questions
1. What is the “prison-industrial complex”? According to the presentation, what are the three main parties that benefit from its existence?
Answer (found on page 6 in group summary) :
The prison industrial complex is a set of bureaucratic, political and economic interests that encourage increased spending on imprisonment, regardless of the actual need. According to the presentation, there are 3 main groups that benefit from the existence of the prison-industrial complex: a. Politicians, both liberal and conservative who have used the fear of crime to gain votes. b. Impoverished rural areas where prisons have become a cornerstone of economic development. c. Private corporations who regard prisons as a lucrative market. Ex:
Phone companies like AT&T, BellSouth and MCI all have divisions that service payphones for prisoners. These payphones can generate up to $15,000 per year, which is about five times the revenue of a typical payphone on the street.
2. The prison-industrial complex presentation made the argument that although crime has gone down; the number of people going to prison has tripled since the 1970’s. How have the harsher drug laws of the 80’s and
90’s affected this statistic? What effect have these laws had on women and other minority groups?
Answer (several found on pages 1-4 in group summary) :
Harsher drug laws such as the Rockefeller laws and the three strikes law have had a profound effect on the number of people we as a society are sending to prison. Many first time drug offenses now carry a mandatory 5-year minimum.
These mandatory minimums don’t allow judges to consider factors like the offenders role in the crime, their motivation or their likelihood of recidivism. Also, three strikes laws mandate a life sentence for a third felony, even if it is a nonviolent crime. There has been an 80% increase in federal prison populations that are a direct result in the increase of drug related convictions.
The effect on women and other minorities is that there are seven times as many women in jail now than there was in 1980.
The war on drugs targets the disadvantaged, who cannot sell drugs out of their homes because they are poor. Street sweeps of drug dealers, mass arrests in inner cities and harsher sentencing penalties for crack cocaine have directly targeted disadvantaged minorities.
59 percent of black male high school dropouts have a prison record.
African American men in prison for drug related offenses is 13 times that of white men even though studies show that most drug offenders are white and five times as many whites use drugs as blacks.
African Americans make up 13% of the US population and 74% of those convicted for drug crimes.
In short, the harsher drug laws have increased the numbers of blacks and women in jails, most of who are poor and undereducated.
3. As detailed in the presentation, describe two examples of how the dramatic levels of incarceration could/have been reduced through community programs.
Answer (there are three examples detailed in the “subtopic #4 section of the group summary) : a) In Deschutes County, Oregon a program was instituted to make the county financially responsible for placing youths in prison. As a result, the county saw a 72% decrease in youth incarceration in one year. By making the county financially responsible it, it gave them motivation to keep youth out of the prisons. Instead, intensive community service programs were instituted to keep juvenile offenders in their community. The excess money saved by the county was used for crime prevention and public services. b) Less severe punishment such as probation supervision has been demonstrated to be more of a deterrent against recidivism than prison. Probation is heavily focused on
“evidence-based programming” such as drug and alcohol treatment, mental health treatment, educational advancement and community service. If these programs were heavily instituted, it would help offenders to develop living skills for use in the community. c) Mass imprisonment has coincided with massive economic changes in the U.S. By attacking crime at its roots (i.e. social inequality, mental health problems, and addiction), the need for mass imprisonment vanishes. By investing in victim-focused services such as abuse hotlines and women’s shelters, awareness will be raised of the roots of crimes and help to prevent further victimization. If America shifts its focus from punishment to prevention we will save money and improve the quality of life for everyone.