Is the United States a jail-happy society?

Largely for the nature of rugged individualism that dictates lifestyles in the United States, sometimes serious violations of individual freedoms, rights and natural privileges go unnoticed. And as Americans are consumed by their busy lifestyles – whenever time permits, there is always the inclination to look beyond the shores of the U.S. for any existence of abuse and degradation of human values. No wonder, places like China are soft spots for the average American’s idea of “where it can terribly go wrong for a human being.”

Yet, right here in the “land of the free,” the number of people behind bars is on the uptick. America is today, the most established democracy with the most institutionalized punitive system that jails more people than its fair share in the world. Recent studies have suggested that an American teen – mostly of color – is twice as likely to go to prison as they are to go to college.

In the highly privatized prison system in the United States (the government controls a dismal 20 per cent stake), up to 2 million prisoners – mostly Black and Hispanic work for various industries for as low as 25 cents an hour, according to an independent thin-tank, California Prison Focus.

So, what does this say of the “Land of Dreams”? That it’s ok to reap profits on the backs of the chained and oppressed? That while the United States will choose to police the world and read the riot act to other civilizations it deems abusive to their citizenry, such acts in the United States are permissible? Does it worry that using prisoners for profit is a tad low, given that prisoners do not have the right to organize and advocate for fair working conditions and even fair pay? If not a carefully crafted modern-day slavery what is the intent and purpose of rounding up such a huge population under the guise of correcting behavior only to turn them into unwilling machines of massive profiteering?

The absence of the above questions and even the many more is the worrying concern about the state of rights in America. The statistics by the California Prison Focus, also detail that America jails a large number of its citizens than any other human civilization on earth. The numbers show that the U.S. has jailed a half a million people more than China, which has a population five times larger than the U.S. That number also places the United States as home to 25 per cent of the world’s prisoners, but only home to 5 percent of the world’s total population. From only five private prisons 20 years ago, there are more than 100 private prisons in the U.S. today.

But perhaps, such a deplorable state of affairs would be permissible as it lines well with America’s corporate greed which receives seldom condemnation. Corporations continue to be more powerful and to wreak havoc at every given turn.

A study by the Left Business Observer in 2013, found that the federal prison industry produces 100 per cent of all military helmets, ammunition belts, bullet-proof vests, ID tags, shirts, pants, tents, bags and canteens. And for all that, prison workers supply 98 per cent of the entire market for equipment assembly services; 93 per cent of paints and paintbrushes; 92 per cent of stove assembly; 46 per cent of body armor and 36 per cent of home appliances. Yet, in the midst of our happy fulfillment, we never pose to ask ourselves whether it’s fair or justify to benefit from this type of unwarranted slavery.

Looking for rationality doesn’t go too far…The question of who is more culpable doesn’t supersede the fact that we are all guilty consumers of products of slavery. Mass producers of consumer products are the top investors in prison labor. Some of the companies include: IBM, Boeing, Motorola, Microsoft, AT&T, Texas Instrument, Dell, Compaq, Honeywell, Hewlett-Packard, Nortel, Lucent Technologies, 3Com, Intel, Northern Telecom, TWA, Nordstrom’s, Revlon, Macy’s, Pierre Cardin, Target Stores, and many more. All of these businesses are excited about the economic boom generation by prison labor.

Further findings also reveal how some corporations have had to close shop in third world economies like Mexico where such work was once attractive to set up operations within the United States cheap prison labor.

But as America strongly retains its global position as the new home of the unfree, it emerges that it is the quiet stupid! That so many people are comfortable with such a grave blot in a people’s dichotomy is reason enough to suggest that this society is in grave danger. When statistics on unemployment for instance, are hard put to suggest new ways to create jobs, seldom do we hear suggestions on legislations to force those corporations to employ free Americans at decent wages instead of employing slave labor. Why for instance would a prisoner in some small town, Tennessee, take up the job of a college graduate with IBM for half a dollar an hour? What are the moral justifications of such turpitude? And why would Americans think that injustice elsewhere is the mother of all if not the only?

If the United States has ceased to be a global leader – for it is so telling – it should as well desist from insisting on how other places should treat their citizens. It is a hullabaloo that reeks empty and of doublespeak of the worst form!

 Twitter: @BensonAmollo

 

About the Author

Benson Amollo
Benson Amollo

A liberal poet, student diplomat, journalist, news junkie and a lover of politics, Benson, a native of Kenya and a former United Nations Dag Hammarskjold fellow, has written extensively on contemporary issues around governance, democracy and human rights.

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