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Incarcerating a Generation

The disproportionate numbers of African Americans in the prison system is a very serious issue, which is not usually discussed in its totality. However, it is quite important to address the matter because it ultimately will have an effect on African Americans as a whole. Of the many tribulations that plague Americans today, the increase in the amount of African American men and women in prisons is unbelievable. It would be nave to say that the increase is due to the fact that more African Americans are committing crimes now than before.

When in actuality it has very prevalent connections to a systematic plan to incarcerate a race of people by creating harsh drug laws to imprison mostly African American, non-violent drug offenders. Since these drug laws were enforced strictly, African Americans have filled our prison systems in outstanding numbers. Consequently causing an overcrowded prison. Private companies, which contain private contracts with the prison, use the inmates as a source of free or cheap labor. One may ask themselves, “Is this ethical? ” Absolutely not.

They allow the public to believe that it is beneficial because has no expense to tax payers, however the only real benefit is to the company itself. The company has managed to attain free or cheap labor while simultaneously increasing their net profits. When the values of a people and the ethics of a country are systematically broken down, one begins to ponder about why the preposterous numbers are what they are. African Americans constitute about half of the prison inmates when they only make up about 13% of the United States population. There are many speculations as to why this is so.

Some blame poverty or lack of opportunity. Others say police concentrate on poor urban areas “because street crimes such as drug dealing are more visible and residents there require more police protection. ” In 1950 whites made up 65% of all state and federal inmates, while blacks made up only 35%. Today, the opposite is true with 35% of the prison population made up of whites. Specialists have speculated that by the end of the year 2000, roughly one million African American adults will be behind bars. That will constitute for almost one in every 14 black men being in jail.

And as of December 31, 1999 there were 1,366,721 African American men and women under federal and state jurisdiction. This implies that there has been a 3. 4% increase since December 1,1998. “The face of crime to white America is now that of a black man” says David Bositis, Center for Political and Economic Studies, senior political analyst. While incarceration statistics have skyrocketed, crime rates have increased much more slowly. Politicians sought out political points by enforcing tough on crime laws. By doing this the politicians increase public panic by portraying the “urban underclass” as young black males.

The Prison Industrial Complex can be described as a contract or lease from a private corporation that allows them to contract convict labor. The government argues that they are merely converting public tax money when in reality it has only provided profit for private corporations. It serves two purposes. The first is to neutralize a portion of the population and the other is to continue exploiting areas where mainly African American prisoners are prevalent. Since private contracts have come into play, there has been an increase in the number of prisoners and an increase in imprisonment costs.

The prison industrial complex is not only made up of a set of interest groups, it is also a very manipulative way of thinking. The money hungry corporations are corrupting Americans criminal justice system leading the public to believe that the prisoners are providing a service. When in fact they are increasing their own profits. A prime example of the prison industrial complex can be observed in major cities such as California Texas, Tennessee and New York where private prison countries have thrived and trends have reached extremes.

The United States of America is making money in our prison systems off the back of African Americans. Economically, prison stocks are doing pretty well on the stock market. This very well could be a reason why politicians are pushing for the privatization of the prison systems. A newspaper article dated December 28, 1861 presented the similarities between the government then and now. The article basically describes that African Americans were being incarcerated in record numbers similar to that which is happening presently.

It also states that free slaves living in the capital were often jailed under the suspect of having been run away slaves. They were kept in prison for a term of one year, where upon release they were required to pay a fee or be sold back into slavery. Finally, congress was forced to intervene because innocent African Americans were being incarcerated and resold into slavery in record numbers. Quote from that member in congress, “ We last week alluded to the revelation which have been made in Washington, of the confinement of the Negroes in that city, for no other cause than their color.

Under laws derogatory of the spirit of the age, in violation of the percepts of Christianity and preeminently disgraceful to the fame of the nations capitol”. The matter was brought before congress and a general McClellan was to arrest all persons who may attempt to imprison blacks on the grounds of there being fugitives. The prison industrial complex also had a political connection as far back as the early 1970’s. In January 1973, then governor of New York, Nelson Rockefeller gave an address demanding that every illegal drug dealer be punished with a mandatory prison sentence of life without parole.

Rockefeller demonstrated his “commitment” to the state of New York by proposing the harshest drug laws in the United States. Governor Rockefeller argued not only that drug dealers be imprisoned for life but also that plea-bargaining should be forbidden in such cases and that even juvenile offenders should receive life sentences. Rockefeller drug laws, which were enacted a few months later, were quite severe. The penalty for possessing four ounces of an illegal drug or for selling two ounces was a mandatory sentence of 15 years to life.

These new for=und laws also included a provision that established a mandatory prison system for many second felony convictions, regardless of the crime or its circumstances. Meanwhile, Rockefeller proudly states he enacted the “toughest drug crime laws in the country”. It was not until the Anti-drug abuse act was incorporated in 1986 won the campaign to revive federal mandatory minimums. Nelson Rockefeller set in New York a shift in national sentencing policies, but since he became b=Vice President a year in a half later he did not have to deal with its consequences.

In 1984, Mario Cuomo was elected governor of New York state government was in bad condition. The inmate population had more than doubled since the passage of the Rockefeller drug laws and the prison systems in the United States were dangerously overcrowded. Although Cuomo was a liberal who opposed mandatory minimum drug sentences President Ronald Reagan had just launched the war on drugs; it was not the best time to go against mainstream America. Cuomo, unable to repeal the Rockefeller drug laws left no choice but to build more prisons. Building these prisons however would require money.

In 1981, New York voters defeated a $500 million bond issue for a new prison construction. The only alternate source of financing this construction would be to use the states Urban Development Corporation funds to build the prisons. This corporation was a public agency created in 1968 to build housing for the poor. Using this corporation was a means of financing prison construction for one simple reason, it had the opportunity to issue state bonds without gaining approval from voters. Surprisingly, private prisons are nothing new in US history.

In the mid 1800’s state legislatures awarded contracts to private entrepreneurs to operate and mange Louisianans state prisons. Initially, these prisons were supposed to turn a profit for the state or at least pay for themselves. The private corporations promised to control the delinquents at no cost to the state. As the system spread, labor and businesses complained that using unpaid convict labor constituted “unfair ethical treatment”. While state officials remained indifferent or were bought off by prison interests, prisoners suffered malnourishment, frequent whippings, overwork and over crowdedness.

Prison management companies and United States corporations are increasing the number they use as a ready low cost. Prison and prisoners have become big businesses which are keeping profits from convict labor. Unicore and Wackenhut are examples of corporations that have privately owned and contracted prisons. Patrick Cannan, director of corporate relations for Wackenhut argues on their behalf, “our only incentive is to show a progressive rehabilitation model…we want to rehabilitate them. ”

We should not forget to recognize that these companies gross approximately $12. million every year. And, without this cheap labor their company would not be as prosperous as it is. This is where the political electives in this country begin to enforce harsh sentences for non-violent drug offenders in order to ensure full prison and continue this trend of free labor. The majority of the African American population in the prison system consists of non-violent drug offenders. Thus, a highly overcrowded, largely African American, non-violent offence, prisoners that fill our prisons providing cheap labor for large corporations with private contracts.

Businesses whose profit opportunities depend not only on efficient management, but also upon the number of prisoners in their cells benefit profoundly from this source of cheap and sometimes free labor. Another critical aspect of how the prison industrial complex keeps the labor is apparent in the over crowding of American prisons. Correctional officials may see danger in prisons overcrowding, but large corporations see it as opportunity. The nearly $2 million Americans behind bars mostly non-violent drug offenders means jobs for prisoners and a bonus for corporations.

While incarceration statistics have skyrocketed, crime rates have increased much more slowly. Among those arrested for violent crimes, the proportion who are African American men have changed very little over the past twenty years. Among those arrested for drug crimes, the proportion that are African American have tripled. Although drug abuse among white males are approximately the same, black men are five times more likely to be arrested for a drug offense. As a result of this, African Americans constitute about half of the inmates here in the United States.

One out of every 14 black men is likely to be imprisoned at some point during his lifetime. Another astonishing fact that this brings to the surface is that a large percentage of African American men will permanently lose their right to vote if current trends continue. In nine states, one in every four black men can never vote again because they were convicted of a felony. In states such as Washington, felons automatically lose the right to vote but may petition for the reinstatement of that right. This loss of voting rights shows the decreasing political power of blacks in America.

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