The United States of Captivity


IN THE UNITED STATES, in February, the US Prison system incarcerated its two millionth prisoner. This means that the prison population of the USA accounts for 25% of the entire prison population of the world. This figure is even more startling when you discover that the US only accounts for 5% of the global population. The next time you hear someone sing the Star Spangled Banner you should remember that fact and consider that "land of the free and the home of the brave" is in truth neither.

"Incarceration should be the last resort of a civilised society, not the first" said Michael Gelacak (former vice-chairman of the US Sentencing commission). He was speaking on behalf of the November Coalition &endash; an alliance of civil rights campaigners, justice policy workers and drug law reformers, who brought the fact that the two millionth prisoner has been incarcerated to the attention of the world's press. They claim that money is being diverted from public funding for education into the pointless exercise of building yet more prisons.

US society appears to be moving further away from being a civilised one rather than nearer. I wrote that building another prison was a "pointless exercise". This is true when you are aware that the age old adage of crime being punished and thus leading to reform is complete hogwash.

Prisoners don't get reformed in prison, they get broken into a lifestyle that becomes inescapable. As the US Chief Justice said "what business enterprise could conceivably succeed with the rate of recall of its products that we see in the 'products of our prisons'".

Instead of tackling poverty the US government and their buddies in big business realise that money can be made from this new prison/industrial complex. It is estimated that Sachs and Merrill Lynch write between £2-3billion in prison construction bonds every year. There are over 18 different firms involved in the running of prisons, jails, and immigrant detention centres.

Some well known companies are now using prison labour to cut down on the costs that would normally be incurred in getting certain jobs done. An example of this is Microsoft who have outsourced their shipping department so that its software was being boxed and shipped by inmates from a prison.

George W. Bush, since he took over as Governor of Texas, has overseen the blossoming of the prison population of that state from 41,000 to 150,000. Much of this has been aided by his policy of jailing people for minor drug possession offences.

The US Government and politicians have always been busy finding scapegoats for the problems that they presided over. On a global scale it's Sadaam Hussein or Bin Laddan, on a more local scale it's the street gangs and the hustlers. Instead of trying to deal with the destitution that rips though the hearts of many of its major cities they have concentrated their might on building cells to put any offenders in. They decided to make a buck by selling the public a solution of locking people up and losing the keys. Now they are investigating the possibilities of further exploiting the captives by using them as a source for cheap labour.

Over 523,000 people are employed in losing the keys and keeping people in lockdown. That's second only to General Motors in terms of employment. The price that is being paid for that economic gain is immense. There are 3,600 people awaiting execution in the US &endash; 463 of them are in George Bush's state of Texas. There is no greater price that can be paid. The United States of captivity moves further away from civilization with every execution that takes place.

Dermot Sreenan