For Justice and Against Prison
Z magazine, March 2000, p4
... U.S. citizens constitute 5 percent of the global population.
U.S. inmates constitute 25 percent of the world's prisoners. The
U.S. has a higher proportion of its citizens jailed than any other
country in history. When George W. Bush, presidential candidate
and Governor of Texas began his tenure in Texas, 41,000 were in
prison there. Now there are 150,000. In federal prisons, 60 percent
are drug offenders with no history of violence. It is not unusual
that inmates are doing 20 years and more for just being present
in a house where drugs were found and 3,600 people currently await
execution in the U.S. More than 90 percent of those on death row
Close to 70 percent of America's prisoners are people of color.
In New York City, one in three black youths is either in custody
or on parole. By the mid 1990s more black men were in prison,
jail, or on probation than in four-year colleges; 80 percent of
all new federal convictions were for non-violent drug crimes;
and the prison budget in California eclipsed state spending on
In 1986, 342 out of every 100,000 blacks were admitted to
state or federal prison-a more than three-fold increase over 1926.
Moreover, in 1986 blacks made up 44 percent of the new prison
admissions, though less than an eighth of the population. Over
the next decade, the black share of the prison population increased
to nearly half. Out of every 100,000 African Americans at year-end
1996, 1,571 were serving at least a year in federal or state prisons;
for Latinos, the figure was a still enormous 688 per 100,000;
for non-Hispanic whites, it was 193 per 100,000
In 1995, 3,250 out of every 100,000 black males were imprisoned
(compared to 851 per 100,000 for black males in South Africa at
the end of the apartheid regime). A black male has a greater than
one in four lifetime chance of serving a prison sentence. In many
U. S. states not only can't those in prison vote, but neither
can those on probation, and in some states, you can't vote even
if you have served your time and are out of the system entirely.
As a result, over one out of eight black males in the United States
can't vote. In Alabama and Florida, almost one out of three black
males can't vote.
New jails cost an average of $7 billion per year over the
last decade. The annual cost for incarcerating U.S. prisoners
is up to $35 billion. The prison industry employs more than 523,000
people and is the country's biggest employer after General Motors.
The private prison sector now administers more than 100 facilities
in 27 states, holding more than 100,000 inmates. Eighteen private
firms run local jails, private prisons, and immigration detention
centers. Firms such as Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch are estimated
to write between $2-3 billion in prison construction bonds every
year. In 1995, in response to agitation against harsh mandatory
sentencing for drug crimes, the Federal Sentencing Commission
recommended to Congress a reduction in crack sentences. Congress
rejected the commission's proposal 332 to 83. In over 500 Commission
recommendations, this was the first to be rejected. The desires
of financial backers and lobbyists are so great they now overwhelm
whatever little sense might sometimes surface in the mind of an
honest and caring politician.