"The Celling of America: An Inside Look
at the U.S. Prison Industry."
edited by Daniel Burton-Rose, Dan Pens and Paul
With a drop in crime in recent years, it's a triumphant time
for American justice. Just how are we doing?
1. Incarceration, once a government task, is now an industry
-- with a vested interested in keeping people there. How fast
is this industry growing? In 1987 only five prisons were owned
and managed by private firms. Just a decade later the industry
had swelled to more than 100 prisons -- 62,000 beds -- which now
controls some 5% of the "market." The prison industry
is becoming one of the fastest growth industries in the country.
Profits are soaring. The share value of Corrections Corporation
of America, a huge private prison firm, rose from $8 in 1992 to
$30 by January 1997. Wackenhut Corporation, second only to the
Corrections Corporation America in the prison industry, was ranked
by Forbes Magazine as one of the top 200 small businesses in the
country. Esmor, another private prison company, saw its revenues
skyrocket from $4.6 million in 1990 to $25 million in 1995.
2. While the crime rate is dropping, more and more people
are being incarcerated. In just 15 years, from 1982 to 1997, the
prison population mushroomed from 300,000 to 1.5 million prisoners.
Today, the number of Americans under correctional control of prisons,
jails, parole, or probation has passed 5 million.
3. Building one prison-bed space costs, on average, $54,209.
Annual housing costs to incarcerate prisoners average $20,000
- $30,000, comparable to tuition at many ivy league colleges.
4. The color of justice: Although less than 15% of the American
population consists of African-Americans, 46% of all prisoners
in the United States are black. Under California's "three-strikes
law" African-Americans are sent to prison 13 times more often
than whites. Although only 7% of the California population is
black and blacks commit only 20% of all felonies, 43% of prisoners
sentenced under this law are black. Of the more than 3,000 men
and women on death row in the United States, 40% are black.
5. But what about rehabilitation? Prisons are about control,
using increasingly punitive measures like stun guns that deliver
high voltage shocks. Television is permitted in most prison cells
-- while books are hard to get or banned. For the latest trend
in rehabilitation, look no further than Alabama: it now uses chain
gangs, something that had virtually disappeared in the United
States since the early 1960s.