Warehouse B
Big Business Of Lockup
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America - The Land Of The Imprisoned

By James Donahue

Shocking reports reveal that over 7 million people, or one in every 32 American adults, are either behind bars, on probation or on parole via the vast federal, state and county jail and prison system operating within the United States.

Jill Soffivah Elijah, a former criminal defense lawyer and professor of criminal defense advocacy, has noted that "the United States incarcerates more people per capita than any other developed nation on earth."

While the number of people in the United States makes up only five percent of the world's population its imprisoned population is equal to more than 25 percent of the prisoners throughout the world, statistics show.

In her report Elijah charged that "every aspect of the criminal justice system (in the U.S. is ripe for criticism and laden with hypocrisy."

That is because most of the prison population is comprised of black and Hispanic men. Nearly all American prisoners are classified among the poor and underprivileged.

Elijah wrote that Bureau of Justice Statistics show that an estimated 32 percent of black males will enter state or federal prisons during their lives, compared to 17 percent of Hispanic males and 5.9 percent of white males. "In other words, one third of black men can expect to be incarcerated during their lifetimes if they live in the United States."

All of this points to the big secret behind America’s prison system. It has become big business. In fact, it is such a big corporate operation that it has become a multi-billion dollar industry.

We are not just talking about police officers and court and jail workers. Billions of dollars are being spent each year in the construction industry as more and more jails and prisons are being built all across the nation.

One report noted that "the money and resources spent by governments and private interests on the criminal justice system is so large that it is having a profound impact on our economy. . . "by 1997 the Criminal Justice System employed more than two million people and cost taxpayers more than $70 billion a year."

Prisoner maintenance alone, only a few years ago, averaged around $7,041 a year per prisoner for adult jails, and $9,439 for adult prisons. Construction costs range from $25,000 to $50,000 per bed. These numbers were from statistics accumulated in 1977 and are obviously much higher today.

Undetected in the above numbers are the state lost tax revenues and welfare costs for inmate-related families and other government agencies built into the expanding criminal-justice budgets. To recap some of these costs, many counties are actually charging prisoners for time spent in jail and for visits to probation officers.

Sadly, the United States is spending more money for prisons and new prison construction than it now is spending for education. In 1995 state expenditures for prison construction grew by $926 million while spending for university construction fell by $954 million. That year more money was spent by states building prisons ($2.6 billion) than building universities ($2.5 billion).

At the root of this amazing growth in the number of people jailed in America is the failed war on drugs. In 2003, the number of prisoners sentenced for drug offenses made up the largest group of federal inmates (55 percent). Statistics show that over 80 percent of the increase in the federal prison population from 1985 to 1995 was due to drug convictions as the nation's drug enforcement laws got tougher.