American Gulag

April 20, 2008


The United States imprisons more of its citizens than any other country on earth. What ever happened to the notion of the land of liberty and justice?

According to the US Department of Justice, 1 in every 31 adults, were incarcerated or on probation or parole at year end 2006. In many states, such as Washington State, one person in ten is either in custody, working in a prison, or working to support prison. More people are employed in this gulag than any other single industry. Big corporations in the hospitality business, like Sheraton and Marriott make a larger percentage of their annual profits from providing prison services than running hotels and motels. This inhospitality industry is big business in these United States.

How did we get to a place where so many of our fellow citizens are in prison? Do more people break the law here than in any other industrialized country? Do people receive more severe sentences for crimes here than in other countries? If so, then why?

The criminal justice system works with the inhospitality industry. When you build more prisons, you need to have prisoners to justify the expense. The more prisons you build, the more people you can incarcerate and, as if by magic, the criminal justice system fills these places, and then some.

Of course, in a time when the divide between rich and poor is widening and average people are losing ground economically year by year, there are larger and larger incentives for people to commit crimes. Several years ago, when the Dept. of Labor was coming up with a numerical comparison for different positions. The higher the number, the more desirable the position. You got more points for things like high pay, time off, shorter hours, and so forth. You got points taken off for things like danger, difficulty, stress, etc. When compared in this way, the position of Bank Manager came out with the same desirability score as the position of Bank Robber.

Another factor is the so-called "War on Drugs" which has led to tens of thousands of people receiving incredibly long sentences in prison for relatively minor offenses, such as the possession of minor amounts of various controlled substances. If that didn't send people into the prison system long enough, the three-strikes legislation did. And if that needed some help, the conspiracy statutes made it possible to convict people of serious crimes not because they committed them, but because they might have known about them and did not try to prevent them from being committed by others.

Should these all seem insufficient cause for our national crime spree, then consider the government itself. Go ask ten people at random on the street if they think that their elected officials in their local, state, or federal government are A) honest or B) crooks, and I think you'll find that eight out of the ten will put most of their government in column B. And they'd be right, but very few of these people go to jail. In government service at any rate, crime pays. Such an excellent example is bound to be followed. Our own President admits that he authorized routine use of torture in interrogation, which is by Federal law both a capital offense and a war crime.

What we have here is a society that is materialistic. Property is more important than people. That, in itself, is a prescription for crime. Add the superabundance of advertising 24/7 all around us and you have a culture that cultivates criminality: constantly generating wants and needs in people who have no means to satisfy them. We've probably all committed crimes, some unknowingly, and we'll continue as long as we think we get something out of it and believe that we won't get caught.

Our enormous adult criminal justice population is a symptom of a society that has lost its way and wandered into dangerous territory. It is part of the global sickness that threatens the continued existence of mankind on earth: exploitation for profit without regard to consequence.

As I have said before: a world run solely for profit is a world that isn't worth living in.

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