Wednesday, June 28, 2006

prisons, part I

i've written about prisons before, but i want to talk about them a little more.

i was discussing the point of prisons, or what they hope to accomplish, with dlamming last night. he took the standard liberal approach that prisons ought to be centers for rehabilitations (whether or not they actually are) or, if rehabilitation is impossible, places that criminals are at least removed from harming their targets.

to note, we both agree that this is not what prisons are right now.

but i would further posit that this is never what prisons were intended to be, nor what they ever could be.

primarily, i think the purpose of prisons is to remove folks from the economic sector.

starting out, prisons did not exist: there were mostly local, small jails where folks were holed up for short periods of time. initially, being in jail for a few days or a few weeks would have been a good deterrent for future crime: if you can't work, you can't eat, or feed your family or take care of your farm or whatever the case may be. in a newly burgeoning economy with seemingly limitless possibilities (early US) you don't WANT folks to be removed from the economic sector, and they don't want to either.

but, as you know if you're logical, there are not limitless possibilities for growth. natural resources, and even (manufactured) demand cannot grow forever.

between 1900 and 1940 the percentage of folks in prison in the US doubled (from .076% to .132%). that number stayed relatively constant until 1980 (.15%), and then more than tripled by 2000 (to .48%). in the six years since then that number has grown about 150% to .67%. in just six years.* i think it is relatively common knowledge that the US has more prisoners per population than any other western country. and here's a few stunning pics to illustrate that growth.

what interests me most about these numbers is: the great economic downturn between 1920 and 1940; the great number of wars and conflicts between 1940 and 1980 (which concomitantly purged people from the labor market while creating great demand in the market); the recession between 1980 and 2000; and the economic stagnation since then.

further on than this, i hope to get into how racism and classism play into this picture; recidivism and the lack of job oppurtunities for those leaving prisons; the privitization of prisons and using prisoners as slaves.

*numbers determined based on prison population rates and US census data.


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