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Overpopulation and Privatization of Prisons


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Prisons in the United States: a business in its own respect, as it follows the business model much like any other company, which entails the mindset that profit is always a priority, and from an inmate’s perspective, this can be especially frustrating.

To add even more problems to the mix, Dr. Vivian Smith, associate criminology professor at Cabrini College, said, “There are many large Fortune 500 companies that benefit from the products of prison labor, such as IBM, Microsoft, Victoria’s Secret and Starbucks to name a few, and even smaller-scale companies.”

Some prisoners though don’t make a dime for their work, according to the Nation, which notes that some inmates receive time off their sentences instead. However, the companies that do indeed pay workers can get up to 40 percent of the money back in taxpayer-funded reimbursements.

A hot topic in the United States today is job shortages, and many small jobs are not only outsourced overseas, but to the incarcerated as well, who are making little to no money to begin with. For instance, in 2012, Russia filed a report that claimed they have hundreds of companies nationwide that now benefit from the low, and sometimes no-wage labor, of America’s prisoners.

Holiday goods, for example, are just one of the products of prison labor. Since companies may see an influx of orders for the Christmas season, they will outsource the excess requests to such organizations.

There is also a cycle when it comes to large investors involved in government programs like some of the participating Fortune 500 companies. Large-influence companies will lobby against policies that may reduce what is termed as “mandatory minimums,” which will keep the accused in prison for longer amounts of time.

This inflexible, “one-size-fits-all” sentencing law may seem like a quick-fix solution for crime, but they undermine justice by preventing judges from fitting the punishment to the individual and the circumstances of their offenses.

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Mandatory sentencing laws cause federal and state prison populations to soar, leading to overcrowding, exorbitant costs to taxpayers and diversion of funds from law enforcement.

Before mandatory minimums, Smith said, a convicted felon may be sentenced for burglary for a range of one to five years. The length of sentencing is up to the judge, and his/her sentencing depends on many factors, which include whether or not the convict is married and/or has children, if aggravated assault was an element or even if there are prior convictions.

Since the mandatory sentencing laws that have been implemented as a part of what is nicknamed the “Crime Bill of 1994,” a convict found guilty of burglary must serve the minimum five-year sentence regardless of varying factors.

As Stephan Clyburn, professor of political science at West Chester University, points out, for many, this can serve as a problem, not only for the family and friends of the prisoner, but for the prison infrastructure itself. Mandatory minimum sentencing serves as one of the largest factors in prison overcrowding, where the capacity for low- to high-security prisons has been reached.

According to Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project, when an employer hires somebody and sees that the applicant has been involved in a felony, their application will go directly into into the trash, which may lead them back into a life of crime and poverty.

Knowing all of this, the only place where current or ex-convicts are guaranteed to find work is in prison, as a good portion of the entry-level work available has now been outsourced to the labor of private and public prisons, which only contributes to the lack of opportunity to attain more wealth, making the inequality gap larger.

Race & Gender in Prison Sentencing


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Graphic designed by Stanley Thompson III

Wealth inequality directly affects one’s lifestyle, especially where they live.

Dr. Vivian Smith, criminology and criminal justice professor at Cabrini College, says she likes to have her students think about how the criminal justice system plays a factor into such inequality by how well-policed certain neighborhoods are.

Typically, the less wealthy the area is, according to Dr. Smith, the better chance of law enforcers frequenting the area, since many folks resort to criminal activities to supplement missing income.

According to Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project,  it can be hard for an ex-felon to find a job if their application is stained with the “Yes” box, checked if they have a felony on their record, which may lead them back into a life of crime and poverty.

Simply put, neighborhoods that lack economic success, with citizens that are typically minorities, can be policed quite differently from the way that better-off suburban neighborhoods are policed, though it is not to say many similar crimes do not occur in the more financially-secure areas.

Oftentimes, law enforcers will observe somebody who does not seem to “fit” the time or place of the neighborhood, or possibly matches a description of a wanted person. Now comes an action from the officer in the form of what is often referred to as “stop and frisk.”

In Terry vs. Ohio (1968), an eight-to-one ruling enabled officers to temporarily hold a person if there are specific facts leading a trained officer to believe a crime might be occurring, known as “reasonable suspicion.”

This profiling not only applies to races, but genders as well since in times past, women have been sentenced to shorter terms than men. Men may get prolonged sentences due to “patriarchy,” which views women as “weaker” and “non-threatening.” Through this mentality, women are expected to be the primary caretakers and bare the burden of most of the childcare and domestic work.

According to Stephan Clyburn, professor of political science at West Chester University, as far back as the 1940s, members of the U.S. Supreme Court openly raised concerns that prosecutors had too much power. If the power wasn’t fixed, we would see abuses on a grand scale. These predictions, to an extent, turned out to be true.

However, due to concerns that the only true outcome was abuse of power and incorrect profiling, federal Judge Shira A. Scheindlin ruled in August 2013 that stop-and-frisk tactics of the New York Police Department had violated the constitutional rights of minorities in the city.

Insult only adds to injury when wealth inequality plays a role in all of this, as issues such as these essentially root toward the “necessary evil”: money. The injustices suffered by victims of racial discrimination and related intolerance are rather well-known, as limited employment opportunities and poverty are only a few among these.


This is especially prevalent if the person is applying for a job and has a criminal background, making it even harder to get back on one’s feet. According to the New York Times, men with criminal records account for about 34 percent of all non-working men ages 25 to 54. As a result, many who are in this situation turn back to criminal activities once again for income, and perhaps be caught and arrested, continuing this vicious loop.

Justice Services



The inequalities in the United States’ justice system range from racial issues, money playing a part in prison retention and inadequate post-prison support–all of which lends to the continuation of wealth inequality.

Laws and policies such as “stop-and-frisk” and “mandatory minimums” allow for large numbers of individuals to rack-up convictions and leave judges’ hands tied when it comes to sentencing.

The disparities in the percentage of different races that are incarcerated are staggering and so are the numbers of those whose employment eligibility plummets following being incarcerated.

Prisons being run as businesses can be attributed to the advent and perpetuation of many of these destructive justice policies. These calls made by persons reaping the fiscal benefits from those incarcerated does not just affect the imprisoned, but also taxpayers and causes diversions in justice services funds that could otherwise be used for beneficial programs for inmates – programs that could possibly keep citizens outside the walls of the over 2.4 million prisons in the United States.