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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.