By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
U.S. locks up the top spot
Placeholder Image
    We’re number one! We’re number one!
    We’ve done it. America has the largest prison population in the world – 2.3 million - almost one percent of our total population. We have more prisoners than China (1.6 million), a country with four times the population and so many “human rights violations” that people want to boycott the Olympics.
    We also have a higher rate of incarceration (751 per 100,000 citizens) than Russia (627) or Communist/repressive Cuba (531). The average rate around the globe is 125 per 100,000 or population.
    A 2003 Justice Department report said that 5.6 million Americans, or one out of 37, have spent time in prison.
    We incarcerate more people for non-violent drug offenses than the European Union does for all criminals. And they have 100 million more people than us.
    Here’s the worst one: our prison system sends black men to prison at a rate six times higher than did the apartheid regime of South Africa.
    Yep, land of the free – home of the slave.
    Oooo, he said slave. Yep, and I mean it. When I was out on the county grounds a couple weeks ago I saw prisoners spreading mulch around some of the planters. This seemed a bit odd to me.
    I assume they were fairly non-violent criminals since there was only one guard with one gun watching around 10 prisoners who were wandering around the grounds. In addition, they were intermingling with county employees, many of whom were college aged.
    But these prisoners were out spreading mulch for the county.
    Ok ok, I don’t know what they did, but they were performing tasks for the state no different than a slave. They were fed, watered, quartered and required to do physical labor. This is a growing phenomenon.
    In 2000, The New York Times reported that 80,000 inmates were working in government or private sector jobs. In addition, a similar private sector program had 3,700 prisoners employed by private-sector companies.
    Vicky Pelaez of Global Research explained the growth of the prison population and prison labor in her 2005 paper, “The prison industry in the United States: big business or a new form of slavery.”
    “The tough drug and sentencing laws of the 1980's helped increase the number of Americans behind bars by 80 percent, to two million, in a decade. The unemployment rate, meanwhile, was falling. ‘Now the economy is very good, and businesses are looking to the prison system for labor,’ said Noreen Blonien, an assistant director of the California Department of Corrections.”  
    Not only is this disgusting, it is criminal. And it sure as hell is un-American. I can assure you – having owned a business myself – it is cheaper to use prison labor than actual American employees.
    How’s that, you ask? Well, no insurance, no employee compensation plan, no vacation time, no employee perks, no ergonomics – you get my drift. Not to mention inmates usually make less than minimum wage, a chunk of which is kept by prison officials to offset costs.
    But that’s not the real insidious part. Especially where these prisoners are being used by large corporations, there is an incentive to put more people in jail in order to have more available workers.
    Of course, nowhere in America’s history is there an example of the ruling class partnering with local leaders and law enforcement officials to deny a segment of the population their basic rights or to charge them with ridiculous crime just so they could punish them.
    Oh, I forgot. This is the South.
    So who uses all this prison labor? The American farmer, for one.
    With people freaking out about illegal immigration and states increasingly cracking down on undocumented hiring, farmers are turning toward prison labor. In Colorado, female inmates harvest onions, corn and melons. Iowa is considering something similar. And in Arizona, prison labor has been used for 20 years, according to the Christian Science Monitor.
    Now, I’m not blaming the farmer. He’s just trying to find reasonable labor while the country continues to clamp down on migrant labor making it more difficult for the farmer to compete. But prison labor is not the answer – a true guest worker program is.
    With the African-American community largely lining up behind Democratic Presidential Candidate Barack Obama, it’s time he was asked about the prison situation, which especially hurts black and Hispanic communities. It’s time to ask him how the prison system breaks up families, creates father-less households and helps perpetuate the cycle of poverty. Actually, it’s time to ask all the candidates about this growing problem.
    Are there plenty of people in prison because they deserve to be there? Sure. But Pelaez’s research shows that 97 percent of the 125,000 federal inmates were accused of non-violent crimes, while two-thirds of the one million state prisoners have committed non-violent offenses.
    After all, how can we spread democracy and freedom throughout the world if we put our own citizens in prison at a record setting pace?
    I guess that’s the price you pay for being number one.
Sign up for the Herald's free e-newsletter