Friday, June 24, 2011

Private Prisons and the American Police State

In the last few decades, the population of our National Prisons has nearly tripled. This phenomenon can be attributed to many factors ranging from the increasing economic insecurity to the War on Drugs. Statistics tell us that 1 in 18 American men are now incarcerated or being monitored. Although this number could be reasonably justified as a reflection of our social morality breakdown, America still leads the world in per capita imprisonment and the privatization of the our corrections system calls into question the motives behind tougher sentencing and the ever increasing police state in this country.

Since 1980, the increase of population in prisons or under surveillance by the judicial system has increased to over 7 million persons. This increase is said to be attributable to the following factors:

1. Increased federalization of crime - The federal government has expanded its control into areas that have historically fallen under state jurisdiction.

2. Mandatory sentencing policy - Mandatory minimum sentencing policies adopted by Congress beginning in 1984 have contributed substantially to the number of drug offenders in federal prison, both by removing discretion from sentencing judges and increasing the length of sentence for many offenders.

3. Federal sentencing guidelines - An examination of sentencing changes in the first years of the guidelines' implementation found that the proportion of offenders sentenced to prison rose from 52% in pre-guideline cases in 1986 to 74% in guideline cases by 1990.

What is interesting is how the population increase per year has leveled off to"only" a 51% increase annually. Some will use this statistic to congratulate the growing police state and mandatory sentencing structure but the real reason is a profound lack of new prisons to house the inmates. Couple this with the recent California Supreme Court Case ruling on prison overcrowding and the need for more prisons and their associative costs becomes a dilemma needing to be addressed.

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