The ostensible land of the free has more prisoners per population than any country in the world. In fact, about 1 in every 110 U.S. adults is currently incarcerated and 1 in every 38 U.S. adults is under some form of correctional supervision. The prison industry is booming. And thanks to the coronavirus, that could soon change.
Currently, in the land of the free, there are more than 2 million people in cages. When you are locked up with thousands of people, social distancing is impossible. What's more, practicing safe hygiene is difficult as hand sanitizer is banned and inmates are told when they can wash their hands. In other words, the prisoners — as well as the guards — are sitting ducks who could see explosions of COVID-19 infections if the jails were breached by the virus.
Though most prisons in the United States have yet to report an infection, on Wednesday, we found out that two already have. A staffer at a medium security federal prison in Berlin, New Hampshire, and an employee at a Bureau of Prisons administrative facility in Grand Prairie, Texas, tested positive for the illness, said Sue Allison, a federal correctional agency spokeswoman.
It is now only a matter of time before someone who is not exhibiting symptoms brings it in to one of the many prisons across the country. As the multiple cruise ship outbreaks illustrate, once the virus enters a closed space, it explodes and not just on the cruise ship.
The LA Times reported on how this happened in China and and Italy and caused a massive reverberation throughout the two countries.
In China, a decline in new infections was quickly (although briefly) reversed because of rapid outbreaks in two prisons. In Italy, an atmosphere of fear and anxiety among prison inmates over the virus, together with an emergency ban on visitors, sparked deadly riots, escapes and a complete breakdown of authority.
Having watched this horror unfold, Iranians decided to release tens of thousands of prisoners as a precautionary measure. The United States is now following suit.
Across the country, cities who have been paying attention and know the risk have been moving to set prisoners free. In LA county, inmates with 30 days or less on their sentences are being set free. Sheriff Alex Villanueva stated that the department will also limit arrests to only dangerous suspects, decreasing the re-entry level. Also, anyone with a bail of $50,000 or less is being let out.
In New York, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said low-level offenses that don't jeopardize public safety will not be prosecuted at all during the coronavirus outbreak. Authorities are also moving to release certain demographics from the prisons as well.
In Cuyahoga County Court in Ohio, a judge ordered the release of more than 200 low-risk, non-violent incarcerated people from the county jail.
"We are trying to make as much room as possible, so when this virus hits our jail, the jail can deal with these people, quarantine them and deal with it instead of letting them sit there and infect the whole entire jail," Brendan Sheehan, administrative judge of the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, told CNN.
Other jails are now preparing similar actions as the nation braces for COVID-19 impact as the virus in prisons will affect us all. . While this virus is certainly a serious problem, Americans can use this as a learning experience about our prison system.
COVID-19 aside, the release of prisoners across the US illustrates a serious problem in the land of the free — many of the people behind bars don't belong bars. However, they are there because their incarceration drives a for-profit system worth billions.
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While privatized prisons can be dated back to before the Civil War, these were voluntarily funded operations that didn't have an incentive to maintain a 99% incarceration rate. Not until the 1980s, when the war on drugs began to peak, did the private prison industry begin booming.
As of 2016, about 19 percent of federal prisoners are held in private prisons and this number continues to grow.
Locking up drug users has proven to be quite the profitable venture.
It is much easier to walk out on the street corner and shakedown a teenager who may have an illegal plant in his pocket than it is to examine the evidence in a rape or murder case. The so-called “Private” Prisons know this and have subsequently found their niche in this immoral war on drugs.
What's more, the term Private Prison is a farce from the get-go.
A truly Private prison would not be solely funded by taxpayer dollars. These Private prisons are nothing more than a fascist mixture of state and corporate, completely dependent upon the extortion factor of the state, i.e., taxation, as a means of their corporate sustenance.
A truly Private prison would have a negative incentive to boost its population for the simple fact that it is particularly expensive to house inmates. On the contrary, these fascist, or more aptly, corporatist prisons contractually require occupancy rates of 95%-100%.
The requirement for a 95% occupancy rate creates a de facto demand for criminals. Think about that for a second; a need or demand for people to commit crimes is created by this corporatist arrangement. The implications associated with demanding people commit crimes are horrifying.
Creating a completely immoral demand for “criminals” leads to the situation in which we find ourselves today. People, who are otherwise entirely innocent are labeled as criminals for their personal choices and thrown in cages. We are now witnessing a vicious cycle between law enforcement — who must create and arrest criminals — and the corporatist prison system that constantly demands more prisoners.
The police and prison corporations know that without the war on drugs, this windfall of money, cars, and houses — ceases to exist.
If you want to know who profits from ruining lives and throwing marijuana users in cages, we need only look at who bribes (also known as lobbies) the politicians to keep the war on drugs alive.
Private prison companies and state institutions alike lobby for longer mandatory sentences; stricter enforcement; younger, healthier, and less violent prisoners. Corrections jobs are also a major source of rural employment which keep state officials begging for prisons to boast about "job creation."
What does it say about a society who’s resolute in enacting violence against their fellow human so they can have a job to go to in the morning?
The person who wants to ingest a substance for medical or recreational reasons is not the criminal. However, the person that would kidnap, cage, or kill someone because they have a different lifestyle is a villain on many fronts.
Hopefully, as more people are released from amid the coronavirus outbreak, this will show Americans that they are paying to keep morally innocent people in cages who pose no threat to society. Hopefully.