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Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

The American Prison System is Broken

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Did you know that there are more people in prison in America than in China? John Oliver does, and he’s not laughing. Has our culture, including the mainstream news media, become so indifferent to the horrible conditions in which prisoners live that it requires an entertainer to bring this issue to light?

In his weekly show, “Last Week Tonight” (see below), Oliver detailed the racial inequalities (most prisoners are Black and Hispanic), as well as the impact that privatization has had on such deplorable conditions – which include sugar in your C-sections and maggots in your food.

These are the facts:

  • The incarceration rate in the United States of America is the highest in the world. While the United States represents about 5 percent of the world’s population, it houses around 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.
  • As of October 2013, the incarceration rate was 716 per 100,000 of the national population.
  • The incarceration rate increased from 0.1% to 0.5% of the United States population from 1975 to 2000.
  • By 2010, drug offenders in federal prison had increased to 500,000 per year, up from 41,000 in 1985. Drug related charges accounted for more than half the rise in state prisoners. The result, 31 million people have been arrested on drug related charges — approximately 1 in 10 Americans.
  • The number of women in state or federal prison increased by 757 percent from 1977 to 2004. The percentage of women in prison has increased every year, at roughly double the rate of men, since 2000.
  • For every mother that is incarcerated in the United States there are about another ten people (children, grandparents, community, etc.) that are directly affected.
  • Within three years of being released, 67% of ex-prisoners re-offend and 52% are re-incarcerated, according to a study published in 1994 by the Vera Institute of Justice.
  • Corporations who operate prisons, such as the Corrections Corporation of America and The GEO Group, spend significant amounts of money lobbying the federal government along with state governments.
  • The two aforementioned companies, the largest in the industry, have been contributors to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which lobbies for policies that would increase incarceration, such as three-strike laws and “truth-in-sentencing” legislation.
  • Prison companies also sign contracts with states that guarantee at least 90 percent of prison beds be filled. If these “lockup quotas” aren’t met, the state must reimburse the prison company for the unused beds. Prison companies use the profits to expand and put pressure on lawmakers to incarcerate a certain number of people.

Indeed, it seems America has built a mighty Prison Industrial complex, which does not serve to rehabilitate prisoners – including non-violent offenders.

Mass incarceration cannot be remedied in a short length of time, because each prisoner serves a separate sentence. The average length of sentences has risen over the last 35 years and public support for prison reform is still relatively low.

When dealing with the criminal justice system, the best defense is a good offense. Your best bet is to simply not break the law! However, we’ve all made mistakes – sometimes, we’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Before you even talk to the police, it is wise to seek legal representation from an experienced criminal defense lawyer. Feel free to call the West Palm Beach offices of Kelly V. Landers, P.A. Criminal Law for a free consultation.

Sources:

National Crime Victimization Survey, administered by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (2013).
Holland, Joshua (December 16, 2013). “Land of the Free? US Has 25 Percent of the World’s Prisoners.”
John J. Gibbons and Nicholas de B. Katzenbach (June 2006). “Confronting Confinement”. Vera Institute of Justice.
Talvi, Silja J.A (2007). Women Behind Bars: The Crisis of Women in the U.S Prison System. California: Seal Press.
Prison Privatization and the Use of Incarceration. The Sentencing Project, September 2004.
Alexander, Michelle (2010). The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. New York: The New Press.
Golden, Renny (2005). War on the Family: Mothers in Prison and the Families They Leave Behind. New York: Taylor and Friends.
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