For-profit prisons lead to injustice

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You’re exhausted. You just got done working for the day. You aren’t blessed with a desk job, your work is manual labor. The only thing that got you through today was this moment right now — waiting in line for the money you earned after a hard day. You smile as you walk up to the man, tell him your hours for the day, and watch as he drops a whopping 17 cents into the palm of your hand.

I didn’t just describe a third world country, or a western nation prior to labor laws. The exact scenario described above is an everyday reality for inmates at for-profit prisons. The United States prison system is inherently flawed, both with mass incarceration and inhumane living conditions.

With the United States representing only five percent of the world’s population, it is completely ridiculous that around
22 percent of the total prisoners in the world are stationed in prisons within the United States.

In fact, in some parts of the United States, there are more people in prison than in college. The United States isn’t within the top 30 countries with the highest crime index, so the mass incarceration speaks to a much larger problem with the American prison system.

About 1 in 5 incarcerated people are locked up for a drug offense, and drug offenses are most prominent in incarcerated people within federal prisons. With many Americans believing that the federal prisons house too many offenders, these statistics should be an outrage to the public.

There are people whose only crime was a drug offense sharing a floor with murderers. The goal of prisons should be to rehabilitate members of society, not merely a punishment. But we cannot as a society expect those with minor infractions to rehabilitate properly when we clump them together with the worst, most deplorable members of society.

The United States prison system also has some interesting institutions within it, deemed for-profit prisons. Prisons are an extension of government, and “for-profit” should never be an adjective that can be reasonably used to describe a government institution or agency. But, shockingly, it is, and these institutions have some of the most inhumane conditions to be associated with a democracy. Last week, an inmate posted a video of maggots squirming around his prison food. These conditions are so barbaric that the United States’ won’t even let the United Nations properly investigate its prisons.

The for-profit prisons in the United States operate by having inmates complete tasks for private businesses, and then paying these inmates outrageously low amounts for their labor. For about six hours of work, an inmate could be paid only 17 cents. A part of the rehabilitation process reasonably could be requiring inmates to work, but they would be fairly compensated upon their release. And this work could be focused on bettering the public by having inmates work on the construction of public roadways, government buildings, public facilities, and many other options.

For-profits are a disgrace to our country. Fortunately, inmates within these prisons have begun to protest these conditions. The mass media has turned a blind eye, but these protests are continuing in prisons throughout the country. Whether these protests will be a success remains undecided, but there is hope for our prison system.

Many communities across the country have acknowledged the faults of our current prison system and are enacting changes. Cities across the country have enacted different initiatives focused on rehabilitating prison inmates. Rehabilitation has been proven in other countries to be successful at deterring crime, so it is refreshing to see that we’ve begun to take steps in the right direction.

But at the end of the day, the United States still has a large issue with mass incarceration and our prison conditions are downright embarrassing for a democracy. These prisoners are people, and deserved to be treated as such.

Once the government and the public finally acknowledge the faults within the prison systems, we can begin to take steps that reduce crime and repeat offenders in America, and make the United States a safer place for everyone.