Compared to the 1970s, the U.S. today incarcerates six times as many prisoners. This doesn't mean that crime has increased, but rather that punishment has increased -- this statistic measures prisoners for every 10,000 index crimes (crimes nationally defined by the FBI to measure crime rates) committed in 1975 compared to today. We've talked in the past about how people characterize the modern-day prison system to the slave plantations of the antebellum South, given the disproportionate number of incarcerated African-Americans compared to other racial and ethnic groups. On the other hand, here are two pieces that talk about class and the prison system, a topic that seems to generate a lot of criticism ranging from being disconnected to reality to promoting class warfare.
|A Pennsylvania Prison, 1855|
The other piece comes from Paul Wright, editor of Prison Legal News, who writes in the opening to his essay, "The Crime of Being Poor," that in order to understand who goes to prison and why, we must ask what prisons are for. Wright argues that, given the majority of prisoners are below the poverty line, prisons' number one priority is social control of the lower classes who otherwise would challenge the status quo.
The question of whether prisons "work" to discourage crime or keep a safe citizenry seems obsolete. As long as they continue to be profit-driven -- in more ways than just "making money" -- things will only worsen.