Policing and Punishment.
Another component of law and order has to do with punishment. To keep order, those who offend must be punished. (Rehabilitation seems to be an idea of the idealist, liberal past.) Punishment is BIG business in America. This commingling of the role of the state, who is generally consider the one who has the right to punish, with that of corporations and their desire to make a profit are one of the best extensions of a government/corporate partnership that is central to fascism. President Obama had made a bold move to stop using for profit prisons by the U.S. government late in his presidency, but Trump quickly overturned that.
America is very proud of their commitment to punishing wrongdoers and they appear to do it better than anyone else in the world. America has roughly 5% of the world population, yet it holds 25% of the world’s prison population, somewhere in the vicinity of 2.4 million prisoners. The number of prisoners is roughly 20% more than the entire population of the state of New Mexico. And this doesn’t seem to be decreasing.
What should come as no surprise on this, is that it is all legal! Or, at least for the most part. A country is perfectly within in its rights to establish laws and the punishment that goes with them. It has the right to establish draconian and unethical laws to justify its ideology of law and order. When it does this, however, it has no right to claim any kind of authority in talks about human rights with other countries.
The for profit prison system, as America knows it, started in the 1980’s. Part of their growth has had to do with the ability to insist that states maintain a certain level of prison population. A company may propose to build a prison for a state, but the state needs to maintain at least, say an 80% prisoner population. If they do not, then the state needs to pay for the unused space. To help alleviate this monetary waste, states have thus imposed minimum sentencing and such things as “three strikes” laws that can keep people in prison for life, after committing three petty crimes. They have also changed more and more crimes from being misdemeanours to felonies, in order to increase the prison population, an example of this is trying to evade police. In the early 1980’s, this was considered a misdemeanour that could get one up to one year in prison. It is now a felony in most states and carries a much longer sentence.
Another component in keeping prisons full is being able to make sure that you have people to populate the prisons. To do this more efficiently, states can make laws that punish people with less ability to defend themselves, such as the poor and disenfranchised people of the population. An example has to do with the types of laws that that were written for crack versus those for cocaine. Cocaine was a drug of choice for white and wealthy people, crack was more available for the poor and thus the penalties for crack use were much more harsh than for cocaine use. The crack laws were eventually adapted to include crystal meth, another drug affordable to the poor. The laws around cocaine were much more lenient than those of crack or meth, mostly because of the fact that it was easier to punish poor and minority people for longer periods of time, which assisted in keeping the for profit prisons full.
Defence against crimes in court is expensive and if you don’t have the money to defend yourself, a court appointed attorney is provided. This is beneficial, as long as, the court appointed defence attorney wants to win their case. More often they are interested in getting cases settled out of court (a cost saving measure) and work to put people in prison, instead of keeping them out, or getting them the help they need. It should come as no surprise that for-profit prison companies are so profitable that they can now fund football stadiums for universities.
More on keeping prisons full in the next blog.