Prison system is disgraceful

By By John Stafford

By John Stafford

Utah’s prison population grew by 258 percent between 1982 and 2007, even while its rate of community supervision dropped 17 percent, according to a study by the Pew Center on the States.

Legislators and lobbying groups need to be consistently checked by the people to ensure that individual rights aren’t superseded for the sake of the corporate gain of private prison companies such as the Utah Correctional Industries. By understanding the nature of the prison-industrial complex8212;which has facilitated the incarceration of one of every 31 Americans8212;in the United States, we can educate to ensure it doesn’t become as prevalent in Utah as it has in states such as California.

During the 1990s, at the height of the prison-building boom, a prison opened in rural America every 15 days. In California during the 1980s and ’90s, there were 21 new prisons built and only one new university. Although the number of kids graduating high school fell 2.7 percent, the number of people in prison and jail rose 400 percent, according to a study for the California Institute of Integral Studies.

This suggests that our country would rather throw people away to rot in a jail cell than educate them for a better tomorrow. The fact that it costs more money to send people to prison then it does to send them to college shows that the privatized prison system is profiting from ignorance at the expense of the American taxpayer and the largely uneducated masses behind bars. This is the raison d’être of the prison-industrial complex

Naturally, businessmen want to see their businesses profit, and the prison industry, which has to think of its shareholders like any other privatized corporation, is no exception. Stock quotes and profit margins are the first and foremost priority for privatized prison companies such as the GEO group, which changed its name from Wackenhut after its $12-million-a-year contract in Texas was stripped because of overall incompetency and after several guards were indicted for having sex with female inmates.

How do corporations such as the GEO group keep their stock high? By keeping prison beds full, not only to project the need for new multimillion dollar prisons, but also to ensure there is an ample supply of the goods made by prison inmates to pump into the market. Inmates make everything from license plates to children’s toys to telemarketing calls, all for about $20 a month.

When these beds can’t be filled, private prison corporations import prisoners from other states to fill beds. Inmates convicted in Utah are now being held in prison-industrial strongholds from California to Texas.

The most disturbing fact is that nonviolent offenders constitute 72.1 percent of the federal prison population, according to a statistical analysis by www.sentencingproject.org. Private prison lobbyists throw millions of dollars around to ensure that their prisons stay full, not for the safety of the average American citizen, but for their shareholders and personal gain.

Nelson Mandela once said, “It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.”

In Utah in 1997, Michael Valent, a schizophrenic inmate, was strapped in a restraining chair for 16 hours for being “uncooperative.” He later died from a blood clot caused by the restraining chair.

Comments from correctional officers, such as Cody Basham, who works for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, stated last year on his blog that, “all I think about is taking the first chance I get to blast an inmate’s face off with a shotgun,” shed light on the degree of civilization seen in America’s prisons. Future generations will judge us by the way we treat our prisoners.

Until we put more emphasis on education, fighting poverty and healing addiction than we do on locking up nonviolent offenders, our grandchildren’s children’s view of our society will not differ from our disgusted view of the Inquisition era.

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John Stafford