As we all know, the United States of America has the highest prison numbers in the world. In fact, every one in 100 adults in the United States are in jail or in prison presently. The United States constitute over 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated population with approximately 2.3 million people in prison over seven hundred thousand more than its closest competitor, China. But how does a country like the United States—a country that prides itself in freedom and the American Dream have more people in prison than a country considered to have stricter laws and four times as many people?
In recent studies, the United States seems to be imprisoning more first time offenders and advocating a “broken windows” attitude in which imprisoning more offenders for smaller crimes effectively reduces the crime rate and lowers the potential for more serious crimes.” As a result, the United States has been promoting a “tougher justice” by elongating and making significantly harsher sentencing terms evident as early as the 1980s. But these motions haven’t yielded the results they were expected too. Instead, the United States still ranks much higher in murder rates than most nations. So what incentive do we have to continue incarcerating people at such a high rate?
As it turns out, the United States Government is now involved in private contracting or private prisons. The public prisons are costing state governments nearly $50 billion a year and the federal government $5 billion more, too hefty an amount to be taking out of from solely tax revenues. Thus the United States Government, in order to compensate for this hefty payroll, has been leasing or contracting convict labor to private companies. In the past states like Texas have even “turned over wholesale to private interests whom promised to control delinquents at no cost to the state.” These prisons for profit promote free and or extremely cheap labor for those private interests and an incentive for more prisoners. The more prisoners the more money. All of a sudden, it might make sense why there is an increase of prisoners from under Reagan presidency of only 400,000 people to today’s 2.3 million people.
All this may sound economically beneficial or potentially fair, but does someone incarcerated truly deserve, what some have called it, “inhumane exploitation?” These private interests get total obedience from the convicts, profit at low labor costs, employment and have the ability to place them in isolation cells if the convicts don’t perform well. Researchers have said that isolation has the ability to lead mankind to insanity and have made the distinction that isolation cells can be used as and is a form of torture. Nonetheless, these incarcerated people are subject to horrible living conditions, and, minimal at most, healthcare while working as a part of a hard labor system. So, where do we draw the line between fair punishment for past actions and inhumane exploitation? Does this not sound similar to slavery which we deemed unconstitutional?
In Rousseau’s social contract, he articulates that the social contract is based on popular sovereignty in which every person consents to the control and legitimacy of the State. The State then acts to protect each consenting individuals’ state of nature: their solitary, self interests and their compassion, equally. In that case, are these people who break the laws and have been incarcerated, now subject to these “inhumane exploitations” as punishment for their actions by breaking the laws of the social contract they consented to or are they still being unfairly treated? I find that there is a fine line between restricting human ethical treatment and punishment, especially when some people are serving sentence terms as first time offenders for petty crimes. But at the same time, I believe that a person in a civilized society must abide by his or her society’s laws or face the mandated repercussions as long as the repercussions are equal for all and that the punishment should fit the crime in every circumstance. What do you think?