America Behind Bars

Day in and day out, I hear all about how we need to get jobs back on U.S. soil, and stop outsourcing jobs to foreign countries, but how about the jobs we outsource to prisoners?  Currently, 21% of office furniture, 36% of home appliances, 93% of domestic paints and 100% of the army’s equipment such as I.D. tags, helmets, bulletproof vests, etc. are being produced in prisons.  These numbers rival factories in Mexico.

This wouldn’t be that big of a deal if prisons weren’t private organizations.  They pay the prisoners next to nothing, and then sell the product to the Government so they can continue to fund themselves.  The money does not circulate into the economy, since the convicts use the money inside the prisons on things like cigarettes, tobacco, etc.  With more production jobs going to prisoners, the working Americans struggle to make ends meet are being left in the dust.

This huge hole in our economy has made more of an issue by the increasingly large amount of people in jail.  Only five percent of the world’s population is American, yet we also make up roughly a fourth of the world’s prisoners.  One percent of American’s are in jail, which equates to roughly 2.3 million people.  On a per capita basis, this is twice as many in South Africa, more than three times in Iran and six times in China.

No society in history has imprisoned as many people as America has.  One in 30 men aged 20 – 34 are in prison.  One in nine black males are in prison.  There are more 17-year old black males in prison than in college.

Everyday, people are sentenced to prison for arbitrary reasons, because of the three-strike system that some states in America implement.  Three “strikes” and you get life in jail, even for trivial crimes.  For example, Leandro Andrade is serving two consecutive life sentences for shoplifting nine videotapes with a value of $153.  This is unconscionable, and means that people are currently being detained for life, without any hope of being released, because of a corrupt system.

However, steps are being taken to fix the system.  Proposition 36 passed on Tuesday, Nov. 6 in California.  Proposition 36 states that offenders who commit nonviolent crimes as their third offense will no longer receive life sentences.  The bill applies to current prisoners as well, meaning offenders serving life sentences for non-violet or minor crimes may request a new sentence hearing.

With correct steps to reform, we may be able to get undeserving people out of jail.  However, this will not completely solve the issue.  America has, essentially, reinvented slave labor in the form of prisons.  In an economy struggling to create jobs and get Americans back to work, the very idea that life-detained prisoners are working factory jobs while able-bodied free Americans are struggling to even find one is disgusting.

 Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Parkway School District.