Incarceration Up, Education Down: America’s Cannibalistic Profiteering

The United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country in the world.  With only five percent of the world population, the US has more than 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.  The US is either the country with the most criminals in the world, the country that has become the greatest police state in the world, or the country that, with profit as the motive for all that is done, has found a way to exploit its population through incarceration for monetary gain.

The steep incline in the number of Americans incarcerated began in 1980.  Since then, the number of Americans incarcerated has jumped from under 500,000 people to close to 2,500,000. The advent of private prisons during that time has created a powerful lobby, on behalf of its Wall Street investors, to lengthen sentences.  Longer sentences means more prisoners. More prisoners means more prisons. More prisoners and more prisons mean more profit.  As a result, Americans now spend almost $70 billion a year on a corrections system (including prison, probation and parole) being run largely for profit.

A similar scheme by lobbyists has resulted in a system that exploits education and has an equally negative effect on society.  Lobbyists have repeatedly, and successfully, argued for the increase in financial aid to students.  Rather than this assistance being passed on to students, privately run Universities have simply raised tuition.

They are a business — higher ed must be a viewed as a business. Like any other business, what they are all about is making more money..,” states Dr. Marty Nemko, an advisor, career counselor, talk radio host, and prolific blogger, as quoted in the Daily Caller.

In addition to the exploitation of post-secondary school students, elementary and secondary students are hit particularly hard by systemic inequalities which promote self-perpetuating cycles of inadequate education and rising incarceration.  As Steven Hawkins wrote in his article ‘Education vs Incarceration’ in December 2010:

This trade-off between education and incarceration is particularly acute at the community level. In many urban neighborhoods where millions of dollars are spent to lock up residents, the education infrastructure is crippled. As the prison population skyrocketed in the past three decades, researchers began to notice that high concentrations of inmates were coming from a few select neighborhoods — primarily poor communities of color — in major cities. These were dubbed “million-dollar blocks” to reflect that spending on incarceration was the predominant public-sector investment in these neighborhoods. NAACP research shows that matching zip codes to high rates of incarceration also reveals where low-performing schools, as measured by math proficiency, tend to cluster. The lowest-performing schools tend to be in the areas where incarceration rates are the highest. The following [example is] instructive.

Los Angeles. California has the largest prison population in the country, with more than 170,000 individuals behind bars. In Los Angeles, more than half of current parolees live in neighborhoods that are home to less than 20 percent of the city’s adult residents. More than a billion dollars are spent every year to incarcerate people from these communities. At the same time, as of spring 2010, the Los Angeles Unified School District was projecting a deficit of $640 million in the 2010-11 academic year. As a result, district officials were planning to raise class sizes and lay off thousands of teachers and other school-based staff.

How is school success affected by these policy choices and spending patterns? There is no definitive way to know what the previous spending cuts have meant for Los Angeles schools, but we do know that in Los Angeles, 67 percent of low-performing schools are in neighborhoods with the highest incarceration rates. By contrast, 68 percent of the city’s high-performing schools are in neighborhoods with the lowest incarceration rates.

When a society allows for more than $45,000 a year to be paid to incarcerate each of its many, many inmates, $1,000,000 a year on each of its soldiers invading a foreign country, and only $11,287.50 per year (based on current $903 Billion budget for estimated 80 mil students) on each of its students, the resulting social dilemma is inevitable. Combined with the implicit targeting of racial and ethnic minorities inherent in these policies, the social impact of their continuation is devastating.

Prisoners have become valuable property for big business.  They are being treated as State-ordained chattel property, able to garner a hefty fee to be corralled and stabled, watered and fed.  These fees, passed on to corporations, are payed out of your tax dollars. In addition to their value as boarded property of the state, they areused by private prison corporations as free labor, or paid at a rate that has a daily equivalent less than most children receive from the tooth fairy.

Likewise, students pursuing post-secondary education, to elevate themselves above minimum wage or working-poor employment, have become cash cows.  Like the free labor extorted from inmates, student research and development remains the property of the institution, and is theirs to capitalize on, while students are released to benefit from their time served and apply the credentials they were awarded, to pay back their loans.

The American education system does not serve Americans, it serves the corporations, just as the penal system does. Low funding of education, particularly in impoverished neighborhoods, provides a steady influx of chattel property for the corporate prison system to exploit, and profit from, while access to higher education is held for ransom.

The privatization of these crucial social programs has resulted in a situation contrary to the benefit of society. The rate of incarceration has increased five fold during the same period that the cost of a post secondary education has increased threefold, and all for profit. America’s educational system and technological advances have declined over the same period that the county’s prison population has expanded. These results have benefited private interests while causing lasting and possibly irreparable damage to the nation and its citizens.

Corporations have one responsibility: profit. They cannot be trusted to manage social programs, public services, or utilities. Profit will come before services. Profit will come before results beneficial to society. Profits will come before all else. America is becoming exceedingly less educated, and vastly more incarcerated, since the exploitation by private interests in these domains.  With the current economic crisis, proposed austerity measures threaten to increase privatization of additional public services.  As in the prison and education systems, profits for the very few will go up as the cost to society skyrockets and the benefit to society plummets.

The United States needs to set its priorities and govern its public interests without the corruption of corporate involvement. To maintain and protect the integrity of public services and programs, they must be managed by and for the people.


11 Responses to Incarceration Up, Education Down: America’s Cannibalistic Profiteering

  1. simply scott January 16, 2011 at 6:18 pm

    Bears some real investigation, not that I don’t trust you guys, and yes, I’ve had concerns about this and have wondered about it myself. I’ll check out the related links; I like to do some studying before I start writing or commenting about anything. Good article!

  2. Ole Ole Olson January 16, 2011 at 6:50 pm

    Excellent piece Liam. Our priorities are certainly mixed up these days, and we need to keep fighting to fix the system.

  3. dysfunkshonal January 16, 2011 at 9:50 pm

    I am currently on probation with three, thats right THREE separate courts. all of them minor misdemeanor charges having to do with possession of marijuana or marijuana paraphernalia. I have paid all of my fines to the courts and done all of my classes through the state that the courts asked me to do.Since I was already on probation with 2 courts almost ready to get off probation they extended the other 2. Then the last time I got charged they wanted me to go to a private contracted firm to monitor my probation and treatment. I have quit partaking of the marijuana and when I first went to this private corporation they had me sign this agreement after an assessment saying I had to complete 26 weeks of treatment that cost me $30 per session plus an additional $30 per random drug test. I was getting drug tested sometimes 2 times per week. Which adds up quickly when I had one treatment session a week and at least one drug test a week. So I went to my 26 weeks of treatment and passed my drug tests. My counselor and I didn’t get along because we had different opinions on things, I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions. Anyways she wouldn’t sign off on me passing the their treatment. She wanted me to keep going. I argued that I had signed a contact saying I only had to complete 26 weeks of treatment which I had done and I also had been laid off from my job about 2 months prior to completing the 26 weeks of treatment and could not continue paying for it. I do believe that they just want to continue collecting money and if they can’t they have some deal with the courts to say you are not compliant or something so they can lock you up.

    • Liam Fox January 16, 2011 at 10:19 pm

      Thanks Dysfunkshonal. Private contractors making sentencing recommendations… That’s very interesting. They benefit from lengthened sentences. Any reports or recommendations by anyone in their employ seems problematic. If anyone has information similar to this, related to this, supporting this, or explaining how this apparent conflict is dealt with, please share a link. Thank you.

    • BeenThere January 17, 2011 at 12:19 am

      I was in two courts in the Seattle area for drinking and being stupid. One was in another County and let go because the courts couldn’t play the video. The other was an ongoing in Seattle as my drinking got worse, spent time in the jail all part of the system (which once your in your in).
      I had to do outpatient for alcohol and a year later they wanted me to continue treatment because I still wanted to smoke, and did. PO sent me to see the judge again. I still had a heap of probation to go, I got a different Judge after dealing with the same one from the beginning. New Judge said if I did 20 hours of community service in 30 days I could be finished. I did and that was two years ago. Still don’t drink.

  4. pharmacy student January 16, 2011 at 10:36 pm

    The cost of education keeps going up with no end in sight. When there are no jobs available, more people want to attend school. There’s demand for education that is being exploited as well. On top of that, college degrees are the new high school degree.. everyone has one.

  5. Jesse Koz January 17, 2011 at 10:31 am

    Thanks for the great article Liam. I can confirm what dysfunkshonal is saying wholeheartedly. Although my situation was different. The similarities are undeniable. Two days before my 21st birthday. I went out with some friends who were in a local band at the time. To support them opening for Gwar at a local hot spot. I was served and had a few drinks. After the show me and the band returned to my place for an after party in celebration of their accomplishment. We walked to a local dinner around 3am 2 blocks from my house. We ate, we laughed, we had fun. Leaving the dinner and walking through the alley to get to my house. I made a bad decision and decided to relieve myself in the alley. Before I could blink. Squad lights from 4 alleys down came on and I found myself in handcuffs 5 minutes later. The rest of my friends had enough time to flee back to my house. I was charged with urination in public and minor in consumption. My punishment was 3 years of probation fees, a mandatory drug test twice a week, group counseling once a week and individual counseling once a week. The cost to me was $30 per drug test, $20 per individual counseling, $15 per group session, $45 a month for probate fees and my upfront fine for the charges was a ridiculous $1,750 for peeing in an alley. Added up over the next two years. I paid $425 a month, $11,950 in the course of my probation. I’m not adding the last year because there’s a kicker. There always is. After 2 years and almost 12 grand later. I decided that enough was enough. I stopped showing up for probation reviews, drug tests, counseling and anything else involved with my probation. A warrant was put out for my arrest. Fast forward 2 more years. Me and my girlfriend at the time were going through a breakup. In the midst of her bringing the things I had left at her house to mine. She found me with another girl. In the rage she decided to hit me low and hard. In a rage she immediately called the local police and told them where I was. Within minutes the police were at my door. Now I knew my rights like the back of my hand. I knew they could not enter my house. Which was in my name. Without my permission. They also couldn’t arrest me in my home or on my property for a bench warrant. So I sat there with my front door open as the police came to my house. Three squad cars and 5 officers showed up….. Really!!! Am I that much of a threat to them or the state? I sat in my living room drinking a beer, smoking a cigarette. Thinking…. Should I just man up and get this over with? Or should I tell them to F off? I decided it’s wasn’t worth me looking over my shoulder any longer. I agreed to come to the front of my property line and give myself up. The police escorted me the next county where my warrant was active. They didn’t even handcuff me. I spent the following night in jail and was arraigned the next morning. However, before my arraignment. I was personally escorted to the director of probation’s office and hour before my hearing. I sat down with the director as he looked over my file. Without saying anything. He looked over my file, pulled out a calculator and said “If you can pay $495 dollars by the time your hearing starts. You can walk out of here a free man”. He handed me a phone and said “better start making some calls”. It didn’t matter what else I had done, as long as I paid the remainder of my probate fees, as long as this corrupt system got their money. I was a free man…

    • Liam Fox January 17, 2011 at 11:29 am

      $12,000 would go a long way towards building a public WC so that no one else would be forced to relieve themselves in the alley. ; ) Thanks for sharing your story.

  6. Mike January 18, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    The private prison industry in this country is an abhorrent, abusive black hole. Prisoners are routinely mistreated and abused, and denied medical care to save money. The private prison industry not only has pushed for stronger sentencing laws and stricter parole requirements; it also lobbies against increased government oversight. Multiple studies have come out recently showing that private prisons don’t even actually save any money (basically the only selling point they have).

    Private prisons must be abolished! For way more on this evil industry and all the horrors and havoc it wreaks on our country, check out

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  8. Compromised Conservative January 23, 2011 at 9:20 am

    Liam’s analysis is completely off base and misleading. There is no choice being made between spending on public education (3.5% of GDP), and prisons (less than half a percent of GDP). If every dollar spent on prisoners was shifted to schools, we could increase spending per student from $10,000 to $11,000 — the same level of spending inflation that occurred from 2001-2007 with no positive effect created in educational outcomes. Meanwhile, increases in the prison population between 1980 and 2010 lead to a decrease in the crime rate of nearly 50%.

    Bottom line: increased school spending is correlated to decreases in SAT scores. Increased spending on the prison system has created a 50% safer society. Full analysis available at my website.

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