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.