Introduction

I found the inspiration for this article when I heard that Brock Turner, the Stanford rapist, had been released from jail after what must have been a traumatizing experience for the young criminal.
Like the rest of social media-using North America, I was outraged when I initially heard that Turner would only be receiving a 3 month prison sentence for raping an unconscious girl behind a dumpster; an offence that would arguably, draw a much heftier prison sentencing if the perpetrator had been living under different circumstances (i.e. race, age, gender, religion, educational/working background.)
We are living in a time where racism still remains a large problem in North America (primarily in the usa). But what is even more concerning than the fact that we still discriminate based on one’s race, is the fact that these issues not only influence, but actually determine social rank, income in the work force, and you guessed it, prison sentences.
The prison system in America (Canada and the USA) is still flawed to this day. With the Brock Turner case being publicized nationally, US prisons are under more scrutiny than ever, and change to the structure of mass incarceration is just around the horizon – change, that will aim to destroy the barriers of racial profiling within prison sentencing, and hope to create a more balanced prisoning system for all.

The initial problem with prisons in the US is that they are primarily owned under private investors – not by the government

This may not come as a surprise to many, but prisons is the US are mostly being ran ‘for profit’.
This has not always been the case, but since the 1980’s privatizing of prisons hit a massive boom and since then, the incarceration rate has more than tripled.
It began in the mid-1980’s, fifteen years of massive and unprecedented growth within the US prison system hit a snag — it ran out of money.

When the state wants to build a new prison, it traditionally asks the voters to approve the cost through a bond issue. But this time, voters throughout the country began to say no.
So many turned to private investment, to venture capital, both to fund new prison projects and to run the prisons themselves for costs around $30 to $60 per bed, per day. This began what we know today as the for-profit, private prison industry.
As you can see above, once the 80’s hit, the number of incarcerated inmates rose drastically. This is because of a few factors:
First, the war on drugs got out of control, meaning that many nonviolent people wound up in prison.
Second, mandatory-minimum sentencing laws led to a throw-away-the-key culture, with long, cruel and pointlessly destructive prison terms.

It’s true that mass incarceration is a horrific problem. Back in the 1970s the increase in incarceration did help reduce the crime rate, maybe accounting for a third of the drop. But today’s incarceration levels do little to deter crime while they do much to rip up families, increase racial disparities and destroy lives.
But this still doesn’t explain the massive spike in incarceration growth, as only 17% of these inmates are in for a drug-related offense (less than one in five).
So why the huge increase in incarceration? You guessed it – privately owned prisons profit from incarcerated inmates, thus, they want as many inmates as possible.
This explains why ‘the war on drugs’ happened almost simultaneously with the private prison boom.
Because voters would not fund this many inmates, which would cost a great deal of money, states literally had to turn to privately owned prisons in order to meet the growing demand for non-violent offenders. Pair this with much longer sentences, and you have a growing demand for prisons, as well as a lucrative new business for wealthy investors.
According to a dilly from salon, “A new report from In the Public Interest (ITPI) revealed last week that private prison companies are striking deals with states that contain clauses guaranteeing high prison occupancy rates. The report, “Criminal: How Lockup Quotas and ‘Low-Crime Taxes’ Guarantee Profits for Private Prison Corporations,” documents the contracts exchanged between private prison companies and state and local governments that either guarantee prison occupancy rates (essentially creating inmate lockup quotas) or force taxpayers to pay for empty beds if the prison population decreases due to lower crime rates or other factors (essentially creating low-crime taxes).”
Some of these contracts require 90 to 100 percent prison occupancy.
In fact, three privately owned prisons in Arizona have contracts that require 100 percent inmate occupancy, so the state is obligated to keep its prisons filled to capacity in order to meet the requirements of the prison – this means longer prison sentences, and more prison sentences.
This process is unjust on so many levels. It does not help rehabilitate inmates, but rather, treats them as a means of profit. All while promoting unhealthy prison conditions because prisons are not regularly monitored by the government.

America has the largest prison population in the world, with most of these inmates being of colour – coincidence? I don’t think so…

As previously mentioned, racism is a large issue in America right now, and this problem leads to people of colour to be much more likely to be incarcerated than whites.
There are those of you who will argue that race does not play a part in sentencing, but I beg to differ.
Let’s go back to the Brock Turner Case.
Brock Turner, who we know, raped an unconscious girl behind a dumpster, received a sentence of 6 months, but got let out at 3. The sentencing was so light because, according to the judge, prison would have “a severe impact on him.”
This had the nation outraged, as people who get caught smoking a joint or possessing high amounts of marijuana will get much more time than Mr. Turner did.

Now let’s compare Turner’s case to that of all-star, black high school football player Brian Banks. Banks had expectations of one day joining the National Football League, was accused of rape when he was 16 years old. He was tried as an adult, received more than five years in prison and another five years on parole for being a sex offender, before his accuser admitted to fabricating the allegations and all charges were dropped.

Brock Turner Gets Months in Jail — A Black Student Got 5 Years for a Rape He Didn’t Commit

This is just one in a seemingly endless line of examples which demonstrate the deeply entrenched racism in sentencing across the country.
Is the privatized prison system to blame here? Very hard to say, but one thing is for sure – race undoubtedly plays a role in your prison sentence, whether you want to acknowledge it or not.
I can go on and on about numerous stories about white vs. black, but I’m going to leave my opinion there, open to scrutiny – because I solely believe racism affects the way of life for those targeted, and it needs to be actively addressed.

With awareness being raised about the problems of the prison system in the US, change must be imminent

With my current knowledge, I can’t prove that any current or future politicians plan to put an end to privatized prisons, but I can assure you that they must address the issue.
American tax payers money is being spent on prison beds for inmates that should not be there. Although only one fifth of inmates are nonviolent offenders, a vast majority of sentences are simply too long.
You simply do not need to lock up an individual for 30+ years and expect anything good to come out of it. If prisons were structured around rehabilitation, it would only take about a third of the time to take that same inmate, rehab them, and send them back into society with the hopes that they become a functioning person – not let them rot in jail so that private prison owners can profit off them, and so that the average person can be taxed.
Now please don’t take what I just said out of context; If a man or woman has done something horrific, they should rot in jail. But if they were a drug trafficker, a gang member, a thief, etc, they can be rehabilitated. Many individuals only commit crimes because of the situation they are in. People don’t sell drugs because they are financially stable, people don’t join gangs because they feel safe, and people don’t steal cars because they don’t need the money – the situation they are currently in dictates their crime, and prison should aim to send these people back to society with a changed perspective on life, as well as a different environment (i.e. ban them from going back to the area that they committed the crime, regardless of whether their family is there or not).
To recap what I think is wrong with the prison system in America:
  • Privatized prisons aim to incarcerate as many individuals as possible – regardless of crime.
  • Race and ethnicity dictate your prison sentence.
  • Sentences are far too long – they do not rehabilitate inmates, but rather harm them for life, they are treated like animals.
America has more inmates than any other nation on the planet, but far less people. The only cause for this is that states WANT as many inmates as possible, because they are in contract with prisons that need to occupy at least 90% of their space.
It is a structure that needs change, but change cannot happen unless people stand up and voice their opinions. This is something that 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick has recently attempted to do, yet, his protest against racial inequality in America has only been met with massive scrutiny from the American populace.
If issues are being protested, but those protests are not being welcomed, change will never occur in America. The people need to wake up and decide what is best for them, and future generations.
 

The time to stand up is now.

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David McDonald

David McDonald

David is a 19-year-old Canadian student currently attending the University of Guelph. He currently studies Public Management and economics with hopes of one day becoming an accomplished journalist. David enjoys reporting on global events and actively try to make a difference in the world.
David McDonald
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