Incarcer-Nation: Profits, Discrimination and Injustice
The United States is known for having the highest incarceration rates in the world, with 698 prisoners per 100,000 people — but Seychelles (my country of birth) is listed as actually having the highest incarceration rate in the world at 896 people per 100,000, 25% higher than America… The total population of Seychelles is less than 100,000 people, sure, but that figure is an alarming reflection of how its government chooses to control its people. In 2006, the incarceration rate in Seychelles was only 200 per 100,000 people — it has more than quadrupled in just over 10 years.
Seychelles is a post-slave society; the United States is a post-slave society. The people who were once enslaved are now targeted and imprisoned. Given the current discourse on the connections between slavery and the incarceration of black people in the US, I think that these alarming stats and connections are worth investigating further. Actually, there’s a lot of alarming stuff going on with prisons right now. There’s a lot that we should be rethinking and reconsidering. Maybe prisons aren’t the answer to all our criminal justice problems.
For We Are Young and Free
Meanwhile, in Australia, it’s pretty clear that the people who are imprisoned are the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people. Check out these numbers:
That’s all pretty horrific. Instead of helping the people who need help the most, our system punishes and isolates them. But Australia doesn’t have a particularly high rate of incarceration, so we don’t need to pay much attention to it, right? Wrong. Consider Indigenous incarceration in Australia, which occurs at a rate of 1,356 prisoners per 100,000 Indigenous people…That’s higher than any rate previously mentioned, and almost double the rate of incarceration in the US.
It gets even worse. By ethnicity, African Americans are incarcerated at a rate of 2,306 per 100,000 people, over triple the general US incarceration rate.
The overrepresentation of people of color imprisoned by the (in)justice system transcends national boundaries. This isn’t a coincidence, it is systemic racism on a global scale.
The prison population in Australia has almost tripled in the last 10 years. The largest demographics increases have come from indigenous people and women…Let’s also remember that while all this is happening, prisons are being privatized. That is to say, more prisoners = more profit. Research has shown that privately run prisons do not perform better than state run prisons. The profit motive of privately run prisons instead leads to cuts in staff salaries, benefits and training, inadequate prisoner services, and unsafe conditions, particularly overcrowding. Privatization provides incentives for increasing the number of detained and imprisoned people.
So dire is the outlook for prison privatization that the Israeli Supreme Court blocked the transferring of state run correctional authority to for-profit companies in 2009, stating that it would cause ‘harsh and grave damage to the basic human rights of prisoners and to their personal freedom and human dignity.’
For those who’ve come across the seas
Australia has the highest proportion of prisoners held in private prisons in the world. A large part of this is due to Australia’s asylum seeker policies that shuttle vulnerable refugees – many of whom are children – into concentration camps called ‘detention centers.’ These concentration camps are entirely operated by for-profit corporates. At its height in 2013, there were over 12,000 people held in concentration camps across Australia. There are still thousands of people being detained, including hundreds of children.
Studies show how such segregation makes refugees and asylum seekers — and vulnerable people who are imprisoned in general — appear to be a distinct and homogenous group that pose a threat to the general public. Hiding them from view, it has been shown, inhibits our ability to generate empathy for them. Keeping vulnerable people in detention leads to the degradation of mental health. Refugees and asylum seekers are also subject to abuse — including guards sexually abusing children — and conditions of routine cruelty, dysfunction and neglect. A recently leaked private conversation between Prime Minister Turnbull and President Trump illuminated how our governments see people. Turnbull referred to asylum seekers as a ‘product’ in a strategy to deter people smugglers, to which Trump replied: ‘You are worse than I am.’
Think Outside the Box
There’s a clear connection between putting vulnerable “others” in concentration camps and the high incarceration rates of people of color: systemic racism. The social fabric of western society has been sewn with the thread of oppression. Fascism isn’t beginning to rear its ugly head, it’s already here. Power and systemic oppression is used to discriminate against the disadvantaged and further marginalize the marginalized. This is the governmentality project, as Foucault put it, where governments, institutions and corporations strive to regulate social conduct. When doing this makes a profit, they all win – at the expense of the disadvantaged.
Women prisoners prominently contributed to the sharp rise in Australian prisoners. Asylum seekers are detained indefinitely in for-profit concentration camps. People living with disability, illness, without shelter, without opportunity and without support, make up the majority of the prison population. Black Americans and Indigenous Australians are imprisoned at higher rates than anyone in the world. You’d think that it was illegal to be anything but an able bodied, white, middle-class man.
The multiplying of prison populations is alarming. The overrepresentation of disadvantaged people (especially of color) in prisons is alarming. The running of prisons and concentration camps by for-profit corporations is alarming. People are being used as products in political strategies and profit making schemes. Like all forms of oppression, this is intersectional – it impacts people across lines of class, gender, race and ability – and we all need to struggle against it.
The prison industrial complex is an apparatus of oppression. Prison reform —which attempts to make prisons ‘better’ — won’t fix the underlying social problems. Social disadvantage and systemic racism are structural problems: to find a solution, we need to think outside of the (prison) box.