The Hidden Truth About Mass Incarceration

A Fresh Perspective on a Suddenly Popular Topic

Correctional facility Photo credit: WhoWhatWhy
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Have you ever heard of the prison-industrial complex? Did you know that jailing people is big business — and that it is one of America’s most rapidly growing profit centers? Or that prison guards make around $100,000 a year for a job that requires only a high school diploma and, in some places, a taste for sadism?

There’s no shortage of people to feed into this system. Going back to the “war on crime” in the 1980s, all kinds of behaviors have been criminalized — drug use, homelessness, mental illness. Prison became a panacea for all sorts of social ills. Got a problem? Lock it up. And it is a self-perpetuating system.

Prisons no longer even pay lip service to rehabilitation. Gone are the education and job training programs. Now it’s all about punishment, and the longer the sentence the better. Whoever gets out is likely to be back soon after release, either for a minor parole violation or for a crime likely committed out of the need to survive.

Upon his release, a prisoner is given $10 and a bus ticket. And if he’s released in freezing weather, he will be issued two hoodies. Then what? With his record, he can’t live in public housing. With his record, he won’t have much luck getting a legitimate job, assuming he has any work-related skills.

This is the system that James Kilgore experienced up close and personal. As a convicted felon, he served six years in federal and state prisons. Today, as an adjunct professor of global studies and urban planning at the University of Illinois, he has written about the prison system in both fiction and in a non-fiction book entitled, Understanding Mass Incarceration.

In this podcast, Kilgore talks with WhoWhatWhy’s Jeff Schechtman about the American crime-and-punishment system and what he calls “the key civil rights struggle of our time.”

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Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Solitary Confinement (jmiller291 / Flickr) and hash marks (Martin Fisch / Flickr)

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3 responses to “The Hidden Truth About Mass Incarceration”

  1. (Comment by reader @sueday1970) slavery reinvented, cheap corporate labor, and quotes that get met. What’s not to like? 5 billion last year

    ‏(Comment by reader @njackson1950) Where is the American “Solzhenitsyn” who will write about our Gulag?

  2. Chrispy says:

    The prison system pays less than $1.00 like using Chinese labor to manufacture the products we consume. The legal system provides this cheap labor at NO COST for manufacturing,
    Schweich was the Mo. State Auditor, who supposedly killed himself, who had released his Complete Audit Report concerning the Mo. State Prison System, including the Scweick died, 3 days after the Scweick Mo. State Auditor’s report was made available concerning the prison system
    Focus on the report would have brought 333 million people to their senses about the fact that 40% of our population are or have been, incarcerated by this NWO controlled legal system, which only makes money from the manufacturing of products in all the country’s prisons, while making slaves of those imprisoned.

    • russbaker says:

      We note a disturbing trend of people posting comments where they clearly did not bother to check over what they typed before hitting the “post” button. This reflects terribly on the person who makes the errors, and also turns off readers. Please, if it is important to you to say what you think, take the time to care about how it reads. Thanks.