There are a few who benefit largely from what some might call the injustices of the American prison system. One of such people is Henri Wedell. He is the largest investor in prisons in America. He has been on the board of directors for the Corrections Corporation of America since 2000. This is the largest company that owns and operates private prisons and detention centers, and also operates government prisons as well. He owns more than 650,000 shares worth more than $25 million. According to Henri Wedell, “America allows more freedom than any other country in the world, much more than Russia and a whole lot more than Scandinavia, where they really aren’t free”, therefore, there are going to be more people who will abuse that freedom. This was his response to why there are more people incarcerated in the United States than anywhere else in the world.
For a few decades now, there has been a small but steady movement that has sought to reduce incarceration and even eradicate it entirely in America. This movement has featured characters such as Noam Chomsky, Angela Davis, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Michelle Alexander and Marc Lamont Hill to name a few. Such individuals have been spreading the word of prison abolition, stating many facts along the way. These include the drastically large prison population in America, which by far surpasses any other nation in the world by a huge margin as well as the fact that this prison population is very disproportionate with a larger percentage of minorities. Another one of these facts includes the privatization of prisons resulting in a tremendously profitable business. This business has prisoners for a commodity. Hence, there is a need to maintain supply by controlling and maintaining demand. This has obviously led to stricter laws, which have led to overcrowded prisons.
In spite of these efforts by the above-mentioned activists, there is a large portion of the population who are not interested or not even aware of this topic as an issue. Many Americans have different views on the subject. I spoke with a few individuals on the subject. The first was a middle class Indian-American woman who has no experience with prisons and does not know anyone who does. The second was a working class Irish-American woman who has family and friends who are incarcerated. The third was an Indian-American man who has been incarcerated and has intimate knowledge on the subject matter. For the sake of their privacy, these individuals will remain nameless. Here is what they had to say.
When I asked what their opinions are on the prison system in general, the first said that it is a necessary evil in society, the second felt that prisons are overcrowded with non-violent offenders and the third felt that it is a money making scheme that only serves to make people into legitimate criminals or at least make them better criminals. I wondered what the perception might be with regards to sentencing in the United States versus abroad. All three subjects would rather be sentenced in the United States. This could mean that it is not common knowledge among Americans that America gives sentences that are three times longer than most if not all other countries in the world. These subjects all felt that prisons are needed to some extent. The first one felt that the problem might be the fact that society does not treat ex-convicts very well, making it hard for them to reenter society. The second rejected the notion that prisons in their current state actually help society. She expressed that the repeat offenders are constantly increasing and that all it does is teach convicts better ways to break the law. The third also felt that it does not help society there needs to be some form of it.
When asked about privatization, the first subject did not have an opinion even though she does know about privatized prisons. The second subject did not feel that privatization makes a difference because it is still a government-sanctioned endeavor. The third expressed a desire for the prison system to be strictly a government establishment. This might show that there is a lack of awareness of the dealings of businessmen like Henri Wedell and George Zoley, who is the CEO of GEO Group. This is the second-largest investor in the prison industry. These man have and continue to amass obscene amounts of wealth and profit from mass incarceration.
Finally, I asked about the idea of complete eradication of the prison system as we know it. The first subject did not agree with this. She felt that stricter laws help abide good behavior and without that, society would be left to anarchy. The second subject thought that it should not be completely eradicated but drastically scaled back because there needs to be a form of punishment to serve as a deterrent. The last subject thought it cannot be completely eradicated as well. However, he suggested the possibility of replacing the current system with punishment such as forced military service, or obligatory work as forms of punishment.
When looking at the above views of the subjects, we see that there is a somewhat wide range of opinions on the issue. Many people may not be interested in the issue at all, possibly because of a lack of knowledge and experience on issues concerning the prison system. Others may feel that there is a real need for prisons as they currently are. Individuals, who have made it a part of their life’s work to fight against the status quo, may have a lot of convincing and educating to do. It would seem that there is a tedious battle ahead for those who choose to stand against what is referred to as the prison industrial complex.