Why is America ‘Number One’ at Incarceration?

by | Aug 20, 2019

Why is America ‘Number One’ at Incarceration?

by | Aug 20, 2019

America’s “prison industrial complex” appears to be all about stats. Anyone who is a huge sports fan knows that stats are king when it comes to competition. In baseball, no one will ever beat Cy Young’s 511 career wins (or his 315 losses for that matter). It’s been a while since anyone has pushed Eric Dickerson’s 2,105 yards in a season, and Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 points in a single NBA game is untouchable even with the level of talent that’s out there. Americans love their numbers and they have a new one to celebrate. 

The US currently imprisons 737 per 100,000 people. To contrast that with a country that the current president is doing everything he can to make an enemy of; “evil China” has 118 per 100K in jail. China has a total of roughly 1.5 million incarcerated compared to the US’ 2.2 million. China, having well over three times the population as the US, and having a reputation for being evil “commies,” needs to play catch-up if they’re going to beat the US.  

When examining statistics like this the question that should come first is why, why are there so many imprisoned. 

 The War on Drugs 

 One would hope this would be the first place most people’s minds would go. The fact that everything from crime, incarceration and police officer deaths has increased since Nixon instituted a new “prohibition,” is not coincidental. These same increases were seen with the enacting of the Volstead Act in 1919. The chart shows the spike in police officer deaths during prohibition and soon after the beginning of the modern “War on Drugs” in 1971.  


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There are many theories as to why those numbers have come down. Some would argue legalization, exporting of manufacturing to Mexico and other countries, or the police taking an aggressive “shoot first” approach. In the 1980s There were on average 3,000 SWAT raids per year associated with “illegal” drugs. By 2005 that skyrocketed to 40-50,000.  

Given there is a history of prohibition not working, and numbers of police being killed in the line of duty spiking while it is in force, one must ask why even the most conservative of conservative right-wingers aren’t calling for its end. Culture is shifting, it always does. Eleven years ago, a major right-wing talking point was that gay marriage should not be legal. Even Obama and Hillary ran against it in 2008. In 2019, only the fringes of the Right are against it. Culture changes, people concentrate on things they deem more important, and move on. Why not this despicable war on a plant right-wingers? 

 Publicly Funded Prisons and Prison Labor 

 The average tax-payer cost to house a prisoner in the US is $31,000 a year. In some states it can be as high as $60,000. In 2013, a New York Times report had that number at $168,000 per inmate for people in New York City facilities (all that money and Epstein still dies). It would be easy for the average person to look at those numbers and quickly turn into a conspiracy theorist. This makes no sense. Everyone knows a family that pulls in 60K a year that makes mortgage payments on a house, has a couple cars and takes a vacation and still doesn’t go into debt. But $168,000? Where is this money going? 

The land the prison was built on was most likely taken from the previous owner for a rock-bottom price through eminent domain, “bought and paid” for. The cronies who built the prison have all been paid. Most people have heard that inmates are getting the equivalent of gruel. Medical care is rationed. Is it a majority labor eating up these funds? Could that be cut somewhere? Almost certainly.  

The most grotesque feature of the prison complex is the State’s using them as “slave labor.” Some states lend them out to private companies and the inmate gets nothing per hour. Some states are more generous paying up to as much as $2.00 an hour. California uses its inmates to fight wildfires paying them $2.00 per day plus a $1.00 an hour. The fact that people on the Left, those that are always talking about the plight of the minority (of which the prison population is stacked), raises the question as to why this isn’t a major platform for them. Their nemesis, “literally Hitler,” talks more about the need for prison reform than the Left ever does. 

It’s necessary to mention “private prisons,” although it may be a waste of space here. There are no prisons in the US that are “private.” Private companies are paid voluntarily by the public. Every prison in the US, whether it be “public” or “private,” is funded through tax dollars that people did not “donate” towards that purpose. The “private prison” trope from the Left is either dishonesty, or ignorance.  


 Coming back to the original question as to why the US prison population is so large, anyone who has looked into the nature of a State that has grown to the size and scope that the US has, will inevitably conclude that these “numbers” (pun intended), filling local, state and federal facilities, are there to keep us in fear. Any honest tax professional will tell you they are clueless as to every law in the tax code. Books such as, “You Have the Right to Remain Innocent,” detail how saying the wrong word can get you a lengthy prison sentence even though you’ve broken no law. “Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent,” shows how the law books are so flooded with random statutes, that any prosecutor who wanted to “make a project out of you” could bring you up on Federal charges. 

Both Left and Right will never speak about this tactic as it is the way they keep power. If they cannot control you, then you are in charge and they need something to hold over you. 

No one feels safer when a cop pulls up behind them, in fact they get paranoid and are more likely to do something out of the ordinary due to fear kicking in. A traffic stop has been proven to be a very easy stepping stone into their system. Many will deny this specific fear exists due to the fact that they’ve never been incarcerated. There are people getting paid 20 cents an hour, at this moment, who once championed those who are responsible for the fact that they are slave laborers. One wonders if they still hold their “betters” in high regard.

About Peter R. Quiñones

Peter R. Quiñones hosts the Free Man Beyond the Wall podcast. He released his first book, Freedom Through Memedom – The 31-day Guide to Waking Up to Liberty in November 2017. It reached #4 in the Libertarian Section on Amazon. He has spoken at Liberty Forum in Manchester, New Hampshire and is one of the Executive Producers on the documentary, “The Monopoly on Violence."

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