America Must Reform its Prison-Industrial Complex

  • January 29, 2021
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America Must Reform its Prison-Industrial Complex – Republican Article

The American Prison-Industrial Complex (PIC) is a lesson in governance, a harrowing one. Corporatism and incarceration should not mix, for it changes the end goal of the whole penal operation: from justice to profit. This is one of the most glaring problems America has.

So what is the PIC? It can be rudimentarily summed up by the following: (1) governments hand over large areas of the prison sector to private companies; (2) in turn, this prison sector is run for a large profit by these companies; (3) politicians are influenced by said companies — often on their payrolls —  and consequently create favourable conditions for them; and (4) the direct consequence of this is the explosion of the prison population in America, despite the vivid drop in violent crime.

Of course, I believe in there being repercussions for crime. However, my issue is more with the word ‘crime’; the vast majority of this new prison population are non-violent criminals. In many other countries – Britain for example – one would merely be fined for offences that, in America, would land you an extended stretch behind bars. The proportion of violent criminals has generally stayed the same, despite the rhetoric being sold.

Politicians have passed bills that imprison more people, for longer periods of time, for pettier crimes. Why? Three reasons: (1) The being ‘tough on crime’ rhetoric got them elected; (2) the PIC creates growth for many depressed local economies; and (3) politicians benefit financially, often through campaign donations, from deep-pocketed corporate payrolls.

I have no issue with governments contracting in some services, such as catering, for example, and using market pressures to get the best service for the best price. Yet, our model seems to have flipped this classical capitalism notion: billion-dollar companies now contract politicians.

Some, and I am fondly referring to my Democrat colleagues here, will view this as an explicit reason to re-evaluate our continuation with capitalism. Unsurprisingly, I do not agree. Capitalism, despite clear drawbacks, has done the most for humanity, in terms of bringing large swathes of it out of absolute poverty, in comparison to any other system. In this instance, the PIC is the fault of massive state overreach. Corporatism is not capitalism.

A profit motive is fine during cooperative exchanges; both parties can agree or disagree. However, the penal system is not a cooperative exchange. It, necessarily, relies on coercion to punish those that negatively affect society. An individual cannot opt-out of the judicial system. In many cases, resisting arrest will result in the forfeit of one’s life. Therefore, we simply trust that the law has justice in mind.

In perhaps a more sensationalist sentence: the PIC has indirectly commodified the freedom of hundreds of thousands.

The point of elected officials is to represent their constituents and act in their best interests. The practice of being on corporate payrolls is anathema to this. This issue, however, concerns the most powerful in America. It is very, very firmly entrenched. To remedy this situation would be a monumental task of bipartisan cooperation, that would need to be immune from the allures of deep-pocketed special interest groups.

So, what can be done? In reality, perhaps very little. But, hypothetically: (1) remove mandatory minimums; (2) lessen the number of jail-time offences; (3) massively scale-back the ‘war on drugs’; and (4) dampen the impact lobbyists can have on politics.

America globally dominates the international incarceration statistics, both in absolute numbers and rate. This is in spite of being nowhere near the top of international violent crime statistics. There is a dissonance here. I see this as a tangible systemic issue that should be addressed.

Now, there is cause for optimism: “America’s incarceration rate is at a two-decade low”. Long may this trend continue. It is very easy, as I have found, to get lost in the numbers. To forget that each ‘statistic’ is a life & future. We must punish those that overstep, yes, but it must be done with a balanced hand, and for the right reasons.

Written by Guest Republican Writer, Alexander Dennis

Point of Information

Land of the Free, Home of the Incarcerated – A Democratic Response

My colleague, Alexander, writes a brilliant piece on the abomination that is the prison industrial complex. Not only does he point out the horrors of the prison industrial complex, but he also provides a set of realistic and common-sense solutions to dismantling it.

But I think he is overlooking a few things in his article. Mainly the disproportionate impact the prison industrial complex has on Black Americans and how it is inextricably linked to capitalism.

The prison industrial complex is a product of the neoliberal laissez-faire capitalist moment of the 1980s and 90s. The idea was that everything should be privatized because it would be more efficient, even the prison system. It also exposes a fundamental flaw with capitalism; it leads to corporatism and monopoly, because of greed. We now see the consequences. Millions of people are in jail for non-violent and victimless crimes due to greed and capitalism pushing the profit motive into every facet of life.

It will take enormous bipartisanship to dismantle the prison industrial complex, but let’s not forget that it was created through bipartisanship. Alexander also reminds us that a crime is only what the state deems a crime. Nixon started the war on drugs under the guise of public health, but he also had political motivations, he wanted to criminalize the lifestyle of his opposition.

We must end for-profit prisons and the prison industrial complex; decriminalize small amounts of drug possession; treat non-violent and victimless crimes more leniently. We need to all work together so that the land of the free is free.

Written by Democratic Writer, Ali Lahrech

Prison Reform Requires Efforts from Both Biden and Congress – A Foreign Perspective

I agree with my colleague here that America needs to reform its prison system. No matter what prison population statistic you look at, America is always at the top. One that staggers me the most is that a fifth of the world’s prison population is American, despite Americans as a whole making less of the world’s total population.

Another stat that surprised me is that 4 out of 5 Americans in prison are jailed for something that is unrelated to drugs. This tells me that while addressing the war on drugs issue would be a good place to start, it won’t address the mass incarceration problem that is identified.

More issues with the prison system need to be identified, starting with the for-profit prison system. This system, as is explained, does not have the law in mind when dealing with individuals, it has the goal of making money. This means motives lay on keeping people in prison for as long as possible and putting as many people in prison as possible, which does not help anyone.

America’s prison system is not working. President Biden has already taken executive action of the prison system, by ending the use of private prisons at the federal level. While this order is a start, it only affects the Department of Justice and not other government agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security. Pure Presidential action is also weak, as this move was undertaken by Obama but quickly reversed by Trump.

More substantial action must be taken through Congress. One act that is being sponsored is the Safe, Accountable, Fair, and Effective (SAFE) Justice Act. This act is sponsored by Democrat Bobby Scott and Republican Jason Lewis. This act is widely praised by organisations, from the American Conservative Union Foundation and the Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

While it would not abolish mandatory minimums as my colleague would like, it would instead target sentences against leaders and supervisors of drug trafficking organisations. Other bipartisan bills are also being considered. I am hopeful that America will be able to reform its prison system.

Written by Foreign Perspective Writer, Kieran Burt

Alexander Dennis
Alexander Dennis
Political writer at | Website

Hello, I’m Alexander Dennis, and I am going into my third undergraduate year at the University of Exeter. I study Politics & International Relations, with a possible year abroad hanging in the balance. My particular interest in politics really started in early 2016: yes, it was ‘Brexit’. I was at once intrigued, and confused, by something so critical. From that baptism, I have become somewhat addicted to political discussion, intrigued by issues ranging from drugs policy to taxation. So I followed my nose: I applied for a degree in the subject.

Ali Lahrech
Democratic Writer | Website

Hi, I’m Ali and I’m in my third year at the University of Toronto. I’m studying International Relations as my major and Spanish as my minor.


I was born and raised in Washington DC to Moroccan parents. This gave me a unique lens with which to observe the country I was raised in. While I am an American citizen, I often have a different perspective than my friends and peers whose families have been in the United States for much longer than mine. Growing up in around DC also gave the unique opportunity of being at the heart of American politics. Ever since President Barrack Obama’s first inauguration in 2009 I was hooked.


I have always been left of the American center and most closely aligned myself with the Democratic party. While I vote for the Democratic party, like many Americans I’m starting to feel more and more disillusioned with them and the two-party system. The 2016 election is was the catalyst for my dissatisfaction with the American political parties. I had seen the Republican party move further and further right while the Democrats hadn’t really moved left. They had essentially implemented a policy of appeasement towards the Republicans. In summation I was disappointed that the Democrats had bent the knee to Republicans rather than proposing and implementing bold and forward-thinking policies that would help Americans.


This disappointment and disillusionment started to transform into optimism after the 2018 midterms. I saw that there was still hope for a bright future for America. The Democratic party had started to shift leftwards, albeit at a snail’s pace. After the 2018 midterms I became a man possessed by American politics. As I dove deeper and deeper into American politics, I realized that we don’t know enough about it. This fact is why I think it is key for all of us, no matter our perspectives, to have a conversation with each other and most importantly listen to one another; so, we better understand one another and where we’re coming from.


Therefore, I look forward to sharing my perspective with POI and reading others’ with great enthusiasm.



Kieran Burt
Conservative writer at | Website

Hello, my name is Kieran Burt and I am going into second year at Nottingham Trent University studying Politics and International Relations. I first developed an interest in politics through reading the Dictator’s Handbook by Alastair Smith and Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, when I was 16, and have furthered my interest by studying politics at A level and now at university.

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