The United States is perceived to be the land of the free. Our foreign policy is motivated to bring freedom and democracy to poor oppressed, yet resource rich countries. If enforcing freedom is our goal, then why does the United States house 25% of the world prison population? Even more interesting is the alarming rate of racial disparities in the population of people incarcerated. If we look at these phenomena from a Marxist perspective, this is another negative effect of capitalism he predicted.
The prison industry is a prime example of the commodification of human life. A little known fact about the United States correctional systems is that private investors, public companies, businesses, can own and run prisons. Some of these companies are publicly traded companies. What is to stop a police officer, lawyer, judge, or lawmakers from investing in said companies? How can we preserve justice and integrity in the criminal justice system?
The reality is that for the United States to have 5% of the world’s population, but has the largest amount of incarcerated persons in the world is indicative that justice and integrity have not been preserved. There have been several scandals regarding judges being paid to convict inmates at such facilities. Additionally, in the construction agreements for private prisons low cost to tax payers is usually the incentive; however, many governments fail to read the fine print of occupancy quotas. These quotas mean more people have to be arrested to avoid contractual penalties and additional costs.
As a result, the bourgeoisie have found a way to create a Kafkaesque nightmare out of our criminal justice system. They found a new way to capitalize the proletariat. The minority population of the United States is now analyzed in the context of profit and loss. The criminal justice system is a prime example of what Marx felt is wrong with capitalism.
It is difficult to obtain class consciousness because of the connotation of being incarcerated. As a prison rights advocate, I understand how difficult it is to gather people to care about the issues of “people who shouldn’t have done wrong to begin with”. Many have an unforgiving view of crime, and do not understand the socioeconomic factors that influence crime. What people fail to realize is how easy the line is between criminal and law abiding citizen can be crossed; however, one thing is certain, many will find out in the land of the free.