With 5 percent of the world's population, the U.S. of A. has nearly a quarter of the world's prisoners.
America has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world. (We're No. 1! We're No. 1!) The U.S. prison population is more than 2.4 million and has more than quadrupled since 1980.
The single biggest driver in the increase in the federal prison population since 1998 is longer sentences for drug offenders. The most serious charge against 51 percent of federal inmates is a drug offense.
In state prisons, the most serious charge against 20 percent of inmates is a drug offense, which is much lower than federal prisons but still represents the largest single category of offense in state prisons. (Washington Post)
Over 3,000 prisoners in the U.S. are serving life without parole for non-violent crimes.
Whatever can be done to make this situation more ridiculous? Turn our prison systems into another profit-driven industry of course!
That's exactly what Ohio Gov. John Kasich and friends did in 2011 when they sold off the Lake Erie Correctional Facility in my home county of Ashtabula to Corrections Corporation of America for $72.7 million.
And then what happened?
Less than a year later state audits found " patterns of inadequate staffing, delays in medical treatment and 'unacceptable living conditions' inside the prison-including inmates lacking access to running water and toilets."
From the Dayton Daily News: "Under CCA control, inmate complaints about prison gangs, assaults and other problems have doubled since the state turned over control, staff turnover has been more than 20 percent and violent incidents increased 21 percent inside the medium-security prison, according to public records."
DDN also provides a little list of the audit findings, including: Padlocked fire exits; Meat slicers without safety guards and other food safety violations; Likely falsification of food service records; Clogged water fountains; Moldy showers; Unsecured cleaning chemicals; No guards monitoring "pill call" - when inmates receive medications.
"It was common for us to speak about who was going to die first," Paul Reynolds, a former correctional officer at Lake Erie who says he was released because of disagreements with CCA management, told HuffPost. "They were afraid to get sued for any little thing, so management basically tied our hands on everything. Within three months, we lost that prison to those inmates."
OK, so the CO was fired and might be bitter. I'm sure plenty of prisons have plenty of problems, and clogged water fountains don't exactly turn these places into a Gulag camp.
But now Salon is reporting that "Arizona is one of four states (along with Virginia, Oklahoma and Louisiana) in which state governments are bound to contracts guaranteeing a 95 percent to 100 percent occupancy in facilities leased by private prisons. Of the four, Arizona's quotas are the most extreme: as part of the aforementioned "deal" in 2008, prison officials must keep a 100 percent occupancy rate."
Moreover, while the total prison population in the U.S. grew 16 percent between 2000 and 2011, the state private prison population grew 106 percent.
Turning prison systems into another venue for business creates a profit incentive to imprison as many people as possible. In fact, by law, these private companies are required to be profit-motivated.
It's an odd idea of crime and punishment: To make sure our prisons are filled to the brim so private industry has a new way to make a buck.