Not too long ago, I wrote a two-part commentary on the US prison system (part one, here; part two here), and John Oliver was kind enough to offer a follow up, where he demonstrates how far away we are from making any kind of positive changes the further we delve into the privatization of the prison system.
Perhaps the most staggering realization for me, as it should be for any American, is the sheer number of men and women in American prisons. By the end of 2012, there were over 2.3 million prisoners incarcerated in the US. By contrast, John Oliver points out that there are a little less than 1.7 million prisoners incarcerated in China. Let’s be frank. China is not known for a history of humanitarianism. In fact, they have a reputation for incarcerating intellectuals and political dissidents, yet compared to the US, they currently have about .01% of their population incarcerated, while the US has .07% of its population incarcerated.
When you look at the percentages, the numbers don’t appear to be that staggering, but when you consider that we are talking about hundreds of thousands, even millions of actual men and women, tens of thousands of which I would argue don’t even need to be in prison, shock starts to set in. And if you still refuse to see the devastating reality, consider the population difference. At approximately 1.35 billion people, China has a population more than four times the US population (314,000,000), yet they have over 600,000 fewer prisoners. Oh, and it’s China.
Of course, none of this gets to the real problem with the prison system: privatization. Sure, it can and has saved money, but to the detriment of real people. Prisoners are people who have made mistakes, pure and simple. I will not argue that some belong in prison, that there are extremely dangerous individuals we should not let out, but that doesn’t make them any less human, and that does not make cruel and unusual punishment OK. John Oliver focuses on two important issues with the privatization of the US prison systems, and I touched on both in my previous posts, especially the healthcare issue. Bottom line, as I have said before, if you treat people like animals, they will act like animals. If we hope to rehabilitate people, let’s start with giving them real food and good, quality healthcare.