Why has there been a massive growth of the prison industry in America since the 1970's?
Since the 1970's there has been steady increase in the prison population where statistics now show from the BJS that more than one in every 100 adults are now in imprisoned. Statistics from the "PEW" state that one in 30 men between the ages of 20-34 are behind bars, however just because there is an increase in the numbers it does not mean it's down to an increase in crime. To further emphasise just how significant the growth is, the population in 1970 was around 300,000 but now the population in 2008 is over 2.3 million (BJS 2006). However there is not necessarily a parallel increase with crime; instead experts are putting the growth down to popular measures such as the "three-strikes", "truth in sentencing" and "broken window" policies. Different states have diverse policies and so when talking about America as a whole it is hard to talk about the prison industry as a whole, due to the fact that each state makes the line fluxuate.
During the 1970's Nixon endeavoured to be "tough on crime" however since that pledge the population his risen at least 6 times. There were significant tax cuts which resulted in social decay thus the chance for economic opportunities and possibility to purse the "American Dream" deteriorated. Therefore the rise in petty crime and drug use heavily increased. This can be backed up by statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice which illustrates an increase from 63,140 in 2000 to 77,987 in 2006 of inmates held in state and federal jails for petty crimes. If you were to apply Merton's "Strain Theory" in some states the most obvious way to achieve success would be to become a drug dealer consequently resulting in crime which does appeal to many people, hence by Clinton and Bush reducing tax meant that there would be a significant increase in the prison industry.
The government has tried to battle this rise in the prisons by imposing larger sentences to act as a deterrent and other policies which are known as the "broken window". They have introduced the "three strike" policy which means that if you are convicted of any 3 offences you will receive life which is a very good deterrent as Virginia applies this a lot of the time and has managed to slow the growth of the population (Bratton 2002). The government are trying to impose other punishments such as rehabilitation for drug offenders and thinking about legalising drugs because when the prohibition on alcohol ended statistics taken from "ACS" indicate that crime actually went down. All of these ideas however have not seemed to affect the general trend of the growing prison industry.
In Texas the prison industry there faced a 300% increase from 1970 to 2006 forcing a major expansion in the actually prisons. Instead of paying over 500 million dollars Texas decided to authorise a makeover of the prisons introducing drug treatments and diversion beds. By authorising this it meant that there was a huge demand in the market for new treatments and equipment which meant companies could now compete in this market. Consequently by Texas authorising this it meant that there was a sudden boost in the interest in the prison industry (John Moritz 2007). TX State Rep. Jerry Madden said that "It's far better for our society if we can get rid of the drug habit than if they just serve a short period of incarceration and go back to drugs after they come out". Texas are trying to actually cure the problem that just building more prisons and not working on rehabilitation and just working on punishment. There are a lot of states now that do not funding by the amount of prisoners they have or prisons but by their performance. Ken Moor, Director, Reno County believed that "For continued funding, we have to achieve that goal state-wide. The DOC has announced to us our funding will no longer be based solely on how many clients we have, but on our performance." Therefore...
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Human Rights Watch Backgrounder (2003) Incarcerated America [online] Available from:
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Urahn, S (2008) PEW One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008 (Report)
Sabol, W (2007) Prisoners in 2006. U.S. Dept. of Justice. BJS Statistics (Report)
Bratton, J (2002) Prison officers rack up overtime
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