Murdoch: The prison industrial complex

The United States has the highest amount of individuals in prisons in the world. (Photo courtesy of

The land of the free ironically has the highest prison population in the world. The United States has 5 percent of the world population, yet roughly 20-25 percent of the world’s prison population. Does that mean we have more bad people per capita than the rest of the world? No, it means we make more people into criminals than are necessary. In other words, we artificially raise the number of prisoners because there is someone who makes money off of having these prisoners there. How do we do this though?

The drug war is a major reason the population of prisons is so high. What is the point of prison? It is to lock away those we deem a danger to society because they are unable to coexist with others in an essentially peaceful manner. So how does doing drugs translate to being a danger to society? The only real argument might be someone getting high and driving, but this is no more dangerous than getting drunk and driving. No one is calling for a prohibition of alcohol. In fact, we had a prohibition of alcohol and that didn’t stop anyone from drinking, it made them criminals for doing so, made drinking more dangerous (like drugs) because it stopped being regulated, and gave power to the gangs.

Does anyone believe if marijuana was legal and could be bought from the store that people would still buy it illegally? If this were to happen it would cripple the cartels, they are already feeling some of the effects from the places where it is already legalized. That is how you beat them; brute force and guns is not going to get anyone anywhere except maybe six feet under. I am perhaps more controversial than most other people because I not only believe marijuana should be legalized, I believe all drugs should be at the very least decriminalized. Addiction isn’t a crime, it is an illness and should be treated as such. No one should go to prison for heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines or any other drug they might be addicted to.

The business model of a private prison is flawed. You probably hear this all the time, “They are a business and a business’s ultimate goal is to make money.” When the business is a private prison, they make money based on the number of people imprisoned.

I will quote an Investopedia article to explain exactly how they make their money,

“Let’s suppose that it costs $100 per day to house a prisoner (assuming full capacity, including all administration costs), and the prison building can hold 1,000 inmates. A private prison can offer their services to the government and charge $150 per day per prisoner. Generally speaking, the government will agree to these terms if the $150 is less than if the prison was publicly run. That spread is where the private prison makes their money,” (Bryant, Para. 7, 2015).

There is something important to note from the above explanation, the government will generally agree to the terms of the private prisons if they can do what the government would do but cheaper, except in cases where a politician is bribed by a private prison to fund them even though the public prison would be cheaper. So that begs the question, where are they cutting costs? Well, workers in private prisons are paid less than in public ones, because of this they do not have as experienced or qualified staff as a public one which can be dangerous when they have to deal with hardened criminals. And the quality of life for prisoners is reduced as well which of course will cause unhappy prisoners leading to more violence with a less qualified staff to handle them.

There are so many other things I could touch on such as the high recidivism rates, rehabilitation vs. punishment, or the mindset Americans have about prisoners. But I don’t want to ramble on. In America, we value capitalism very highly and for good reason. Competition is good when it comes to shoe companies, video game companies, mattress makers, etc. because it will incentivize these companies to make the best product they can (or market it the best way they can). But when it comes to certain services such as prisons, privatization is unnecessary and harmful to the society at large. The money saved through the privatization of prisons is not worth it, because though we save in the dollar amount we are creating worse, more resentful prisoners and artificially inflating the prison population.

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