The right wing in this country are often heard to refer to the US as the land of the free. The reality is very different. The US has approximately 5% of the world's population but 25% of the world's prisoners. This is a staggering brutal fact of US life. It shows that US society is rotten, that US capitalism has forfeited the right to rule.
There are about 2 million people in US prisons. What suffering for them and their families. What a waste of resources for society. Look at some comparisons with other countries.
During 2002, the United States prison and jail population exceeded 2 million for the first time in history. In 2004, the nation’s prison population was counted at 1.47 million2 and the total number of people incarcerated was 2.1 million.
The United States has the highest rate of incarceration at 726 prisoners per 100,000 people. The second highest are Russia, Belarus and Bermuda. Western European nations have much lower rates , with England and Wales at 142 and Germany at 96 and France at 91 per 100,000.
Many non European nations also have significantly lower rates, with Cuba, yes remember Cuba which the US capitalist media continually tells us is a prison camp, with 190 prisoners per 100,000 people, China with 118, and India with 29.9
There are a number of reasons for this vast prison population in the US. Capitalism cannot hire all its workers. If there was full employment the working class would be more strong and confident and fight for better wages and conditions. This would cut into profits. So millions have to be kept unemployed. This is done by amongst other things the Federal reserve manipulating interest rates to keep economic growth at a low enough level to keep millions unemployed and the working class weakened.
At the same time the weakness of the US workers movement because of the role of its leaders means that there is practically no social safety net in the US. So unemployed people, especially youth have no income. So the only way to live for many of them is crime. Not the crimes of Wall Street but that of main street. So the prisons fill up with the unemployed that capitalism cannot/will not hire.
Then there is the prison industrial complex which makes enormous profits and and has powerful political clout in the Republican and Democratic parties. There are a lot of profits to be made running big prison systems. To their shame the unions go along with this for jobs for their members.
With unemployment highest amongst the African American and minority populations, then imprisonment is also higher amongst these populations. Economic exploitation and racism cannot be separated from each other in this capitalist nightmare of the US.
To keep the jails filled and the profits rolling in prison sentences for all kinds of offences are handed out in the US where in other countries they would not have prison sentences. Along with that the prison sentences for having drugs even a small amount are very high.
The drug policies in the US are rooted in the crisis of US capitalism and its interests. The so called war on drugs gives it an excuse to wage war abroad, repress its surplus labor population and keep its profit addicted prison system full and growing.
The drug policy of US capitalism does not end at its borders. Mexico is being torn apart by drug wars. Tens of thousands are being murdered. The overwhelming majority of the drugs there go to the US market and 90% of the guns used in the Mexican drugs war are imported from the US and make profits for their US gun exporters.
Capitalism and imprisonment and repression are inseparable. The drugs policy of the US is rooted in the interests of the US capitalist system. In some other capitalist countries such as in Europe big steps have been taken away from the criminalization of drugs and towards rehabilitation with very dramatic and positive results.
The US is not the land of the free. It is the land of the highest proportion of its population in the world in prison. It is the land where prisoners are seen as profits and the more of them the merrier. It is the land where the system cannot employ all its workers and with a very weak social safety net and so capitalism's need for mass imprisonment.
Then there are the millions in the US military and the US cops , more waste of resources which could be used for constructive purposes to build a better society. But that is a story for another day.