Prisons in the United States of America
The large prison population in the US is thought to result primarily from high crime rates, long sentences, and a rigidly fought "War on Drugs". Some observers have gone so far as to accuse the United States of deliberately developing the legal system and the prison industry as a means of social control beyond that normally associated with criminal justice.
In recent years, there has been much debate in the US over the privatization of prisons. The argument for privatization stresses cost reduction, whereas the arguments against it focus on standards of care, and the question of whether a market economy for prisons might not also lead to a market demand for prisoners (that is, a strong lobby for ever-tougher sentencing to satisfy the need for cheap labor). While privatized prisons have only a short history, inmates in state- and federal-run prisons also undertake active employment in prison for low pay.
Observers generally regard prison conditions in the United States as problematic, with prisoner violence and rape wide-spread, and medical care for inmates inadequate. An August 2003 Harper's article by Wil S. Hylton estimated that "somewhere between 20 and 40 percent of American prisoners are, at this very moment, infected with hepatitis C". Prisons may outsource medical care to private companies such as Correctional Medical Services, which, according to Hylton's research, try to minimize the amount of care given to prisoners in order to maximize profits.
Gang violence has recently become a major problem, since many gang members retain their affiliations when incarcerated for various crimes.
Many facets of prison society have made their way into mainstream culture, such as the practice of secretly brewing pruno, the custom of dominant prisoners retaining personal bitches, and the dangers of "dropping the soap". These representations of prison life, however inaccurate, are frequently referenced in popular culture.
Private companies which provide services to prisons combine in the American Correctional Association. Their lobbying arm, ALEC, advocates legislation favorable to the industry.
See also: Premier Custodial Group, Wackenhut Corrections Corporation (WCC)
Prisons in the United Kingdom
For information on prisons and related subjects in the United Kingdom, see articles on Her Majesty's Prison Service, on the United Kingdom prison population and the List of United Kingdom prisons.
- Ted Conover, Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing, Knopf, 2001, trade paperback, 352 pages, ISBN 0375726624
- Mark L. Taylor, The Executed God: The Way of the Cross in Lockdown America, Augsburg Fortress Publishers, Publishing House of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 2001, ISBN 0800632834.
- Wil S. Hylton: Sick on the Inside. Correctional HMOs and the coming prison plague. Harper's Magazine, August 2003.
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