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The Dangers of the Prison-Industrial Complex

In 1961, President Dwight D. Eisenhower gave a memorable farewell address wherein he warned of the corrupting influence of the military-industrial complex. That speech is worth quoting at length:

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

What Ike was concerned about was the unwarranted influence arms manufacturers may have on the political process. That is, to justify selling ever more expensive and sophisticated military hardware, arms manufacturers were even then extensively lobbying government and persuading policy makers that there existed threats and enemies at every corner that either did not exist or whose threat was seriously overstated. The result was an ever more aggressive and belligerent foreign policy, an ever larger and more menacing military machine and, consequently, a more militarized society, where strength and brutality are favored over reason and justice.

Today, the effects of the military-industrial complex Ike warned of are easily discernible. Unfortunately, that same type of threat is on the rise domestically. Some have aptly named it the prison-industrial complex. That industry is driven by the rise of private, for profit, prisons organized as corporations. In recent years there has been a trend, among states and the federal government, to outsource housing prisoners in privately run, for profit prisons. This, in and of itself, is of no real concern.

What is disconcerting is that the prison-industrial complex wields the same kind of insidious influence on policy makers as the military-industrial complex, albeit on a far smaller scale. That is, in an effort to further its own interests, the private prison industry finds ever rising levels of crime, ever more violent and dangerous criminals and ever more reasons to jail citizens for their own profit, despite facts to the contrary. The result is the multiplication of criminal laws, stricter jail and prison sentences and the perpetual erosion of civil rights. Although the prison industry is not as large and powerful as the armaments industry, the prison industry directly profits from a police state, to the detriment of every citizen everywhere.

Categories: Criminal Law, Opinion

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