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The Prison Industrial Complex Economics Essay

Since the 1970s both the United States and many of the European countries have had a significantly increase in the prison population. Today United States has approximately 6.5 million people under criminal justice supervision. And the incarceration rate in the United States has grown from 176 in 1973 up to 700 in the year of 2000 (Professor Waquant 11/10/2010). In Europe, many of the countries have also experienced a similar disturbing development the last 25 years. Even though the development within Europe does indeed vary, the growth rates in many of these countries are considerably large. Nations such as Portugal, the Netherlands and Greece have had a 300% increase in the prison population during these period (Waquant 2009).

In effort of explaining the factors which are formerly the cause of these figures and trends Waquant (2009) base his arguments on the change from a social to a penal policy. As the neoliberal penal state as evolved, a significant increase in the incarceration rate has been the result, from earlier having rehabilitations ideals and a social policy supporting a welfare model to ending up with a society founded upon managerialism and privatization (Waquant 2009).

The penalization of poverty as Waquant (2009) refers to it, has been a direct response to the social insecurity which has occurred in many of the advanced societies since the post-Fordist era. The neoliberal policies has been changing the function of the state to a more deregulated role in both economic and social context, simultaneously adopting a stronger punitive function. Waquant (2009) draws from Bourdieu and describes this transformation as “the invisible hand of the market is joined by the iron fist of the penal state” (Waquant 2009). And that this is higly correlated with the withdrawal of the “Left hand s social welfare programs in the post-Fordist era. Ultimately, the neoliberal ideology has caused a higher fraction of the population being poor, as social protection has dismantled. Together with increased unemployment and a deskilled labor market, the state eventually uses penal institution to enforce order (Professor Waquant 10/11/2010). The prison as an institution has become an important tool to handle the social insecurity, and preserving the social order (Waquant 2009, 2001).

Further, Waquant (2009) identifies three independent causal series behind the incarceration increase in the United States especially. “Zero tolerance” measures on crime were one of the new ideology and policies which has emerged during the last three decades for the purpose of upholding law and order. Waquant (2001) specially highlights “neoconservative think tanks” such as the Manhatten Institute, the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute for taking an essential part in this task. “it is they who manufacture these notions before disseminating them within the American ruling class in the course of the war against the welfare state, which has been raging in the wake of the social and racial backlash experienced by America since the mid- 1970s” (Waquant 2001: P 405). This “de-autonomization” of the penal sector gave rise to the “crisscrossing” of the conservative and the libertarian critiques of criminal justice” (Waquant 2009).

Another factor Waquant (2009) argues has resulted in this hyper-incarceration is the important role of the rapidly growing politicization and mediatization of crime that have been taking place during this period. Both politicians and media have used criminality and the“war on crime” as a main tool in the proliferation of moral panic around criminality (Waquant 2009). This trend was initially a direct response against the modest expansion of the welfare state during the 1960s and the requirements of reducing poverty and racial inequality (Waquant 2005a).

Lastly, Waquant (2009) also discusses the important impact of one the central functions the penal system serves in the new government of poverty. Namely the use of the prison as a containment for the population considered as deviant and dangerous (Waquant 2009). In the United States, Waquant (2009) argues, this function was a complement and a compensation for a collapsing ghetto. “..it is the prison which is in turn serving as surrogate “ghetto”, by warehousing the fractions of the black (sub)proletariat that have been marginalized by the transition to the dual-service economy and by state policies of welfare retrenchment and urban withdrawal (Waquant 2005: Kerner Commission 1969/1989: Harris and Curtis 1998).

Crime rates and “Prison Industrial Complex”

Since the `War on crime` was initiated during the 1970s, public safety and the developing criminality has been of prime importance by most politicians and journalist, both in the United States and in Europe (Waquant 2005a). Despite the significant increase in number of people behind bars, the crime data shows a whole other trend. During the past three decades the crime rates has actually stagnated and then to further decline in the 1990s (Waquant 2005a). The data also reveals that the average new convicts are not considered as dangerous and hardened criminals, but described more as small-time, non-violent offenders (Waquant 2005a). Even the number of victims of criminal offences has been declining during this period. In the United States 40 millions victims were identified in 1973, compared to 25 million in 2000 (Waquant 2005a). Consequntly, the argument of Imprisonment has increased because of rising crime rates is a statement which has no empirical evidence and the increased incarceration rates has to be explained by other sources.

Evaluating the statement “Imprisonment has increased because of the growth of the prison-industrial complex”, Waquant (2009) argue unidirectional that this is a statement which is “Anchored in a conspiratorial vision of history, this thesis suffers from four major lacunae that undercut its analytical import and ruin its practical pertinence” (Waquant 2009. p 84). “The prison industrial complex” is referred to a theory which tries to explain the expansion of the penal system and the high ratio of incarceration by suspecting private corporations in seek of profit maximization to be the reason behind this development.

Firstly, the theory fails to take into account that this “transformation” is caused by an interactive process between both social and penal components. In isolating just one of these components, one is consequently neglecting the whole causation of this transformation (Waquant 2009). Secondly, Waquant argues the profiteering from corrections cannot be considered as the main cause, but more as a supplementary consequence to the rapidly growing penal system. This is also the case when viewing other major public goods. The relatively small income from inmates in labor are considered neglect able, as only 1 % of the prison population works in private firms, nor is the “Prison Industrial Complex” any essential part of the United States economy (Waquant 2009). Further, Waquant mentions the third lacunae as the crime control is organized in a widely decentralized form, distributed among several authorities, which makes it highly unlikely to ensure such a conspiracy (Waquant 2009). Lastly, it is pointed out by Waquant that “correctional institutions have been profoundly transformed over the past three decades, not only by changes in the scale and the composition of their clientele, but also by the prisoners right movement, the rationalization and professionalization of confinement, and the increasing oversight of the courts” (Waquant 2009. P 86). Given the arguments presented above, one can conclude that the “Prison Industrial Complex” is clearly a myth based on empirical facts (Waquant 2009).

Converging carceral policies?

Even though it is no doubt that the United States has been the entrepreneur behind the neoliberal ideology and the rise of the penal state, many countries in Europe has also experienced a rapidly growing prison population (Waquant 2001). As for example penal policies has been an key instrument for many countries in suppressing unwanted immigration from regions such as Africa, Middle East and Asia (Professor Waquant 11/10/2010). Which is the case on both side of the Atlantic, as Waquant (2005b) states; “penalization operates as a conduit for the depoliticization of problems, ethnoracial division and immigrant incorporation, that are quintessentially political …” Europe in general has in some sense converted its carceral policies in the direction of the United States, as the neoliberal ideology has spread itself across the Atlantic and “mushroomed throughout Europe over the past decade, with kindered `think tanks` (Waquant 2001. P 405). Waquant (2009) highlights specially England as functioning as a Trojan horse and an acclimation chamber in the importation of the neoliberal penal policies into Europe. However Waquant also clarifies that Europe has not “blindly imitated” the United State`s penal policies, and consequently not “duplicated the American model” (Waquant 2001 p 406). The European path to the penal state is being described by Waquant as “conjoint, twofold accentuation of both the social regulation and the penal regulation of social security”( Waquant 2001 p 407). Although, many European countries have had a fast growing incarceration rate the last decades, one haven’t seen the same clear shift in substituting social welfare programs to the poor by a harsh penal treatment (Waquant 2001).

However as mentioned earlier, there exist wide disparities within the European countries regarding this development. England, which has the most “Americanized” welfare protection system in Europe, is today faced with the highest incarceration rates (Waquant 2009). The Scandinavian countries on the other hand, which have according to Waquant (2009. P 122) “best resisted internal and external pressures aiming to dismantle the social state..” has in fact the most moderate rise in the prison population. Denmark and Norway has experienced stagnation, and Finland has outstandingly had a decrease in the number of imprisonment (Waquant 2009).

Waquant (2001 p 407) states; “The whole question is whether this European road is a genuine alternative to American-style carceralisation, or whether it is simply a stage on the way to mass imprisonment”. Based on the experience from the United States, if Europe moves away from important social welfare programs and aggravates the life chances in general for fractions of the population, one will see a much clearer convergence in carceral policies between the United States and Europe (Waquant 2009).

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