Why is nobody talking about the jails?

By Patrick Malone

Alper Cugun/Flickr
Alper Cugun/Flickr

During the 1968 Presidential election, amid swelling riots and anti-war dissent, Richard Nixon largely based his campaign on restoring “law and order” in the United States. This rhetoric would eventually culminate into a harsh escalation of the war on drugs. Nearly 50 years have passed and the U.S. has witnessed many disastrous failures on behalf of the war on the drugs and the resulting expansion of the prison-industrial complex. It is concerning, then, that Donald J. Trump is still squawking about “law and order.”

As it stands, the U.S. is in the midst of the largest prison strike in its 238-year history. The strike began Sept. 9 and has continued since, with prisoners organizing across the nation through smuggled cellphones. Their grievances range from forced, unpaid labor to the liberal use of solitary confinement. Prisons have been quick to crack down on the strikers. But, in spite of the backlash, the strike has continued for over a month. So why is nobody talking about it?

The United States currently has the highest incarceration rate in the Western world. We incarcerate nearly six times as many people as China, nearly seven times as many as France and nearly 10 times as many as Germany. Nearly half a million people are imprisoned for non-violent, drug related offenses, with the prison population disproportionately African-American. Our prisons are overcrowded and the conditions are deplorable. Solitary confinement has been an increasingly common practice. Oftentimes prisoners in solitary confinement are tortured with the same methods used at Guantanamo Bay, including extreme temperatures and forced insomnia. Many of the people subjected to these conditions will attempt suicide. Prisoners are forced to work, either for free or for wages under $1, producing commodities for corporations like Victoria’s Secret. The American taxpayers shell out $80 billion annually for this practice to continue.

It seems asinine, at this point, to argue that anybody is being “rehabilitated” by this institution. The number of prisoners housed in private facilities rose 37 percent between 2002 and 2009, as those facilities can make a good deal of money turning out repeat offenders.

The prison-industrial complex lies at the heart of many of the issues America presently faces and it makes sense that the backlash has taken the shape in the largest prison strike in U.S, history. Regardless, the American public seems to be unaware of this. Hillary Clinton has only tepidly addressed the issue while Trump seems to be demanding further escalation. Gary Johnson, the libertarian party’s nominee, led the charge for prison privatization when he was governor of New Mexico, which now houses 44 percent of its prisoners in for-profit facilities. The media has done a deplorable job of covering the strike. During the week that the strike broke out, “Harambe” was Google searched 75 times more often than “prison strike.”

The condition of America’s penal system is a disgrace. As the prisons continue to crack down on the strikers, it is clear that something needs to change. We are witnessing one of the greatest injustices of our time, yet nobody is talking about it.

Patrick Malone is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].