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The Rise of the Prison-Industrial Complex: Background information when reading The Graybar Hotel

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The Graybar Hotel

Stories

by Curtis Dawkins

The Graybar Hotel by Curtis Dawkins X
The Graybar Hotel by Curtis Dawkins
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2017, 224 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2018, 224 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte
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About this Book

The Rise of the Prison-Industrial Complex

This article relates to The Graybar Hotel

Print Review

PrisonerThe Graybar Hotel makes one reflect on the incarceration rates in the United States and the reason for its explosion over recent decades.

Readers might remember the George H. W. Bush vs. then Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis presidential campaign. It has been argued that two commercials truly sealed Dukakis's fate: The Willie Horton ad and the Revolving Door clip. Borrowing heavily from the "fear factor" handbook, the campaign implied that Dukakis was soft on crime, giving murderers like Willie Horton, "weekend passes" to leave prison and commit more of them. America, the Bush campaign argued, couldn't afford somebody with such lenient stances on criminals. Politicians have sometimes adopted such approaches, thereby stoking citizens' fears and then reassuring them with policies that have lead, not only to greater incarceration rates, but also harsher sentences for all crimes across the board.

Politicians with their "tough on crime" approach are but one leg of the sturdy U.S. prison-industrial complex, the complicated and overlapping sectors of government and industry that use corrections as a solution to economic, social and political problems. Just as President Eisenhower once warned about the fear of nuclear war spawning an increase in military spending that, in turn, increases corporate profits, so too has the prison-industrial complex created an unhealthy relationship between government and corporations.

California Institution for Women Prison ComplexA must-read article in The Atlantic states that "the United States now imprisons more people than any other country in the world – perhaps half a million more than Communist China. The American inmate population has grown so large that it is difficult to comprehend: imagine the combined populations of Atlanta, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Des Moines, and Miami behind bars." This article is old but the scale holds. Another way to look at these numbers: A Prison Policy Initiative report states that the United States represents about 4.4 percent of the world's population, but it houses around 22 percent of the world's prisoners. According to the non-profit organization, Prison Policy Initiative, the American criminal justice system holds more than 2.3 million people in 1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 901 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,163 local jails, and 76 Indian Country jails as well as in military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, and prisons in the U.S. territories. And one in five people are jailed for a drug-related offense.

A decrease in drug-related incarcerations alone is not enough to drop the growing number of prisons and crowded jails in the country. That's because, industry experts argue in an article in The Economist, sentences have also gotten tougher on all kinds of crimes so criminals stay jailed for longer.

Orleans Parish Prison YardLarge prisons have cropped up in economically challenged communities as a way of increasing revenue, and corporations that cater to prisons are big business. A Vice article reported that "The Vanguard Group and Fidelity Investments, who are America's top two 401(k) providers, are also two of the private prison industry's biggest investors." Together, they own about 20 percent of both CCA (Corrections Corporation of America) and GEO, two of the biggest for-profit corporations in the prisons business.

While President Obama called for criminal justice reform and commuted the sentences of many non-violent drug offenders toward the end of his presidency, not much is expected to change in the American incarceration rates any time soon.

Prisoner graphic
California Institution for Women Prison Complex in Chino, CA, courtesy of csw.ucla.edu
Orleans Parish Prison Yard

Filed under Society and Politics

Article by Poornima Apte

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Graybar Hotel. It originally ran in July 2017 and has been updated for the May 2018 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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