Tuesday, February 9, 2010

"Slavery by the Backdoor" Not-so-Funny British Take on America's Prisons

Stephen Fry talks about the rate of imprisonment in the USA.

This recent clip from comedian Stephen Fry’s television panel game show, “QI” (Quite Interesting), took a humorous but disturbing look at America’s prison system.

From the clip, after Fry asks, "where are one percent of American adults?":

"When talking about contraband, is that, you’re not allowed to bring anything into the country that’s made by forced labor or prisons. But, in America, you can almost say, if you were so minded, that they’ve re-invented the slave trade. They produce, for example, 100 percent of all military helmets, ammunition belts, bullet proof vests, ID tags and other items and uniforms, 93 percent of domestically-produced paints, 36 percent of home appliances, 21 percent of office furniture, which allows the United States to compete with factories in Mexico because of course obviously the workers can’t refuse to work for 25 cents and hour."

No Laughing Matter:

According to The Sentencing Project, more than 60% of the people in prison are now racial and ethnic minorities. For Black males in their twenties, 1 in every 8 is in prison or jail on any given day. These trends have been intensified by the disproportionate impact of the "war on drugs," in which three-fourths of all persons in prison for drug offenses are people of color


The United States is the world's leader in incarceration with 2.3 million people currently in the nation's prisons or jails -- a 500% increase over the past thirty years. These trends have resulted in prison overcrowding and state governments being overwhelmed by the burden of funding a rapidly expanding penal system, despite increasing evidence that large-scale incarceration is not the most effective means of achieving public safety.
Prison costs in the city, state and nation are already staggering thanks to tough-on-crime laws enacted over the last 30 years. With some 2.3 million prisoners, the U.S. leads the world in imprisoning its citizens. The population has grown from about 450,000 in 1979, regardless of increases or decreases in crime rates.

While the number of drug users imprisoned increased 1,100 percent between 1980 and 2005, six in 10 people in state prisons on drug offenses have no violent history or high-level drug selling activity. And marijuana possession accounted for 42.6 percent of all drug arrests in 2005, according to The Sentencing Project, a liberalprison reform group, which used FBI statistics.

Last year, U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., introduced a bipartisan bill that would set up a national commission dedicated to studying how to reduce prison overcrowding, prison violence and recidivism. Webb, who favors an end to federal mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes, supports alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders. Perhaps reviewing slave labor practices within the prison system might lead to more aggressive overhaul.