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Imprisoned America

A Country should be judged not by how it treats its outstanding citizens but by how it treats its criminals – Fyodor Dostoevsky


Even a brief survey of America’s criminal justice and carceral system makes it clear our country would be judged harshly by such a standard. While there are certainly more barbaric prison systems in the world, none are so industrialized, corporatized, and commercialized. Prisons, and the people they house, are treated as just another market to be grown, a “product” to monetize. Such a vulnerable and isolated population, with few public advocates or even public access are easily exploited and abused in pursuit of higher profits. 


We’ve discussed multiple times how Americans overwhelmingly agree we need criminal justice reform, and unlike during the 1980s or '90s voters don't believe that harsher punishments lead to better public safety, and generally express no desire to return to harsh “tough on crime” tactics.

81% of Voters support allowing people in prison to earn time off their sentence by taking steps towards rehabilitation; 

76% support creating a process for judges or prosecutors to review and possibly resentence on a case-by-case basis after a person has served at least 15 years in prison;

75% support ending the practice of keeping people in jail before trial if they've been charged with a non-violent defense; 

72% support eliminating the sentencing disparity between drug offenses involving crack cocaine and powder cocaine;

71% support opportunities for people in person to be served for release by parole board; 

69% support eliminating mandatory minimums and other sentencing laws that require long prison sentences. 


This is in spite of consistent national media coverage about rising crime rates. Such coverage distorts Americans' perceptions around crime at large: 72% of respondents report feeling safe in their communities and only 31% believe that crime is rising locally, however 71% of respondents believe crime is rising nationally, a chilling reminder of the power of propaganda to shape narratives.


The internal workings of the carceral state are often unavailable to a concerned populace, however, as there is little oversight or news coverage of prisons in mainstream media. Yet the small pieces of information that do filter out frequently contain horrifying misconduct and exploitation of prisoners. In the first of its kind poll, 82% of those asked responded that they believe the “states and the federal government should have a system of independent oversight for their prisons.” A staggering 91% of respondents believed it was very important for oversight bodies to be fully staffed and have the authority to investigate complaints from prison staff and from prisoners while having full access to the prison system’s facilities and documents. In the fight for a more just prison system, an overwhelming majority of Americans understand that knowing what’s happening in our prisons is the first true step towards meaningful reform.


As the 2024 election season kicks into gear, politicians would do well to listen to these calls for a more humane criminal justice system: nearly 60% of voters say that they would be more likely to cast a vote for a candidate that supports Criminal Justice Reform in reducing incarceration compared to only 13% who would be less likely to do so. Public sentiment faces stiff competition, however, as both private and public entities profit from exploiting these prisoners and donate handsomely to keep the prisons full and the cameras away. 


To get politicians listening to the people we need to  change the calculus of profit in our prison industrial complex. It will take political reforms like Increased oversight and transparency along with economic power to discipline the prison industrial complex making it unprofitable to imprison so many Americans. We need to organize and build an economic cudgel it can be used against these exploitative and enslaving forces and make sure that America is a country with not just better treated prisoners but far fewer of them. so join us each Tuesday in growing solidarity as we fight for a freer future! Don't shop on Tuesday. 

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