The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

A Nation of Prisons

Mar 17, 2008

A new study shows that for the first time in history more than one out of every 100 adults in the U.S. is in jail. According to the Pew Center on the States, close to 2,320,000 Americans were in federal, state or local jails at the start of this year.

The U.S. has the highest rate of imprisonment, as well as the largest number of prisoners, of any country in the world. The second highest rate is in Russia. China, with a population more than four times larger than the United States, has only about two-thirds as many people in prison!

The vast majority of U.S. prisoners are working class people, particularly younger men from the poorer layers of the black population. According to the Pew study, one out of every 30 men between 20 and 34 years of age is in prison–a highpercentage. But for black men in this same age group, it is one out of every 9 in prison!

Government officials tell us that this is necessary to stop crime and keep us safe. But in fact, the opposite is true: sending so many to prison breaks up families and increases poverty and hardship–thereby worsening the conditions that cause crime.

Longer and longer sentences have been handed out for non-violent drug-related crimes–mostly drug dealing or drug use. Many also end up in prison even though they did not commit any crime. The use of DNA evidence to free a handful of innocent people from prison shows that in reality there are hundreds of thousands of innocent people behind bars.

This is no accident. U.S. corporate profit has exploded in the last two decades. These profits have been extracted from the working class by pushing down its standard of living. At the same time, U.S. imperialism, the world’s only superpower, has maintained and expanded its military presence all over the world, as well as fighting two wars and occupying two countries. This policy is paid for by slashing vital social programs, from health care to education to maintaining the infrastructure, thus further eroding living standards of the working class and poor.

The capitalist class has bulked up its police force and prison infrastructure in order to intimidate and terrorize the parts of the population hardest hit by these attacks.

Of course, such an explosive social situation could one day begin to challenge and bring down the capitalists and their system.