The Biggest Prison System in History

2015 ,    »  -   37 Comments
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Ratings: 8.42/10 from 137 users.
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The Biggest Prison System in History

How did it come to be that America's prison population is the largest in the civilized world, and what hope is there of changing the course of this troubling trend? The aptly titled new documentary The Biggest Prison System in History, produced as part of the provocative The Empire Files series, examines the origins of this epidemic and boldly points fingers at the institutions and power brokers who profit from the incarceration of more than two million American citizens.

"The U.S. has only five percent of the world's population," recites the film's correspondent Abby Martin, "yet a stunning twenty-five percent of its prisoners." With many of America's prisons stretched thin and struggling to operate far beyond capacity, the scourge of mass incarceration propels a series of egregious human rights violations and demeans the country's moral standing in the rest of the world.

The abuses suffered by victims of the United States prison system are myriad, but the motivations behind these atrocities can usually be whittled down to one key factor: money. Even the phones provided for prisoners are devices for generating obscene amounts of profit. According to data presented in the film, America's prisons are now largely equipped with pay phones that charge for every minute of use. The phone coverage provider kicks back a whopping 42% of its revenue to the states, which exceeds a staggering $150 million dollars annually. Corporations work in concert with the prison system, employing inmates for behind-the-scenes production jobs for pennies on the dollar. Prison contracts are awarded to the lowest possible bidders, a phenomenon which severely compromises the quality of everything from food to medications to health care.

The Biggest Prison System in History also explores the roles that poverty and race play in maintaining our status as the world's largest prisoner population, the system's deficiencies in caring for the mentally ill and failure to adequately invest in productive rehabilitation services. This hard-hitting and unflinching film provides valuable insights into a system that operates largely in shadow from most Americans, and points to a variety of cultural and societal ills that contribute to its continued dominance.

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37 Comments / User Reviews

  1. truth first

    The land of the free and the home of the brave!!

  2. Bilal

    "...roles that poverty and race play..."

    And gender too

    It is well know study that men are 19 times more likely to get longer sentences and death penalties for the same crime committed by women.

  3. Henry Gordon

    The US has a large prison population because a large proportion of its population commit crimes which justify them being taken out of circulation to protect the law-abiding public, in fact many criminals who should be imprisoned are not. The US constitution sets a high standard of individual responsibility for its citizens but a large number of them fail to live up to that standard. They think that having failed to provide for themselves and their families by legitimate means such as hard work they think they have the right to make a living from crime.

  4. Pace

    A huge problem with society today is a lack of education on real social issues. Instead of critically thinking and taking any time to fully understand, people tend to regurgitate what they hear on mainstream media in a vain attempt to sound half intelligent thus inflating their own ego. We see this every single day online with internet trolls, who in every instance possible attempt to draw attention away from real issues and towards themselves.

    The more we ignore the child like tantrums of these individuals the more we can focus on keeping the real problems in our field of view.

    Profiting from the industrialization of human incarceration is in every sense a conflict of interest, and a crime against humanity. Only when we start to take responsibility as a unified society can we begin to build social equality.

  5. Geraldo

    If this documentary was about the innocent people that had their lives ripped away by those inmates, people would be demanding more severity for them. Therefore, everything is about perspective.

  6. kadijak

    It's pretty simple America. Don't have guns for starters & go to work and suck it up like the rest of us do without taking from others through violence and or theft and expecting the rest of us to pay for your lifestyle.

  7. Dana

    I agree with Kadijak - no guns for a starter - then humane treatment & look at other countries that treat inmates with humanity - after all inmates are human beings. There are better answers than what we are doing.

  8. blaice

    @Geraldo "If this documentary was about the innocent people that had their lives ripped away by those inmates, people would be demanding more severity for them. Therefore, everything is about perspective."

    Either you are very..... Well slow, or didn't watch the video. She said more than half of the prisoners are there FOR NONVIOLENT CRIMES, therefore, what victim? Please do explain?

  9. Sarah Variants Barry

    I agree with Pace. Read his/her comment again.

  10. Ivar Nielsen

    The land of freedom is jailed . . .

  11. Reese

    End the failed war on drugs. Re-train our uneducated police force. Focus on treatment instead of punishment. End civil asset forfeiture, for profit policing and privately owned prisons. People become a commodity to be bought and sold in the private prison system. Prisons were built to capitalize on the poor.

  12. Trivell Monroe

    We need to find another form of action for we are playing right in the people who are in the genocide department by placing non violent people( criminal) in the prisons where they will be easy pickings. Only if they should get the death penality should anyone be in prison. We must find why they committed the non violent crime then insist them in there social or financial problems along with some community service in a career or job setting or social experience that particular offender may need to fit back in society. We must help not cage in. Now for you murderers and rapers its cage time. They should be genocided not poor whites and melanated people of color. It is a shame. George Washington and the Morrocan emperor who came up with a peace treaty for all of us to live together as one America or Amexim under two constitutions one for each party the zodiac and the united states with two flags one red and the other with blue red and white are probably rolling in there graves of confusion

  13. Lauren

    If I wanted to hear a commentary of audio , I'd listen to the radio.

  14. Francois

    We're number one, we're number one. USA USA!! Number one at what exactly? The American wild west police state is an embarrassment. My god. Innocent people killed by the State? How can that be tolerated for one day. Imagine yourself being taken to your execution when you know you are innocent. Imagine the horror you would feel. Life sentence for three minor crimes. What the hell is the US thinking?

  15. Justin

    Extremely biased and fear mongering on the liberal side of the spectrum. Not worth watching unless you enjoy hearing about conspiracy theories with no backing whatsoever. I find it hard to believe that anybody with their head screwed on properly can take what's being said here seriously. Unless you believe that every cop, prison worker, judge, politician, and successful entrepreneur are all in cahoots and coordinating a secret racist scheme to enslave the rest of society there's no way the 'conspiracy' this documentary is attempting to uncover can be real. It really is sad that many people lack critical thinking skills and so they'll watch this and take it as matter of fact. Just another reason why society is getting dumber by the day...

  16. Russ

    "Corporations work in concert with the prison system, employing inmates for behind-the-scenes production jobs for pennies on the dollar. Prison contracts are awarded to the lowest possible bidders, a phenomenon which severely compromises the quality of everything from food to medications to health care."
    That is the Work / Concentration Camp ethic exactly. And just what Hitler and Stalin employed..... America has a Fascist System of Government.
    "Fascism should be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power."
    - Benito Mussolini

  17. Brenda George

    Unless we begin to treat our fellow man with dignity and respect, no matter their station in life, there is no hope for mankind. Where is the humanity? The compassion? Who is worse? the prisoners or the brutal guards, who freely torture helpless inmates in their care. Abu Graib. What does that say about America as a nation?

    This is a quote by one of the greatest men to walk the earth: Nelson Mandela
    'It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.'

    A brave documentary, which has failed to evoke the tiniest bit of compassion and pity for prisoners in some of the above people! That is so sad. I feel sorry for them.

    'It is said
    I am an author who has made a study of American prisons for twenty-five years! Things are even worse than I thought.

  18. eddy

    @Francois
    While I dont agree with the 3 strikes law.. you seem to have no understanding of what it is.. one does not get a "strike" for a minor crime, but for severe, felony convictions, most often crimes involving guns and/or violence. The 3rd strike (after 2 felony strike convictions) can be for something as minor as shoplifting (while on parole/probation). There are huge problems in America's justice/prison system, but for the most part - those that find themselves behind bars, are there for committing serious crimes.

  19. eddy

    @Brenda George
    Accusing those of us who are critical of this 'doc with having no compassion.. that you "feel sorry" for us - that seems like a rush to judgement. Im sure most of us can feel compassion for even the most violent evil-doers in a certain context (like childhood trauma/abuse suffered by
    many offenders) -but that compassion does not keep society safe. If you have studied US prisons enough to have authored books on them, you should be aware that there are some scary people who have perpetrated some pretty horrible acts to get what they wanted with no compassion whatsoever for their victims.. Since you are the authority on compassion and prison perhaps you have better ideas on how to deal with these problems that you are keeping a secret?

  20. eddy

    Ofcourse there are problems with most everything in our society, especially with a microscope and tunnel vision. From coal to prison. Its so easy to make powerful statements based on emotion and compassion .. sounds really good, but offers nothing more than "hot air"..it's what makes holier than thou "Liberals" so frustrating to critical thinkers.

  21. eddy

    * you hate coal - but, have no problem hitting the light switch at night. putting a human in a cage is so cruel - but, the guy robbing me at gunpoint won't just take a hug instead.

  22. eddy

    @blaice
    Someone stealing everything of value from your home while you're at work earning a living is a non-violent crime. But, is there no victim? Now tell me blaice, who is ...Well, slow?

  23. eddy

    @Sarah Variants Barry... good advice !
    @Pace.. well said. I fully agree.

  24. Sytonic

    I don't understand why recidivism wasn't covered in the data the Doc had? Data in Australia for 2011 shows that about 60% of the prison population have a previous custodial sentence. With figures like this you have to question prison being a deterrent to crime? Maybe there is some other significant factor causing the crime. Some indicators were illustrated in this Doc by the mental health statistics of the prison population.

    And don't forget that nearly all people who go to prison get released, released from a system that doesn't seem to stop them from committing another crime - in fact they just seem to get worse, prison seems to be a criminal activity producing factory. Is this what we want, a never ending stream of repeating offenders coming out of the prison system? The street I want to walk down has people who aren't going to commit a crime and if they are capable of making a choice towards criminal activity, they've been helped or are being helped to stop this and make better decisions.

    These are people who, in a terrible (and sad) way, are putting their hand up... they're saying - I can make bad decisions, poor choices, I have mental health issues, anger problems, a drug/alcohol habit, an abused childhood, can't get a job, got involved in a gang... when they come out of prison I'd prefer it that their tendency to commit a crime has been reduced... I can't help but think that putting a prisoner in an overcrowded, violent (staff included it seems), 24/7, crazy, dysfunctional, poorly medicated and poor dietary serviced system with solitary included is going to help at all, in fact, I hope I'm no where near them when they get out - they've just been put through a man made hell. It's hard to imagine they're going to be a better citizen for it.

  25. Columbus Brutsch

    In 1971, the prison had a riot which resulted in 39 deaths after 10 guards were taken hostage. This brought the installation of a tear gas system for any violence that came in the future. California s only death row for male inmates, the largest in the United States, is located at the prison. It has a gas chamber, but since 1996, executions at the prison have been carried out by lethal injection. It opened in July 1852 and is the oldest prison in the state.

  26. Morgan Dechick

    The jail mostly holds local offenders, those who couldn t post bail, and anyone serving a sentence of one year or less or waiting for a transfer.

  27. eddy

    @Sytonic
    "These are people who, in a terrible (and sad) way, are putting their hand up... they're saying - I can make bad decisions, poor choices, I have mental health issues, anger problems, a drug/alcohol habit, an abused childhood, can't get a job, got involved in a gang... when they come out of prison I'd prefer it that their tendency to commit a crime has been reduced... I can't help but think that putting a prisoner in an overcrowded, violent (staff included it seems), 24/7, crazy, dysfunctional, poorly medicated and poor dietary serviced system with solitary included is going to help at all, in fact, I hope I'm no where near them when they get out - they've just been put through a man made hell. It's hard to imagine they're going to be a better citizen for it."
    -extremely powerful paragraph.

  28. Elijah Lamoore

    In 1971, the prison had a riot which resulted in 39 deaths after 10 guards were taken hostage. This brought the installation of a tear gas system for any violence that came in the future. A medium security prison for males in Atlanta, Georgia, USP it is primarily used as a transfer prison.

  29. Jay

    The biggest point a lot of commenters are missing is the fact that the prisoners are being used to do labour for huge corporations. Gun laws and education are certainly an issue in the US but far from what the big issue is in the prison system, the prisons are being filled for corporate gain!

  30. NatheistJC

    Well, that was depressing...

  31. Barry

    Anyone on the outside can stand back and usually see a little. You have to go to prison to get the full impact of what really goes on. In my case I was involved in a felony which was non violent. I had to stay in jail for 8 months then released on probation for 4 years.

    During this time I looked for work but in the area I lived the only real jobs were in coal mining, most of those were underground and I had no desire to do that type of work. Call it what you want it is the truth.

    I made a mistake again because of the pressure of not working and the probation officer's threats of locking me up because of my not working. I left the state without a transfer because I did not know where I was going, I was young. For 10 years I worked, I did everything the correct way. I got my GED I furthered my education in electricity and electronics. I trained with GE so I would be able to do warranty in home appliance repair, I still do that today (30 years). I married, we had 2 children and I also continued electricity/electronics trainig and have wired many TV news and Police helicopter cameras, I have also wired all 3 rescue helicopters in our county. I wanted to get across to you that I am not a total loser. I did work the way I should, to do it the right way once I got away and out where I could do that. I made a real effort to be sure my decisions after that day were the correct decisions.

    What happened? 10 years later I was pulled over, I have no idea why there was never a ticket issued. And off to prison I went for 4 years. I earned it I know I am not making excuses. What I do want you to see though is a point of view you may not have experienced.

    I lost everything, that is how it went, house, job, wife. So here I go off to prison. I was pitched into a group of people, many of whom were not or never did take or make the opportunity to do things the way they should be done, perfect place for me. I am not saying I did not deserve what I got, but there is a perspective that very many people miss, not because of lack of care nor lack of material read. Simply because there has been no experience lived. I don't know there was a better decision the court could have made, you cannot let me go without letting the next one go without real in depth individual investigation on a per case basis and that just does not happen. You can't just let people go, sooner or later somebody will get hurt. It was nice to read all of your comments.

  32. DG

    One look at the American population and it's no mystery why

  33. twk

    this is because the welfare system in the u.s sucks.

  34. Merino P

    I thank God that I live in Canada looking at this one cannot think that the US is a country to live in, cripes I don't even lock my doors and I live in a big city a very big city Montreal Qc, and I don't have any fear for my life or being robbed you guy's need to get your shit together.

  35. Patrik

    Thank god i don't live in america

  36. Zac Tolan

    Oh God. It hurts to watch. I can understand why people want to turn a blind eye to this stuff or say "Yadda yadda yadda blah blah blah If you weren't a criminal, you wouldn't be in prison der der der."---It's because it hurts like hell to accept this grizzly truth.--this horrible injustice is going on. For those of us who are outside the jails--walk as though you were inside and be sober. I know that God is ALLOWING this stuff to go on. He does not approve of injustice and we will all be rewarded according to our deeds. Life in this WICKED age, before the Kingdom comes is HELL on earth. For you reading this--just make sure you don't do evil and so reap the wrath of God. Make sure you make the grass green in the one square foot you are responsible for and don't turn a blind eye to injustice. If you, oh man, don't speak up when you can deliver the needy, woe to you because one day you will cry for help and get no help.

  37. John B

    Aby is not giving whole story. A lot of information given is true but slightly biased. America now is sick but this is Russian propaganda. Would be nice to see honest unbiased side to side comparison with Russian prisons and political prisoners which extends to their children from 1 years of age towards. In the end you have to chose would you like to be a corporate slave with no rights in America or a slave for oppressive regimes in the gulags of Russia/China/N Korea and others.
    ps: Prisons now are fully privatised and value of its shares depends on number of incarcerated people so it's only gona get worse. The problem is ingrained in almost every part of western society. So much that it has past the line of returning without full scale revolution. Which will probably happen in next 5-10 years.

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