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Going to Jail in America

Howell Hurst Economy & Finance, People, People Politics, Poverty, Prisons & Jails, Racism, Trump


One of every 31 Americans is either in prison, in jail, or under police supervision. One in every 11 Black Americans is in prison, in jail, or under police supervision. America has the largest prison & jail population of any major nation on earth. It is largely a population defined by skin color.

How did this happen? The story is documented by a Harvard history professor, Elizabeth Hinton in her 2016 book, “From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime, The Making of Mass Incarceration in America.”

It appears this phenomenon began about 1965 under the liberal Democratic president, Lyndon Johnson. But it was taken over and expanded by Republicans, who seemed to fancy dealing with poverty-laden, uneducated off-color Americans not by helping them gain education and employment, but by simply jailing them, often for minor crimes.

The result decades later is now a gigantic profit-making industry: the prison business. Business is commonly touted by some as the way government should be run. It was strongly touted as one reason to hire Donald Trump, for instance: our self-proclaimed “Law and Order” president.

I’m reading Hinton’s book for more detail. And will report back about what I learn. From just the first ten pages, it is clear, however, how jailing Black and Brown America has evolved into a major entrepreneurial enterprise: how alleged protectors of the American public are using our tax dollars to make large dollar fortunes, while consolidating the concept that Blacks and Browns are our enemy.

It seems from my initial reading that racism in America is substantially a matter of unwritten, but near-official, police/prison/jail policy at high levels. It is further clear that the widening financial gap between corporate America and the most bottom economic tier of Americans, shares a direct causal responsibility for the burgeoning new profitable business.

A business that is putting uneducated, poverty-laden people in jail and selling the practice as a war on crime, instead of as a crime against uneducated poor whose skin color is not quite the right shade and whose financial condition is practically impossible to overcome in our rapaciously corporatized political environment.

A business that is bankrolling its growing profits with your and my tax dollars. And without much of a peep from any of us who are safely protected by the color of our skin, our education level, our culturally-institutionalized social standing – and official tolerance for many of our own often socially-acceptable crimes.

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