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Warehousing the Unemployed
Neoconservative Prison Policy
No Second Chance
Dismantling the Prisonhouse

Prisonhouse of Nations--
How the Neoconservatives Made the USA the Biggest Jailer in History
and What Can Be Done About It


Richard D. Vogel

Copyright © 2012 by Richard D. Vogel
at http://combatingglobalization.com

Permission to copy granted.


Prisonhouse of Nations recounts how neoconservatives, in pursuit of their political agenda, made the USA the biggest jailer in the world and examines the social consequences of mass incarceration.  It is the tale of a juggernaut that continues to ruin the lives of millions of individuals and countless families and undermine the most vulnerable communities in America.  The article also identifies specific objectives for dismantling the system.

Introduction to the Prisonhouse

How did the United States, the first nation in history founded on the principle of liberty and justice for all citizens, become the Prisonhouse of Nations?  That America deserves the label is beyond doubt--the facts are known to the entire world.

Chart 1

Chart 1 is based on the findings reported in the latest edition of the World Prison Population List published by the International Centre for Prison Studies at King's College, London.  Imprisonment rates are reported as the number of prisoners per 100,000 general population to allow for comparisons between jurisdictions and across time.  The list, which is compiled from the official reports published by each nation, reveals that the USA is, by far, the biggest jailer in the world at 756 per 100,000--eight times the average for western Europe (95 per 100,000) and over five times the world average (145 per 100,000).  The fact that the United States is rivaled only by Russia, a country that has experienced widespread economic and social turmoil since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, is a discredit to justice in America.
The total number of people incarcerated in the US is almost 2.3 million with 1 in 100 i residents behind bars.  While one in 30 men between the ages of 20 and 34 is incarcerated, a substantial ratio, the imprisonment rate in the most at-risk communities in the nation is staggering--for Black men in that age group the number is one in nine.  For Black women in their 30s, the incarceration rate has reached the 1-in-100 mark, the highest rate for women in the world.  These rates of incarceration are not even remotely approached in the most strife torn countries around the globe.

Identifying when the USA became the Prisonhouse of Nations is the first step in understanding why and how it happened and what can be done about it.


Chart 2, which presents the trend of incarceration in modern America, reveals when the Prisonhouse was founded.

Chart 2

In chart 2, as in chart 1, incarceration rates are presented as the number of prisoners per 100,000 population, this time to establish the trend of imprisonment in the US from 1925 through 2009 (the latest year for which verified data is available).  The chart shows two clearly distinct periods--the first, from 1925 through 1979, was a time when incarceration rates in the US were directly related to unemployment and fluctuated around an average of 112 per 100,000.  This early period shows a notable peak in incarceration in the years of the Great Depression

During the second period, the era of neoconservative prison policy which began in 1980, incarceration rates literally skyrocketed until 1999 when they slowed down slightly.  The trend finally peaked in 2007 at 506 per 100,000 ii.  This all-time high of imprisonment rates was over 4.5 times the average rate of the preceding period.  This era of mass incarceration continues unabated to the present day.

Why and How

The key to understanding why and how the USA became the Prisonhouse of Nations lies in recognizing the difference between the manifest versus the latent functions of social institutions.  Manifest functions are the anticipated and intended consequences of social institutions, while latent functions are unintended and unrecognized consequences.  Latent functions are often the result of hidden political agendas--as in the case of incarceration in the United States.

Anyone who has attended school knows the difference.  The manifest functions of most schools include the teaching of basic academic skills and the development of advanced critical thinking.  The primary latent function of schools is the socialization of children and young adults, a process by which they learn and internalize the attitudes, values, beliefs and norms of the dominant culture.  Anyone who has attended school also knows that the manifest and latent functions of the institution often contradict each other.

While the manifest functions of the United States prison system have always been to punish (and, occasionally, rehabilitate) convicted criminal offenders and protect society, the following analysis highlights the profound change in the latent function that took place 30 years ago.  For most of the 20th century the primary latent function of the system was to warehouse the members of the working class who resorted to crime in economic hard times. 

The following analysis shows how the prison initiative launched by the Republican Party toward the end of the 20th century changed the latent function of American prisons.  For the past three decades the system has increasingly become a permanent warehouse for a large sector of the American working class that has been rendered economically redundant in the increasingly neoliberal economy.  Evidence indicates that this latent function currently overshadows the manifest function of prisons to punish and protect.

A short review of imprisonment in the US during the early and mid-20th century exposes the foundation upon which the Prisonhouse was built.

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From the Great Depression through the 1970s--Warehousing the Unemployed

American prisons were periodically rebranded during the 20th century.  They were originally called penitentiaries where convicts were supposed to redeem themselves through hard work and repentance for their crimes against society.  During the period of prison reform at mid-century, prisons were relabeled as Departments of Correction in which some efforts were made to rehabilitate inmates.  Currently most state prison systems are officially designated as Departments of Criminal Justice, a label that obscures the latent function of the Prisonhouse.  Throughout the 20th century, despite the changing labels, the manifest function of US prisons to punish and protect remained the same.

Looking at the latent function of the American prison system during the 1920s-1970s facilitates a deeper understanding of the institution.  Chart 3 illustrates the main latent function of that period.

Chart 3

Chart 3 offers a detailed look at the primary latent function of the US prison system from the mid-1920s through the 1970s--warehousing the unemployed.  In chart 3, the unemployment trend represents the average percent of the national labor force that was unemployed during each year, and the incarceration trend reports the rate of incarceration for the year.
The close relationship between unemployment and incarceration in the US throughout this period is remarkable--year by year, the prison population in the US increased or decreased in response to the level of unemployment in the nation.  The highest unemployment rate occurred during the Great Depression (24.9% in 1934) and the lowest rate occurred during the economic mobilization and resulting manpower shortage in the nation during World War II (1.2% in 1944).  The high incarceration rate of the Great Depression (137.1 per 100,000 in 1939) was not surpassed until 1980, when the policy of mass incarceration was initiated.  The latent function of the US prison system during this period remains generally unacknowledged because of the political implications. iii

The latent function of the Prisonhouse built by neoconservative politicians goes far beyond the economic function of the US prison system throughout the early and mid-20th century.

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Neoconservative Prison Policy--Warehousing the Redundant Population

The Prisonhouse of Nations was built on US prison policy initiated by Republican politicians in the 1980s.  Mass incarceration was a social policy developed in response to the increasing crime rates and social unrest being created by the growing numbers of Americans who were being rendered redundant by the widespread offshoring of jobs from the United States to cheaper labor markets around the world.  The fact that the beginning of neoconservative prison policy corresponded to the normalization of trade relations with communist China in 1979 was no coincidence.

Free trade always creates clear winners and losers.  In the case of free trade with China, the winners were the US investors who reaped unprecedented profits from direct investment in China and capitalists who made super-profits from importing goods produced under near-slavery conditions in China.  The losers were domestic entrepreneurs and labor.  The Republican prison policy of mass incarceration was a reaction to the widespread displacement of American workers and the disintegration of working-class communities in the once-booming industrial centers of the United States.

Since being unemployed, poor, homeless, or hanging out on the streets, are not crimes in America, the criminalization of some widespread activity was necessary to justify mass incarceration.  The War on Drugs provided the means.

The War on Drugs

The War on Drugs is the perfect tool for facilitating mass incarceration.  Federal and state laws make it a crime to possess or sell controlled substances such as marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine, crack cocaine, LSD, "club drugs", and heroin.  These laws also criminalize the possession of certain accessories related to drug use.  Possession of small quantities of illicit drugs can result in an arrest for "simple" possession, while possession of larger amounts may result in a charge of "possession with intent to distribute", or drug trafficking.  Since drug use is widespread in the US, criminalizing it provides virtually unlimited opportunities for arrest and prosecution.

That is exactly what happened.

Chart 4

Chart 4 tracks the trends of drug arrests and incarceration rates in the US for the last three decades.  Both trends skyrocketed from relatively low levels at the beginning of the 1980s to the unprecedented heights of today.  The spike in 1989 represents the pinnacle of arrests for heroin and cocaine possession.  Since then marijuana possession has increasingly become the target of law enforcement.  During the escalation of the War on Drugs, drug arrests increased over 200% while incarceration rates multiplied over 250%. 

Chart 4 clearly shows how drug law enforcement has provided the convictions necessary to sustain mass incarceration.  The War on Drugs, consolidated under the Republican court and prison reforms of the 1990s, provided the foundation upon which the Prisonhouse of Nations was established and is maintained.

Republican Court and Prison Reforms

Being Tough on Crime and supporting the War on Drugs were mainstream political themes in the 1980s and 1990s.  As a sign of the times, Arkansas Governor and Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton flew home In the middle of his 1992 campaign to preside over the execution of Rickey Ray Rector, a brain-damaged convict, in order to demonstrate that he was as tough on crime as any Republican.  During Clinton's first term of office, the Republican Party, which dominated the US Congress, sought to consolidate its strategy of mass incarceration through federal legislation outlined in the Taking Back Our Streets Act.

The Taking Back Our Streets Act--Fortifying the Prisonhouse

The Taking Back Our Streets Act (TBOS) was one of the reforms proposed in the Republican Contract with America which was presented to the public in 1994.  Although the TBOS Act was never enacted into law, it served as a model for much subsequent federal and state legislation that established mass incarceration as the prison policy of the USA.   A close examination of the specific provisions of the TBOS Act reveals how the Republican Party used a federal legislative initiative to fortify the Prisonhouse of Nations.

Table 1 offers an overview of the key provisions of the TBOS Act and the reactionary objective of each one.

Table 1

A closer examination of the individual provisions of the TBOS Act reveals how the interlocking objectives of the bill fortified the Prisonhouse of Nations.

Death Penalty Provisions (Title I)

Capital punishment is a core value of neoconservatism.  The objective of Title I of TBOS was to speed up executions by restricting the constitutional right of habeas corpus (the "Great Writ") for condemned prisoners.  Title I also provided special funds for states to prosecute capital cases and introduced new court rules and procedures to insure that juries would be instructed to impose the death penalty in as many cases as possible.

Some background is necessary to understand the implications of Title I.  In the wake of a successful challenge to the death penalty that resulted in a legal moratorium on executions in 1968, a coalition of conservatives from the South and California launched a legal initiative to restore the practice.  In 1976, the US Supreme Court, with a new majority of conservative judges, accepted minor statutory revisions of existing capital punishment laws and reinstated the death penalty.

Chart 5 illustrates the resulting surge in the death row population in the United States throughout the 1980s and 1990s that was targeted in Title I of the TBOS Act.

Chart 5

The objective of Title I was fulfilled within a year.  The execution of inmates in the growing death penalty population in the US was speeded up by the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1995 which streamlined the execution process.  Executions peaked in 1999. iv
While Title I clearly demonstrates the reactionary political agenda behind TBOS, it is Title II that broadened the scope of the Republican court and prison initiative and contributed the most to the trend of mass incarceration in America.

Mandatory Minimum Sentencing for Drug Crimes (Title II)

Title II escalated the War on Drugs that had been launched in the 1980s.  This provision of TBOS sought to establish a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years for state or federal drug or violent crimes.  Penalties were to increase to 20 years for a second conviction and life in prison for a third.  Title II was introduced as model legislation that states were urged to follow.  This provision was ultimately adopted in various state and federal "three strikes and you're out" laws.  These laws continue to maintain the inflated prison population of the US.
Title II ultimately allowed many essentially victimless drug offenses, specifically simple possession, to be treated the same as violent crimes.  The intent of including these additional offenses was to expand the War on Drugs to incarcerate the maximum number of offenders for as long as possible.  The strategy worked better than had been anticipated.  Currently drug offenses account for over 80% of all arrests and 34% of all felony convictions in state courts.

The key provisions of Title II were enacted into law in The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994.  The War on Drugs continues to populate the Prisonhouse of Nations.

TBOS also imposed severe economic sanctions on convicted offenders in Title III.

Mandatory Victim Restitution (Title III)

Title III mandated that criminals pay full restitution for damages caused as a result of a crime they committed.  Failure to pay resulted in revocation of probation, parole or any other form of conditional release.  The federal government and one third of the states have adopted this provision with predictable results.  Because of prevailing chronic unemployment, underemployment, and poverty, failure to pay restitution contributes to the high incarceration rates for offenders from at-risk communities.

TBOS also addressed the question of how to pay the bill for the War on Drugs.
Law Enforcement Block Grants (Title IV)

In order for the War on Drugs to be an effective tool for the Republican court and prison initiative, local law enforcement agencies in large metropolitan areas had to be enlisted in the campaign.  Title IV of TBOS provided block grants of federal money to pay the bills.

Title IV called for the repeal of funding for drug courts, recreational, community justice, and other crime prevention programs that had been allocated under the earlier Omnibus Crime Control Act of 1994 in order to increase funding for reactive law enforcement activities.  The fact that most of the crime prevention programs previously funded through the Omnibus Crime bill were designated for American inner-cities clearly indicates that the urban poor and minorities were the primary targets of Title IV.

The Local Law Enforcement Block Grant Act of 1995 eventually supplied the federal funds called for in Title IV.  The enactment of this provision of TBOS facilitated shifting the focus of law enforcement in the US from preventative to reactive, and along with the combined impact of Titles I, II, and III, produced a growing prisoner population that had to be fed, housed, and provided with minimal health care.
Title V of TBOS was intended to address the growing costs of mass incarceration.

Grants for Prison Construction Based on Truth-in-Sentencing (Title V)

The Truth-in-Sentencing legislation promoted in Title V requires both violent and drug offenders (see Title II) to serve at least 85% of the sentence imposed by the court.  This provision of the bill was designed to encourage states to increase their incarceration rates by reducing parole.  Since the vast majority of prisoners in the United States are incarcerated in state institutions, Title V was intended to defray the increased costs of neoconservative prison policy to the states.  The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 became the primary source of the funds that helped finance the construction of the Prisonhouse of Nations.

Title VI of the TBOS Act was intended to facilitate mass incarceration by expanding the power of police on the streets.

Reform of the Exclusionary Rule (Title VI)

Reform of the exclusionary rule was the most controversial provision of TBOS because it would have violated the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution.  The Supreme Court enforces the Fourth Amendment (protection against unreasonable searches and seizures) through the exclusionary rule.  This rule holds that any evidence discovered as a result of improper police conduct is not admissible in court.  The rule is enforced through the issuing of search warrants based on probable cause that authorize law-enforcement officers to search for and seize evidence at a specific location.

Title VI sought to amend the rule to allow evidence obtained during a search or seizure "regardless of whether a search warrant had been granted."  Republican lawmakers saw this reform as essential to conducting the War on Drugs effectively by allowing police to execute dragnets and make blanket arrests in target communities.

Ultimately denied this gross infringement of the Bill of Rights, federal, state, and local police forces have learned to subvert the exclusionary rule by corrupting the search warrant process through the extensive use of threats and paid informants.

Title VII of TBOS, which ultimately did become law, allowed the neocon agenda to extend its reach inside the walls of the Prisonhouse.

Prisoner Lawsuits (Title VII)

Title VII, like Titles IV and V, focused on the economic costs of mass incarceration.  Some background in constitutional law is needed to understand the implications of Title VII.

The Eighth Amendment of the US Constitution, which forbids "cruel and unusual punishment", governs the living conditions of prisoners, and, consequently, the costs of incarceration.  The Supreme Court has ruled that prison conditions that are "unquestioned and serious deprivations of basic human needs" violate the Eighth Amendment and has specified those needs as: food, clothing, shelter, medical care, reasonable safety, warmth, and exercise.  Because of these legal mandates, meeting even the minimal necessities of America's massive prison population is expensive.

The neoconservative lawmakers who formulated the strategy behind TBOS recognized that prison conditions in the US are established and maintained primarily through prisoner initiated litigation.  Anticipating the rising costs of mass incarceration, the authors of TBOS offered Title VII.  The sponsors of the bill argued openly "that states are forced to spend millions of dollars defending prisoner lawsuits to improve prison conditions--many of which are frivolous." 

Title VII directed federal courts to dismiss any "frivolous or malicious action" brought by prisoners against jails, prisons or other correctional facilities and allowed federal judges to determine the merit of prisoner complaints.  It also required that payment of legal filing fees be shifted to prisoners.

The objective of Title VII was to restrict prisoners' rights to seek legitimate redress of grievances under the Eight Amendment.  This goal was realized in The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996 which was also instrumental in closing prison law libraries.

One need only glance back at charts 1 and 2 to realize the impact of the Republican court and prison agenda outlined in the TBOS Act--the social policy of mass incarceration has established the USA as the uncontested Prisonhouse of Nations.  While the statistics in the charts are dramatic, they do not reveal the ruinous consequences of mass incarceration for individuals, their families, and their communities across the United States.

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No Second Chance--The Collateral Consequences of Mass Incarceration

That incarceration in America ruins more lives than it reforms is a well known, but officially unacknowledged, truth about the US criminal justice system.  Even for inmates who survive the physical and psychological trauma of imprisonment, the collateral consequences of incarceration are in many cases insurmountable:

  • Employment opportunities for ex-prisoners are extremely limited.  Most states allow employers to deny jobs to anyone with a criminal record.
  • Drug offenders are barred from obtaining federal housing assistance.  In many states, they are ineligible for food stamps or welfare benefits.  Lacking basic income supports and with serious obstacles to employment, many former inmates find themselves without any legal means of obtaining the basic necessities of life. 
  • Educational opportunities for former prisoners are also extremely limited.  The cost of education has skyrocketed in recent years and the federal Higher Education Act of 1998 makes students convicted of drug-related offenses ineligible for any grant, loan, or work-study assistance.

The consequences for the families of ex-prisoners are equally problematic:

  • Family relationships weakened by incarceration are often further stressed by the return of the ex-prisoner and family counseling is frequently unavailable.
  • The families of most offenders are themselves members of at-risk communities and have little aid that they can offer to returning prisoners.  In many cases families simply cannot afford to support unemployed members of the household during their search for jobs or to subsidize their education.

The impact of returning ex-offenders on their communities can be profound:

  • Most inmates discharged from county, state, and federal institutions are returned to the precarious communities where they were arrested and convicted.  These communities typically have high unemployment, high crime rates, poor schools, and minimal social services.  They can be further destabilized by both the removal and return of convicted criminal offenders.
  • In 11 states, criminal offenders convicted of a felony lose their right to vote for life, and in several others the restoration of voting rights depends on lengthy and cumbersome legal processes.  Political disenfranchisement negatively impacts both individuals and their communities.

It is not difficult to understand why more than two-thirds of prisoners released end up back behind bars within three years.  Many of those who remain on the outside find themselves condemned to live on the margins of their communities and the nation at large.
It is clear that one of the major outcomes of current neoconservative prison policy is not just extended incarceration for millions of men and women but no second chance after they have done their time.

Another negative outcome of the Prisonhouse of Nations is a virtual legacy of imprisonment that is ruining the lives of an increasing number of Americans the longer that the Republican prison policy remains in force.

 A Legacy of Imprisonment

The legacy of imprisonment in at-risk communities, first identified by the director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 1999 , has gone unheeded and continues today. 

Chart 6 depicts the growing impact of that legacy.

Chart 6

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) has developed a sophisticated method of estimating the chances of men in the US going to state or federal prison during their lifetime, and the results of their predictions are reported in chart 6.  The chart shows lifetime chances of incarceration, projected from contemporary trends, for males born during specific years (birth cohorts) by race/ethnicity.  Chart 6 indicates that for the cohort born in 2001, the overall rate for all US males will exceed the current rate of Black males (10%) at 11.3%.  These projections must be disaggregated by race/ethnicity in order to understand the devastating impact of mass incarceration on the most vulnerable communities in the nation.

The projected rate for white males in the 2001 birth cohort is a moderate 5.9% compared to a disproportionate 17.2% for Hispanic males.  The most troubling projection by the DOJ is the 32.2% chance of Black males in the same cohort of going to prison.

The fact that nearly 1 in 6 Hispanic males and 1 in 3 Black males who are school age right now will end up in prison during their lifetime is one of the most ominous forecasts of our times.  While the conservative forces in the US continue to promote mass incarceration as acceptable public policy, the sacrifice of the lives and futures of significant numbers of men and women is unjustifiable by any measure.

So is the fact that the Prisonhouse is being used extensively to warehouse the mentally ill in America.

The Prisonhouse as Mental Hospital--Warehousing the Mentally Ill

No discussion of incarceration in the US today is complete without acknowledging that the Prisonhouse has also become a mental hospital for at-risk communities.

An integral part of the Republican political agenda for America at the end of the 20th century was to reduce taxes by eliminating most public social services available to Americans. v  State mental hospitals were among the first of the social services to go.  As a result of budgetary cutbacks, large numbers of mentally ill persons do not receive treatment or care and some become homeless.  It is inevitable that many of these unfortunates run afoul of the law and end up behind bars.

The scope of the problem is startling--the US Department of Justice reported that in 2005 more than half of all prison and jail inmates had a mental health problem, including 705,600 inmates in state prisons, 78,800 in federal prisons and 479,900 in local jails (over 1.26 million total).  These estimates represented 56% of state prisoners, 45% of federal prisoners, and 64% of jail inmates.  The figures for female inmates are even worse: 73% of the women in state prisons and 75% in local jails were reported as mentally ill.  According to current estimates, there are three times as many mentally ill people in prison than are in mental hospitals across the nation. 

The warehousing of the mentally ill in the Prisonhouse compounds the inherent problems of mass incarceration, undermining normal prison operations while failing to provide adequate care for mentally ill inmates.  Many of the mentally ill end up back in prison multiple times.  According to the 2006 study linked above, nearly a quarter of both state prisoners and jail inmates who had a mental health problem had served 3 or more prior incarcerations.

The Prisonhouse as mental hospital highlights the interlocking consequences of neoconservative social policy.  Clearly, one of the major tasks of civic revolution in 21st century America is the dismantling of the Prisonhouse of Nations.

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Dismantling the Prisonhouse

The neoconservative policy of mass incarceration has been endorsed by both the Republican and Democratic parties and the Prisonhouse of Nations has become an established institution in America that can only be dismantled by dedicated political action.  There are five critical objectives to guide that action:
Abolish Capital Punishment

The death penalty in the modern world is a political act of reactionary government--the countries with the highest rates of executions are: (in order of the number of executions) China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the United States.  The commitment of American neoconservatives to state killing is self-evident in their successful campaign to restore capital punishment in 1976, the inclusion of it as the first provision of the TBOS Act, and the passage and use of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act in 1995.

That the death penalty was restored and imposed upon the American people by a minority of conservatives politicians is a discredit to the nation that can only be resolved through the abolition of capital punishment.

Capital punishment is a key element of reactionary court and prison policy--striking it down will be a clear repudiation of the Prisonhouse of Nations.

End the War on Drugs

The War on Drugs that began in the 1980s, reinforced by federal and state legislation during the 1990s, is the backbone of current neoconservative prison policy.

Aggressive law enforcement and adjudication practices, mandatory minimum sentencing, and mandatory life imprisonment ("three strike and you're out") give conservatives the tools they need to maintain a policy of mass incarceration.  The laws that provide these tools must be amended or repealed.

Ending the War on Drugs will cut off the steady stream of Americans that keeps the Prisonhouse of Nations occupied.

Refocus Law Enforcement in the United States

Under the banners of Law and Order and the War on Drugs, neoconservative politicians converted many law enforcement agencies in the US into paramilitary units.  Under Republican fiscal control, federal funds initially allocated for drug courts, recreational and community programs, and crime prevention initiatives were redirected to support reactionary police operations.  Federal funding should one again be dedicated to proven proactive police practices.

The law enforcement mission to protect and serve all citizens must be established and observed throughout the USA.

Restore Due Process for Prisoners

Federal legislation to restrict the due process of prisoners was aimed at reducing the costs of incarceration at the expense of the health and welfare of inmates.  Restoring it will help ensure adequate prison conditions and protect the civil rights of those behind bars.

Downsize the US Prison System

Downsizing the US prison system is the ultimate objective of dismantling the Prisonhouse of Nations.  While incarceration in the United States will never be eliminated, it can be dramatically reduced by discontinuing the latent function of Republican court and prison policy and focusing on legitimate criminal justice operations.

Any strategy to reduce the prison population in the United States will have to extend beyond the prison walls.  In the same way that the Taking Back Our Streets Act was one element in the neoconservative political agenda for the nation that was set forth in the Republican Contract with America, progressive prison reform will have to be an integral part of the broader Civic Revolution of the 21st century.

Economically, the USA can no longer afford to be the Prisonhouse of Nations--the vast resources wasted on the operation and maintenance of the prison system can be invested in public education and other badly needed social services.
Politically, the USA can no longer afford to be the Prisonhouse of Nations--it is time to firmly establish America as a nation dedicated to the principle of liberty and justice for all.

Dismantling the Prisonhouse of Nations does not mean returning to the 20th century prison policy of warehousing the unemployed.  Neoconservative prison policy must be replaced by an informed criminal justice system that protects citizens and punishes criminal offenders while providing them with an opportunity for rehabilitation and reentry into the mainstream of American life.

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iOne in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008 is the title of an excellent in-depth analysis of the prison problem published by the Pew Center on the States.

iiThe reason that the US incarceration rates in chart 2 are much lower than the imprisonment rates reported in chart 1 is that they do not include the huge number of inmates locked up in county and local jails across the nation.

iiiThe political implications of the latent function of the US prison system during this period came to light in the three outbreaks of prison riots that took place during this time.  See The Politics of Imprisonment in Capitalism and Incarceration Revisited.

ivFor an in-depth analysis of the decline in the use of capital punishment in recent years, see The Demise of the Death Penalty in the USA: The Politics of Capital Punishment and the Question of Innocence.

vThe Republican strategy for eliminating social services was also presented in the Republican Contract with America.  See especially the stated goals of The Personal Responsibility Act.