If they were moved all at once, they could almost replace the population
of Jamaica (2.7 million) and they would leave Qatar, Namibia, Macedonia, or Latvia swimming in extra people. I'm talking about the incarcerated in America -- an estimated 2.4 million
people at any moment in "1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 2,259 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,283 local jails, and 79 Indian Country jails as well as in military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, and prisons in the U.S. territories." That's just about one of every 100 Americans, more than 60% of whom are people of color. Add in another almost five million on probation or in some way under the supervision of the criminal justice system and you've reached about seven million, the equivalent of the population of Serbia or Paraguay
. In other words, a reasonably sized nation of prisoners.
Not surprisingly, that's also the largest prison population on Earth. No other country comes close. Put another way, on any day of your choice, the United States, with 5% of the world's population, has close to 25%
of the people imprisoned on this planet. That population, by the way, has risen by 700% since 1970, a tidal movement for incarceration that only in recent years has shown small signs
of finally ebbing. In short, state by state
or as a country, the U.S. leaves the rest of the world in the dust. (USA! USA!)
And that's just to scratch the surface of what, if we were being honest, would have to be called the American Gulag, a vast carceral archipelago that no other country can match and into which millions of human beings are simply deep-sixed. The urge to reform such a system should be applauded, but as with so many "reforms" in our era, the latest "alternative" forms of confinement may, in the end, only be extending and expanding the prison system into other parts of American life. It may, suggests Maya Schenwar, editor-in-chief of Truthout
and author of the new book Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn't Work and How We Can Do Better
, ensure that new concepts of how to lock down America are coming to a neighborhood near you. Tom
Your Home Is Your Prison
How to Lock Down Your Neighborhood, Your Country, and You
By Maya Schenwar
On January 27th, domestic violence survivor Marissa Alexander will walk out of Florida's Duval County jail -- but she won't be free.
Alexander, whose case has gained some notoriety, endured three years of jail time and a year of house arrest while fighting off a prison sentence that would have seen her incarcerated for the rest of her life -- all for firing a warning shot
that injured no one to fend off her abusive husband. Like many black women
before her, Alexander was framed as a perpetrator in a clear case of self-defense. In November, as her trial date drew close, Alexander accepted a plea deal that will likely give her credit for time served, requiring her to spend "just" 65 more days in jail. Media coverage of the development suggested that Alexander would soon have her "freedom," that she would be "coming home."