Prison-Industrial Complex in the United States

Response to Glenn Loury’s “A Nation of Jailers” and Michelle Alexander’s “How the War on Drugs Gave Birth to a Permanent American Underclass”

The mainstream media’s presentation of social realities within the United States had always been contested by a minority of writers, who have endeavored to offer an alternative point of view. Glenn Loury and Michelle Alexander certainly belong to this latter category. Alexander’s article makes it clear that despite all the political rhetoric about America being a “colorblind” nation – a place which has eradicated racial prejudice and injustice – the evidence points otherwise. According to the author, the classic case of the so-called War on Drugs program, first initiated by President Ronald Reagan and continued by subsequent Presidents, is essentially a War on Poor Blacks. This proposition is backed up by statistics pertaining to the judiciary and prison system, which show that there are disproportionately high number of African Americans being incarcerated, convicted and locked up in prisons than any other ethnic/racial group. The drug control policies of the last thirty years have been written in such a way that local police departments get rewarded for the number of arrests they make as opposed to the ability to bring down drug abuse. The funding structure and legislation are also designed toward this end. I personally agree with Michelle Alexander’s view that the country is still a long way from emancipating its racial minorities as long as discriminatory legislation continue to exist. Exclusive and one-off events like the election of Barack Obama to the White House does not compensate for a well-entrenched system of racial injustice.

Glenn Loury’s article too deals with the same theme, both elaborating and analyzing injustices perpetrated by the judiciary and the prison system. Loury perceives systematic racial injustice and discrimination as something beyond War on Drugs and extending to all aspects of American society. He also peruses sociological theories on multi-racial societies in supporting his thesis. I quite agree with Loury’s contention that the United States has become a Nation of Jailers, for when compared to other advanced industrial nations, ours ranks lowest in terms of prosecution, conviction and lock-up rates. And the correlation between convicts and their low socio-economic background raises disturbing questions about the validity of the set of principles upon which our nation is founded. Alongside well-documented facts about disproportionate imprisonment of blacks, in recent years Hispanic Americans have also suffered this fate.

As I read through the article, I realized how distant is the actual situation of disadvantaged communities when compared to their portrayal in mainstream news outlets. I felt both enlightened and shocked with the harsh revelations made by the author from statistical evidence. After reading the two articles, I came away with a feeling of being awakened to the atrocities and injustices that are part of my society. While erstwhile I took pride in our nation’s achievements and its economic progress, now I am more skeptical of such sentiments. The articles have made me conscious of my own responsibilities as a citizen to remedy the situation. And while the task of radically transforming our institutions and practices is a daunting task, beyond one person’s will, I am also optimistic that things will gradually change for the better. The very fact that the radical views of Glenn Loury and Michelle Alexander are freely accessible to the general public is a sign of progress and optimism.