The Prison-Industrial Complex

The Prison Complex

The Prison Industrial Complex

The Prison-Industrial Complex

Historical Background

President Dwight Eisenhower used his farewell address to warn the nation, as it continued down its ‘Cold War’ with the Soviet Union, that, “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”[1] Eisenhower grew wary of the so called “missile gap” between the United States and the Soviet Union as being used by politicians, the press, and defense contractors all hoping for increased military spending and associate influence in the State. But Eisenhower knew no such “missile gap” existed and was, instead, merely a fabrication of fear surrounding the fragile balance of power between the two superpowers. Yet it was the fear of such a gap that might have led the country to a costly and unnecessary response for military buildup. Plainly, Eisenhower warned, “The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persists. We should take nothing for granted.”[2]

Today, the country is facing a different type of industrial complex that could serve to strangle the efficacy of governance and place undue influence from the private sector on the throws of civil government: the prison industrial complex. The stranglehold of the prison industrial complex comes on the tail end of the war on crime and drugs that first gained steam during the Nixon administration and was carried through and exacerbated by the Reagan, Clinton, and both Bush administrations. The prison industrial complex, simply put, is a “set of bureaucratic, political, and economic interests that encourage increased spending on imprisonment, regardless of the actual need.”[3] The prison industrial complex has manifested itself in the increased influence of the private sector on State directives and governance. Moreover, it is a “confluence of special interests that has given prison construction in the United States a seemingly unstoppable momentum” that combines the influence of politicians struggling to gain votes and throwing themselves under the banner of ‘tough on crime,’ with private companies, government officials, and the American tax payer.[4] What results, is an interconnected web of fear, corruption, and undue private influence.

The Complex Itself

            The numbers behind America’s prison system are harrowing and shocking. Some 1.8 million people lie behind bars in the United States, with approximately 100,000 in federal custody, 1.1 million in state custody, and 600,000 in local jails. It should come as no surprise from these figures, then, that the United States imprisons far more people than any other country in the World, including approximately 500,000 more than the People’s Republic of China. And within the United States, California has by far the largest state prison system.[5] Indeed, California itself not only is, independently, the world’s sixth largest economy it is also is the largest prison system in the Western world. The California prison system holds more inmates than the combined prison populations of France, Great Britain, Germany, Japan, Singapore, and the Netherlands. These populations, both for the entirety of the United States and California, are growing extremely quickly as incarceration continues to grow, forcing the continued opening and enlargement of prisons in the country.

The U.S. Department of Justice, highlights the exponential increase in incarceration over the last 3 decades.[6]

But why has the U.S. prison population increased so rapidly over the last three decades so quickly and so comprehensively? Mar Mauer, author of The Race to Incarcerate, argues that American society has “embarked on a great social experiment. No other society in human history has ever imprisoned so many of its own citizens for the purpose of crime control.”[7] If crime control, then, is the cause of such large increases in incarceration rates, is there some justification for prisons as a more efficacious method of limiting crime? Indeed, the answer to this question is a resounding “no,” with prison sentences doing little to curb the continuation of crime. Instead, in some cases, incarceration rates are actually exacerbating crime rates in the country.

The crackdowns on crime and drugs that began with the Nixon administration in the 1970s caused incarceration rates to climb, nearly doubling in the 1980s and then, again, in the 1990s. The current incarceration rate stands at roughly 445 per 100,000, easily the highest in the world, and this number is even higher when looking exclusively at adult males, standing at approximately 1,100 per 100,000.[8] Since the early 1990s, almost 1,000 new prisons have been built in the United States in order to keep up with the demand for incarceration while prisons still continue to be dangerously overcrowded. This cycle of increased incarceration rates, new prison development, and the maintenance and administration of prisons is what comprises the pervasive and cyclical nature of the prison industrial complex and what makes it so dangerous to American society.

Implications for Today

There are many nuances of any potential case to consider before moving forward. My experience as an Assistant State Attorney has exposed me to numerous types of cases and given me an intimate look into the State and Federal prison systems.

If you have question about your case please call my office at 407-415-9626 or email me at

[1] Schlosser, Eric. “The Prison Industrial Complex.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, Dec. 1998. Web. 05 Dec. 2016.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Schlosser, Eric. “The Prison Industrial Complex.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, Dec. 1998. Web. 05 Dec. 2016.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] W.W. “The Moral Failures of America’s Prison-industrial Complex.” The Economist. The Economist Newspaper, 20 July 2015. Web. 06 Dec. 2016.

[7] Schlosser, Eric. “The Prison Industrial Complex.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, Dec. 1998. Web. 05 Dec. 2016.

[8] W.W. “The Moral Failures of America’s Prison-industrial Complex.” The Economist. The Economist Newspaper, 20 July 2015. Web. 06 Dec. 2016.