"American Crime Control As Industry" and "Street Crime vs Corporate Crime and The Truth"

Tiny - Posted on 24 March 2016

There are several reasons why the prison industrial complex (PIC) continues to grow in America, and I will focus on two of the most important. The first is that in punishing people we as a society attempt to appease the fearful side of our own human nature. The second is that vested interests keep this very unsuccessful system going. Just as steel companies need iron and timber companies need trees, so prisons use people as their raw material.


                When it comes to vested interests, there are many groups who have an interest in the maintenance of the status quo of prisons. In no particular order I will nominate nine such groups. Let me say clearly and emphatically that within each group there is a minority who hold opposing views and are much more open and positive in their approach.


                The vast majority of prison guards, police, judges, forensic psychologists, prison vendors of every description, prosecutors and even some criminal defense lawyers do not want to know about alternatives. The culture within each of these groupings often seems to preclude much genuine dialogye and discussion about the outcomes of the very work they are employed in doing. As I say, thankfully there are exceptions.


                The media have a vested interest. Despite millions of words of rhetoric to the contrary, the media generally and the tabloid in particular keep alive all the old racist stereotypes by the way they report crime, court cases and criminal offending, often out of all proportion to other news. Where would the tabloids be without a regular front-page crime story? Or the talkshow hosts? Or television (e.g., “America’s Most Wanted,” “COPS,” “Criminal Minds,” etc.)? One evening recently on Fox News, nine of the first 10 stories related to crime, here and overseas.


                The construction and subsidiary industries have a vested interest in an expanding prison network and are, by implication, happy to see a high crime rate continue. Warehousing the poor is now a worldwide trend in many industrialized countries, with the United States (especially California), Britain, Russia, and China leading the way. With huge profits being made through constructing, expanding, and providing for new prisons and old, the corporate culture has readily taken up the challenge that crime offers to make a profit out of human misery. A directory called “The Corrections Yellow Pages” lists more than a thousand vendors. While private prisons are the most lucrative, state-controlled ones are also high on the corporate agenda, providing guaranteed payment and regular income [google California Correctional Peace Officers Association].


                Many academics in the fields of law, social work, criminology, psychology, sociology, and psychiatry have a vested interest. Too many sit in ivory towers teaching outmoded theories, denying students opportunities to develop creative responses to the social problems that are largely responsible for crime.

                Strange as it may seem, many politicians also have a vested interest in not seeing creative options to crime and prisons researched, trialled and reviewed. Generally they believe it is perceived to be soft to be advocating alternatives. The reality is the exact opposite. Most alternative programs are a lot tougher in that they demand accountability (e.g., restorative justice), with offenders having to take responsibility for what they have done. But few politicians are prepared to promote or fund such programs.

                The new corporate elite running prison policy were brought in to try to change the harsh macho prison culture that had been built up over generations. While to a degree some dimensions of that have been tackled, they have also brought in the culture of measured success, which in corporate terms often means wage cutting, program deletion and prison expansion. Prison numbers have been going through the roof for the past twenty-five years. All this is conducted with the glossy PR expertise so characteristic of the corporate hard sell. Prisons are now presented to the public as desirable industries to have in local communities because of the job creation and new economic spending power available. Little attention is given to the thought of what a prison is, who is locked up, or why. This is a deliberate attempt to shift the public perception of imprisonment from being a scandal and a sign of failure to one that makes prisons desirable acquisition for a local community like a sports stadium, medical center, or public university.

                Prison slave labor is now a complement to the international movement of jobs. For decades, U.S. based corporations have been moving abroad to avoid high domestic rates as well as labor and environmental regulations. Now such factors as the increasing costs of overseas slave labor, the expense of relocation, and the shipping expense involved have caused many manufacturers to recognize that American prisons, with their abundant supply of slave labor (2.4 million prisoners), are an attractive alternative to foreign-based production.

                If one had systematically and diabolically tried to create mental illness, one could probably have constructed no better system than the American prison system.

                The prison industrial complex basically has a life of its own. It has become an industry, and a very lucrative one for some. Like its cousin, the military industrial complex, its pernicious spirit, its all-pervasive and needs plenty of crime and long sentences to maintain its financial viability. So whose truly the criminal? Is America a ‘Democracy’ or a corporate Oligarchic police state?



Street Crime Vs. Corporate Crime and The Truth


                As a society we need to reassess our understanding of crime and ask why is it that corporate crime advances virtually unhindered, and while localized ‘street crime’ has become such an obsession for so many. The answer lies somewhere in the mixed realm of our own hidden fears and our sense of powerlessness in the face of crime, and the immense power of vested interests who gain so much from the current situation.

                Corporate crime is endemic the world over. Very few are ever held responsible for its devastating effects. It reaches into virtually every aspect of our lives, yet so widespread is its influence, we are often unaware of its presence. It hits us in so many ways: from the added-on costs in our supermarkets to the pollutants in the air we breathe, from the hidden costs of our banking and financial systems to the costs of medicines we take for our illnesses. The tentacles of corporate crime touch all these areas and many more.

                Yet we rarely speak of it, read of it, or hear of it for any sustained period. We have become totally preoccupied with individual ‘street crime,’ although corporate violence and crime inflict far more damage on society than all the street crime combined. Just one major tobacco company, for example, arguably kills and injures more people than all the ‘street criminals’ put together. Public corruption, pollution, procurement fraud, financial fraud, and occupational homicide inflict incredibly serious damage on workers, consumers, citizens, and the environment. Why on earth is a criminal justice system geared to sifting the poor and minor offenders, pretending it is dealing with crime and social harm, when all of the major harm is being done by the hidden rulers of our world, the multinational corporations?

                A major reason for this is the consistent presentation by the media of crime as being primarily personal. Through newspaper, radio, and especially tabloid talk shows, and in the news and entertainment on television, crime is deliberately portrayed in manageable portions of murder, muggings, burglaries and theft, allowing an age-old notion of scapegoat full reign.

                The public perception of crime is largely shaped by corporate media and tabloid television, which focus overwhelmingly on street crime, illegal drugs use, robberies and theft. If these media devoted proportionate time to the corporate muggings and homicides that are carried out through fraud, unsafe products, usurious lending policies, pollution, occupational accidents and starvation wages, public perceptions would shift to reflect reality more accurately. This will never happen. The same big business people who perpetrate corporate crime control the media through colossal advertising budgets, cross dictatorships, and ownership.

                The actual functions of the criminal justice system are unstated, unacknowledged, and even illicit. Any criminal justice system reflects the values (or lack thereof) of those who hold power in society. Thus, criminal law in America has become a political instrument, formulated and enforced by those with status and power against those who predominately are status poor and powerless.

                By and large, our prisons are reserved for those with dark skin, little money, or unconventional lifestyles.  The powerful manage, most of the time, to escape the sanctions of the criminal justice system. Either they have the means to hire good defense lawyers or they are able to make a better impression on juries and judges. At another level it has been demonstrated time and time again that violations of environmental, workplace safety, and other laws by corporations and hospitals are seldom prosecuted as crimes are punished by incarceration, though they kill and maim far more persons and rob and damage far more property than street crime committed by poor people.

                We are left with the question: what is real crime and who are the biggest criminals? Until we start to focus on crime in its global corporate context and not restrict ourselves merely to the localized street version, we will never learn to identify and grapple with some of the biggest criminals in our society. And we will never create a society where the common good is achieved, where people are truly respected for who they are, where true justice prevails.


Correspondence: Troy T. Thomas, H-01001, CSP-LAC

                                   P.O. Box 4430, Lancaster, CA 93539


Sign-up for POOR email!