1. What the term means

  • The phrase “mass imprisonment” was coined by sociologist David Garland in 2000 to describe the massive expansion of imprisonment in the US between 1975 and the late 1990s. This new regime of punishment differed in two remarkable ways: 1) the sheer scale and magnitude of the increased use of imprisonment in a departure from historic norms and 2) the systematic imprisonment of whole groups of the population without social scientific evidence that punishment has a strong relationship with crime control.

 2. Scale: There are more than 2.4 million people behind bars in America

  • Approximately one out of every four prisoners on the entire planet are in U.S. prisons, but the United States only accounts for about five percent of the total global population. Since 1980, the number of people incarcerated in U.S. prisons has quadrupled. Incredibly, 41 percent of all young people in America have been arrested by the time they turn 23. 12 million people cycle through prison in a single year. 7 to 8 million people are under some form of criminal justice supervision (including probation and parole).
  • Tennessee incarceration rates have gone from just over 100 people incarcerated per 100,000 people in the 1970s to over 400 in 2010.

 3. Systematic Imprisonment of groups: Mass incarceration disproportionately impacts people of color

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Just Say No to CCA

Guest Post by Andrew Krinks

In an editorial-as-advertisement published on May 17 in the Tennessean, Blair Leibach, warden at the CCA-managed Metro-Davidson County Detention Facility, boasted what he understands to be the benefits of correctional facilities operated by the Corrections Corporations of America (CCA). In what follows, I offer a brief response to Leibach’s primary points. My argument, in short, is “No.”

To start, Leibach is writing, as would be expected, from a “crime deserves punishment” logic, which presupposes two things: first, that every person who enters a jail or prison is, in fact, guilty of an act that disrupts or harms the life of another person or a community; and second, that such acts rightly warrant that the alleged “offender” be separated from their community and subjected to various forms of violence. It is simply not true, however, in a country that incarcerates more people than any other nation on the planet, that every person who currently sits in jail or prison has, in fact, committed an act that harmed another person or a community. Thanks to mandatory minimum sentencing and the hyper-criminalization of drug use and trade, thousands and thousands of people, largely from low-income communities and communities of color, sit behind bars for years or even decades for acts that, in many instances, harmed no one. This is not to say that there aren’t people behind bars who have harmed others; the point is that a significant number of people in our correctional facilities are being made to suffer a violence that far outweighs whatever violence they may—or may not!—have committed.

Beyond this, it has been thoroughly demonstrated that that which counts as “crime” under our legal system is applied differently and disproportionately across different communities. As Kahlil Muhammad, for example, shows, non-white and poor persons have historically been associated with an inherent criminality that must be controlled through the vigilant policing and/or removal of such persons from our communities—an attribution that has not historically been applied in the same way to white persons who disrupt or harm the life of communities.

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