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Seminar 1: Profiting From Punishment

      The United States holds about 5% of the world population, yet it has the biggest rate of incarceration in the world. Between the years of 1970 and 2005, the population of incarcerated people grew by 700% even though there was a decrease in crime rates. This increase was caused by invested companies whom had immense economic interests in the prison industry. These companies worked for the continuance of the criminal justice system in order to keep the profit-making quick and easy. This is called prison industrial complex. Both the documentary “13th” and book by Angela Davis, “Are Prisons Obsolete?”, focus on the abolition of slavery in the U.S.. The documentary argues that slavery is effectively carried on through mass imprisonments whilst Davis asserts that the U.S. practice of this mass incarceration is the cause of the criminal justice system staying unchanged, thus enslaving the prisoners.

     The prison industrial complex is a term that is used to blame the booming increase of U.S. inmate communities due to the political influence of private companies which supply goods and labor, governing the prison agencies. Both sources: 13th the documentary, and book “Are Prisons Obsolete?” analyse this term deeply. 13th focuses on the effect of prison industrial complex on African-American lives socially (such as losing the right to vote or police harassment) and economically. This term is used to describe the profits made for corporations, who then use their gained power to form political decisions about crime and punishment. This creates focus on African-Americans as they are the most affected with these decisions in terms of incarcerations. For example, the documentary director, Ava DuVernay, states that “ I was always disturbed and furious that more people weren’t talking about the fact that multibillion-dollar companies were profiting off of black bodies and prison”. Additionally, according to Angela Davis in her book, “Are Prisons Obsolete?”, the definition of prison industrial complex was proposed differently. She stated “The term ‘prison industrial complex’ was introduced by activists and scholars to contest prevailing beliefs that increased levels of crime were the root cause of mounting prison populations. Instead, they argued, prison construction and the attendant drive to fill these new structures with human bodies have been driven by ideologies of racism and the pursuit of profit”. Davis, in order to reach a comprehension with the prison industrial complex, first explained the understandings of the punishment process which “take into account economic and political structures and ideologies, rather than focusing myopically on individual criminal conduct and efforts to ‘curb crime’”. She gave an example of the symbiotic relationship between prison industrial complex and corporations, where gain is provided from social destruction. She explains that corporations are now directly involved in the punishment business in prisons.

     Other than many corporations being involved in prison punishment businesses, how could a society deal with deviance and crime? According to Angela Davis, it is hard for one to imagine another alternative system of imprisonment that is capable of maintaining a vast population of law offenders. She suggests that it is necessary to put the desire to find one alternative system of punishment that occupies the same footsteps of the prison system aside. Societies, instead of investing in prisons could invest in different institutions. For example, if the aim to remove prisons from society was taken seriously, approaches for creating other institutions would come across more often such as; health systems that provide free physical and mental care, justice system based on reparation and reconciliation, or revitalization of education.

     In conclusion, it could be said that 13th the documentary and “Are Prisons Obsolete?” both concentrate on the effects of slavery in the U.S., in terms of present day imprisonment. The documentary focuses on the statistical analysis of present day prisons and, focusing on the African American abuses as result of corporational investments in prisons. In connection to this, Angela Davis, in her book, suggests that the U.S. practice of mass incarceration is the cause of criminal justice system staying the same for generations, where prisoners are enslaved. As an effect, Davis states that there are more people with mental and emotional disorders in jails and prisons than mental institutions. This thus initiates a call for help from society for new facilities in order to assist these people in need. Contrasting alternatives that are not involved with racism and class bias need to be taken away in order to advance the goal of abolition of “slavery”.



Davis, Angela. “Are Prisons Obsolete?”. Accessed 27 Oct. 2016.


“Profiting from Punishment: The Dangers of Privatizing Imprisonment.” Politicus USA. Published 17 Mar. 2012. Accessed 27 Oct. 2016.


Ryan, Patrick. “Ava DuVernay: ’13th’ Explores Mass Incarceration, ‘Black Trauma.'” USA Today. Published 02 Oct. 2016. Accessed 28 Oct. 2016.



Davis, Angela Y. Are Prisons Obsolete? Print.

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