Prisons in America are broken. Why is the UK imitating them? Eric Schlosser | Comment is Free

Prisons in America are broken. Why is the UK imitating them? Eric Schlosser | Comment is Free

The land of the free has the biggest prison
population in the history of mankind. And how did that happen? When I was a kid, there were a few hundred
thousand people in prison in the United States. Governor Ronald Reagan in California was proudly
shutting down prisons. Reagan was responsible for an inmate Bill
of Rights and yet, in the last thirty years, there has been a total transformation of the
American prison system. Today, there are about 2.2 million people
behind bars in the United States – more than in communist China. I’ve been going into prisons for the last
twenty years and who have I met behind bars? Well, there are murderers and armed robbers
and rapists and child molesters, but the majority of people behind bars are non-violent offenders. About two-thirds of them are African American
or Latino. They’re overwhelmingly poor, substance abusers, a large number of mental patients,
huge rates of illiteracy. So, whereas thirty years ago in the United
States we were building low-income housing, today we’re building prisons as a form of
low-income housing. There’s about 200,000 women behind bars, overwhelmingly
non-violent and many of them in prison because their spouses, or their boyfriends, were drug
dealers and they wouldn’t rat them out, and there are tens of thousands of people who
are in solitary confinement. Some of them are major gang leaders, some
of them are people who are violent and it makes sense to put them in solitary. But the majority aren’t and they’re prey to
all kinds of health problems, psychological problems, being locked away for weeks, months,
years by themselves in a cell, only allowed out for two hours, maybe, a day. For most of the non-violent offenders there
are so many other, less expensive ways to deal with them in the community. For example, mental patients. We used to have
mental patients in mental hospitals and then we shut down the mental hospitals. So now
they’re in prison. The largest single facility for mental patients
in the United States is the LA County Jail. And it is so much more expensive to incarcerate
people with mental illness than to treat them in the community. In the United States we’re privatising our
prisons and giving them to corporations to make money off of locking people up. All of this is relevant in Great Britain because
Great Britain is the only country in the Western, industrialised world that’s imitating American
correctional practices. Great Britain has one of the largest prison populations in Europe,
over-crowded facilities, there have been major cutbacks in staffing in Great Britain, a rise
in private corrections. And the other thing that’s been imitated here
is the whole notion of having large prison facilities. You’re building facilities here
with a thousand inmates. It’s exactly the wrong way to build and manage a prison. So why is it so important to look at prisons?
Why is it so important what you’re doing to the people who are locked away? Most of them will walk free one day, most
of them will be on the streets, in the malls, with people, and what you do to them behind
bars has consequences. But beyond that, what motivates my work on
prisons and the American prison system is the notion that if you really want to understand
a society, look at how it treats the people at the very bottom – and that’s who you’ll
find in America’s prisons.”

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About the Author: Sam Caldwell


  1. Is the real problem on both sides of the Atlantic, that government representatives are hostage to corporations?  Corporations are well placed to 'guide' public policy such as prison building and management.  Similarly governments ignore evidence from science such as the recent report on the management of drug abuse which found that increasing the harshness of police and prison sentences has zero effect.  Drug abusers are mostly victims and their problems are essentially health problems.  Prison is not the place to treat health problems.  Major drug smugglers, dealers and manufacturers are the ones that need to be in prison not the street dealer or the victims.  I fear for the US with the advent of a republican congress and maybe even a republican president next time.  There is little expect from such a combination except a Corporate Government for profit and not for the people.

  2. First time I've seen a very insightful and resourceful video from the guardian gj to the creator and good job for posting this.

  3. This is a very informative and eye-opening video. We should really know better in the Western world and learn from failures in the past to create a better future.

  4. "They do testing on 3rd and 4th graders in America and UK to figure out how many prisons to build."
    Henry Winkler (the fonz) said in an interview

     This may be something to do with it.

  5. The UK keeps on kissing the ass of the US and it is even imitating it. No wonder the scottish almost got out of the UK. The US is almost a third world country now in internal social conditions.

  6. Because there's fat profits to be made from the taxpayer mugs by the Tory class.
    Bleeding obvious !
    Why else would they copy a broken, but profitable wreck ?

  7. look at the big fucking picture people, theres no work for the men!
    all the fucking woMEN take the jobs!
    no work equals desperation, desperation equals robbery.
    its not just the fucking immigrants making work obsolete, its females.

  8. It all has to do with bad parenting…. If people could just teach their young well, they would certainly do ok in the society.

  9. And people say the US doesn't need Jesus, the country would have been a holy land but instead it's a he'll hidden in false glory.

  10. Also most of them in prison are illegal immigrants & immigration has no space for them. Lots of the illegals are gang members especially in California

  11. It's risen because prison is big business in the USA look at how many private companies gain from having more prisoners

  12. It's all part of the New World Order agenda. Total control over the globe. The prison industrial complex is big business, as is its sister business, the war on terror. Both these 'wars' are engineered to bring in massive profits for the corporations and banking institutions. The politicians help to manufacture destabilization on a global scale, because they are loyal to their paymasters. It's now virtually impossible to go about a regular life without being deemed as a criminal. This is no accident. It's the way it is supposed to be. Eventually it will become a crime to have this discussion on the internet, and those of us that are currently interacting will not be able to do so in the near future. Think will it's still legal.

  13. This week's Comment is Free video features Eric Schlosser on the broken prison system in America and why the UK is imitating it.

  14. Incredibly informative……….. such a shame that the UK is blindingly following the ugliest place of all- the most corrupt and socially disruptive- the US!   

  15. i have to say that i know a  few people that r in prison because of poverty,too poor to pay tv lce,water rates,those sort of things, because they are struggling to to ay the daily food bill, and what does  the courts do put an another monitority fine on them, the straw that breaks the camel,s back,  ,

  16. The reason I subscribed. American prisons are just a form of population control and let's not forget the money money money!! 

  17. @Petter Griffin

    Quote from you: "Being a good parent is to be able to teach their children to be able to handle and overcome whatever circumstance they might face in society. Is it so difficult dumbass?? "

    Hahahahaha jeeeeesus fucking christ^^ Once again: Did I ever deny this? No you fucking prebuscent kid^^ Once again please name me only one quote where I said that you pathetic wannabe gangster? Where did I ever state that you pathetic loser and keyboard warrior eh? Tell me where I ever said that you goddamn wannabe?

    Exactly, you can´t xD You can´t because I never said that, pathetic breastsucking baby. All you can do is: Rant, whine, provoke and make up lies. Yeah exactly like the pathetic wannabe gangster and breastsucking kid you are, sitting in your mommies lap and hidding in your parents basement.

    Oh and before I forget: What you can do is not only rant, cry, whine and throw a tantrum like a goddamn 5 year old. But no even better: You block me from answering hahahaha^^ And now you expect me to be angry? You expect to "win" this fight by simply blocking and throwing a tantrum? You expect me to look like the "loser" and your beeing the "gangsta" eh?

    Guess what kid? Hahaha tides have turned^^ I may not be able to answer you directly, but I will simply quote and answer it, and even better: Make it public to aaaaaall the world : )

    So now the entire world can see what a cowardly little pussy you are^^ I would love to see what your wannabe gangsta friends say when they see this, oh wait I can tell you: Wanna know? "*epic fail!* Hahahahaha^^ Yup you just epicly failed kid, because you did a few crucial mistakes, for one: Provoke a person that has seen poverty, ghetto and "gangsta" more then you spoiled brat and soft wannabe will ever see in your pathetic life. And you made another mistake: Provoking someone who not only saw more gangsta then you ever will, but you also provoked someone far more knowledgable and intelligent then you. And the last mistake you did was to provoke and agitate this peson(me).

    Congratulations, and for that in this video as well as openly in public on G+ plus you will henceforth known as a: Stupid, whining, crying, arrogant, tantrum throwing, spoiled, selfish brat and wannabe gangster^^ Congratulations. And now go suck your at your mommies breasts you goddamn ape.

  18. Current Finnish goverment wabts to be just like you America. Even in this thing. Cause ot saves tax billers money

  19. Every single American, myself included, should be utterly ashamed of themselves for allowing this to happen and worse, for allowing it to not only continue, but to grow. We are sick. The United States is systematically locking its poor mostly minority citizens in prisons. And a vital aspect of this wasn't mentioned and that's the fact that America is now locking up its children too, often in adult prisons. There are cases of fifteen-year-old kids getting life–LIFE–in prison without the possibility of parole under three stripes laws. Aside from the law being entirely unjust, it doesn't matter to me anyway because they are using it to lock away children for their entire lives. No society can claim to be moral, civil or rational while simultaneously permanently locking its children in adult prisons.

  20. Great video. However, did you really have to say "…more than in Communist China"? Couldn't you have just said 'China'? Most people understand how huge their population is. That would have been enough to drive your point home. You didn't need to pass a judgment and perpetuate the idea that their political system is wrong. I just feel like whatever people's opinion are on China being a Communist country, that was unnecessary and completely unrelated to your arg in this video @The Guardian

  21. while america is not at gulag level shitty as far as correctional facilities go, at the rate of privatization we are seeing it certainly seems to be headed in that direction.

  22. Rich coming from the guardian, another propaganda rag that keeps people dumbed down, ignorant, and spreads state orchestrated terror. Fuck all those in secret societies, you scum!

  23. U.K. Prisons are nothing compared to USA prisons

  24. In the USA you get 18 months for stealing a can of Coke.

  25. you can buy anything in london prisons
    ha your cell block b a c
    you can get weed cocain speed x fuckin spice
    anything man its funny how you ask for a phone straight person in the next cell give you one got less than a hundred quid mate

  26. This is Tony Blairs legacy. "Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" simply meant throw them in jail for longer, don't give them any support afterwards, assume nobody regrets their crimes and ensure they return at some point.

    Shove more people in prison, pay for it b with PPP's… sounds good to the mob but in practise, fails almost inevitably.

  27. Whilst I am behind the decriminalisation of all drugs..What on earth has their racial background got to do with it? You do not get arrested, tried and sent to jail just for looking at a cop. You break the law, you pay the consequences. Latino, White, Yellow, Green, Brown.

    I get the prison industrial complex but this race shit has to stop. Either we are autonomous beings or we aren't and if we aren't, then can we be held accountable for what we do?

  28. Land of the free, and the home of the caged… Or in words of Warren Zevon's "Disorder In the House":
    "It's the home of the brave and the land of the free
    Where the less you know the better off you'll be"

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