Prisons and Executions—the U.S. Model: A Historical Introduction


  • - The Editors



Political Economy


The United States incarcerates five to eight times more of its people per capita than Western European nations—though its crime rates for nonviolent crimes are comparable to those of Western Europe—and seventeen times more than Japan. The number of inmates in federal and state prisons in the United States has increased over 500 percent since 1970. Governments have been overthrown for being less abusive toward the rights of so many citizens. Yet, although this is a social crisis of the highest magnitude, it barely causes a ripple in the news media, with their emphasis on issues that concern the elite or the middle class, or in academia, where this sort of research is scarcely encouraged. Nor is this massive incarceration program an issue in the money driven political system, where politicians vie to win the honor of appearing to be "toughest" on crime by building even more prisons and lengthening sentences even for nonviolent offenses. In this double issue of Monthly Review, we hope to demystify the booming prison system in the United States and draw out the important political implications for the left and all who cherish human freedom. In this introduction we will sketch out the historic rise of the prison system, and its crucial relationships with capitalism, neoliberalism, and racism.

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