Growing Prisons Instead of Potatoes

prisons kill farms 1

There is no shortage of shocking statistics illustrating the tragic size and persistence of the mass incarceration crisis in the United States today. We can look at race, poverty, geography, or any number of other categories and see just how severely mass incarceration is corrupting the social fabric our nation. Recently the Prison Policy Initiative, a non-profit and non-partisan research and advocacy organization, published an updated chart illuminating how much mass incarceration has ruptured our economic life as well.

in 1790, 90% of the U.S. workforce worked in agriculture. That number has dropped exponentially over the decades and centuries, due mostly to technological advances and increased productivity. Now, more than one decade into the 21st Century, we have reached the point where more people work in the U.S. justice system than work to grow food.

food vs mass incarceration

For years, rural communities have turned to prisons to reignite their failing economies. We only need drive 76 miles North-West to visit a prominent example of this tragic trend; Florence, Arizona, is home to three federal prisons, three state prisons, two private prisons, and one county jail.

Not all or even most of the blame for this change can be attributed to mass incarceration – globalization and technological advancement have displaced far more farmers than prisons ever have. Still it is worth asking; what kind of a nation employs more prison guards and policemen than farmers? When wardens and judges outnumber tractor drivers and cherry pickers, are we still a free and democratic republic?

– Joel Feinman