Issues surrounding mass incarceration and the rise of racialized prison populations in the USA and Canada have been increasing with the expansion of neoliberalism and the growing economic class divide. Although the disturbing phenomenon of mass incarceration has been an academic concern for some time, there is today a greater public interest in it as evidenced in part by the popularity of documentaries such as The 13th and the many recent books that address the topic. Thus I have decided to make available in its entirety this paper from 2005 which remains relevant if only because it outlines some of the economic and historical conditions that gave rise to the “prison industrial complex” which was well underway by the early 2000s. Although laws governing criminal sentencing and penal practice continue to shift in North America, the problem of mass incarceration persists in various forms. It is among other things, a sign of the internal contradictions inherent in capitalist democracies and their quest for freedom and security. The use of prisons as a solution for the social control of both dangerous offenders and those who would be better suited to other forms of intervention remains an ongoing challenge in the overall attempts to create a civil society.
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