Dyer's well-researched expose reveals the inner workings of the nation's prison-industrial complex, the funding of which depends on the maintenance of a respectable, beneficent public image. He explains that real-world crime statistics do not support the war on crime's claimed need for massive increases in prison construction so, to justify the diversion of public funds into prison and jail expansion, politicians are relying on public opinion polls which reflect the pervasive societal effects of media-generated crime anxiety. Law makers, primarily right-wing, have responded to the public's media-hyped fears with reassurances in the form of hard-on-crime adjustments to the sentencing structure and consequent increases in law enforcement and prison spending, all financed by the angst-ridden taxpayers. Voters have been refusing to approve traditional general-obligation bond issues for increasing prison construction, so politicians are shrewdly using Wall Street intermediaries to divert tax revenues from public education and crime-preventive social programs into prison and jail construction by means of lease-revenue or lease-payment bonds, which are tax-exempt, high-interest debt-investment instruments issued without voter approval. These lucrative prison bonds reward the investor class with sizable profits from imprisonment, provide public-debt financing for construction of corporate-owned prisons, and they require taxpayers to repay more money than general-obligation bonds, which require voter approval. As major political campaign contributors, well-funded, right-wing special-interest groups such as police and prison-guard unions, and the NRA, back politicians who agree to promote hard-on-crime sentencing policies such as "three strikes," "mandatory sentencing" and "truth in sentencing," which substantially increase the prison population and sustain the widely held perception of increasing need for prison and police funding. As a result, the number of prisons and police have grown rapidly, and police and prison guard pay has increased substantially. In California, for example, a prison guard is paid more than a tenured college professor in the state's university system which, like those in other states, has been decimated by the diversion of public funds into the prison-industrial complex. By 1994, prison spending had begun to exceed education spending for the first time in America's history. I think Dyer presents a well-articulated argument, backed with well-researched facts and figures, supporting the assertion that the prison-industrial complex is a self-serving, socially and economically destructive part of an officially sanctioned assault on the poor and people of color.
Joel Dyer has done an excellent job of nailing how Congress has abused the issue of crime in America and why we allow it. He's also provided an excellent argument for abandoning the private prison industrial complex and ceasing the attack on urban America and the mentally ill. As someone who works in business and in finance, it bugged my eyeballs when I realized what government is doing, allowing prisoners for profit. I've worked 32 years in a profit driven capacity and doing this with human beings, given what I know about shareholder driven environments, is unconscionable in my mind. To intentionally profit from another's pain and misfortune is heinous. America has 5% of the world's population and 25% of the worlds prisoners. We have over 1,000 prisons and 7 million people under penal control (2004). Over half of them non-violent offenders whose crime involves consenting adults (ie: life in prison for introducing a buyer to a seller of home grown pot in Indiana) or petty thievery (ie: stealing vitamins in California).
This is a real eye-opener, but it is also very discouraging at how prisons have become little more than big business entities with the goal being more prisoners and more jobs with the inevitable escalation in corruption.
I ordered and read this book without total confidence, since it was written in 1999, and--as we will probably never stop hearing--things have changed considerably since 2001 (not for the better in the prison-industrial complex or in the sphere of social services).
But even 7 years after its publication, it holds up VERY well. And--sadly--the argument is not LESS cogent or the concerns less pressing.