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Harry C. Alford of the National Black Chamber of Commerce
Published: 08 April 2009

America became the leading nation in the world through its victories and leadership during World War II. Our 65 year reign is the shortest in history and we are a far way from having any kind of seniority in this position. We have made many mistakes along the way such as slavery, land theft and apartheid. 
The good news is that we are finding ways to correct our faults and move forward. There is one serious fault that we have yet to actually address. That is the medieval prison system that we have implemented and have actually enlarged over the last few decades. 
No other nation imprisons its citizens the way America does. For a free democratic nation we have a system that belongs with some sort of tyranny or oppressive order. It is oppressive and targets people of color – particularly African Americans. 
There are more African American males in prisons than in college institutions.  That is not the stuff that makes a nation great.
I have a degree in Correctional Administration from the University of Wisconsin. It was during internships that I noticed the actual prison systems did not match the scholarly material I was studying. 
There was no direct attempt to address recidivism or actually rehabilitate offenders. The prisons were warehouses that eventually developed into "cash cows" by the manipulative and greedy.  U.S. prisons for the most part have become predators on the general population. 
Most people who enter prison are there because they could not afford to have adequate legal representation. Once they enter the system there are programs and "catches" that keep them returning or not leaving at all. 
I believe that 80 percent of those who are currently incarcerated should not even be there. They are no threat to society and should come out and start contributing.
That is not going to happen too soon. First of all there are a lot of people who rely on a good population within prison grounds. Labor unions representing the guards lobby and ensure that they lock up as many as they can and keep the revolving door going for those who get out but are destined to return. 
The construction lobby keeps the state and federal budgets flush with new capital for building more and more prisons. As they build them the demand for more inmates increases. Then there is the slave labor within the prison cells, which is also known as "prison industries." 
The incarcerated are forced to work 10 – 14 hours a day for the total pay of about $1.70 per day (not an hour – a day). The owners of the prisons and the outside contractors sell the products of this work for whopping profits and personal gain. Privatized prisons are the worst as the profit motive greatly increases.
The families of the incarcerated are exploited as well. They have to send money to their loved ones as the prison cannot adequately provide nourishment and necessities. 
The money is used to buy items from the Commissary, which is a total rip off joint. As an example a seven ounce can of Folgers coffee will cost an inmate $7.50. That is triple the amount Safeway or Kroger would charge. Who is getting the big profit? 
If they make a call to family members by the only method, collect calls, it won't be through AT&T, Verizon, Sprint or someone like that. It will be with some kind of private venture and it will cost $6 - $10 a minute.  It is just a set up to rip off families who least can afford it.
Many inmates make good use of their free time. They get educated and train themselves. But can they ever put these new skills or formal training to work? Right now the only logical path for them is entrepreneurship. 
That is something prisons refuse to teach them. If they become entrepreneurs they probably will never return and that will hurt this Prison Industrial Complex.
My wife and I work with a few prisoners all the time. Our aim is to stay focused on this issue and do what we can to get them freed. 
We have successfully stayed with one sister who is now back into the general population and our aim is to get her economically stable to ensure she doesn't get caught in the revolving door. We also are helping a young brother in the Patuxent Correctional facility in Maryland. 
He has been there for 14 years with no violation whatsoever. He has obtained two college degrees and is a serious computer programmer, which the facility exploits for $1.70 per day.
Fourteen straight years and they won't even give him a parole hearing let alone a parole. He has become a victim of his own genius. They don't want to lose him.
America we have got to end this prison system now!

Alford is the co-founder, president/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, Inc.  His website is  www.nationalbcc.org

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