The Globalization of Social Control


            As I have previously written (see “It's More Profitable to Treat the Disease..."), the official response to the problem of crime in America has taken on characteristics that resemble the “military industrial complex.”  An appropriate name to this is the “criminal justice industrial complex,” since it represents a sort of symbiotic relationship between the formal criminal justice agencies and various businesses and other governmental agencies and institutions.  More importantly, however, as the more popular phrase “military industrial complex” suggests, the existence of a crime problem has created a tendency for all sorts of interests to be involved in the study of and response to the problem.

Examples include the educational system, with more than 3,000 thousands of criminal justice programs within colleges and universities. Educating people for occupations in criminal justice is a big business, given the large number of those majoring in “criminal justice” or “criminology” and planning on a career in this field.  There are numerous examples of various businesses that may receive profits because of crime, such as hospitals and insurance companies (hospital emergency room visits, doctor's fees, insurance premiums on auto and other insurance covering crime, etc.) and the salaries of those who deal with the victims of crime (e.g., doctors, nurses, paramedics, insurance adjusters).  Then, too, there are the profits from the sale of books (e.g., college textbooks, trade books), magazine and journal articles, newspaper coverage (and the advertisers who profit from crime stories), television crime shows (and their advertisers) and movies about crime (with the enormous salaries paid to actors and actresses who star in them).  Then there is the money collected by courts through various fines (especially traffic tickets), special courses defendants can enroll in as a condition of (or in lieu of) their sentence (e.g., traffic schools, petty larceny programs), plus a totally separate industry involved in the setting of bail (bail bondsmen and the insurance companies involved).  Finally, we have to consider the private security industry, with profits almost impossible to estimate (ranging from companies that provide security guards to the makers of all sorts of security devices like locks and barbed wire, not to mention the security provided to gated communities).  Examples are endless.

In order to better understand the prison industrial complex and the criminal justice industrial complex of which it is a part, I think it is necessary to take a much broader view, one that encompasses the entire world.  Thirty years ago criminologist Richard Quinney, in his book Critique of Legal Order: Crime Control in Capitalist Society (it has been reissued by Transaction Books) made the following observation:  “The legal system at home and the military apparatus abroad are two sides of the same phenomenon: both perpetuate American capitalism and the American way of life.” Today these two systems are larger than ever and they spread themselves literally into every corner of the globe. The “criminal justice industrial complex” encompasses more than just the criminal justice system and the private security industry.  We need to visualize this entire system from a global perspective, as the same technology and world view helps shape both crime control at home and military control abroad, as Quinney suggested.

In many ways the control of crime has taken on many of the characteristics of the military, or some criminologists have called the “militarization of criminal justice.” There is an underlying ideology of militarism that clearly had been borrowed in the “war on crime” (not to mention the “war on drugs”), which criminologist Peter Kraska defines as “a set of beliefs and values that stress the use of force and domination as appropriate means to solve problems and gain political power, while glorifying the means to accomplish this – military power, hardware, and technology.”  This also involves a “blurring of external and internal security functions leading to a more subtle targeting of civilian populations,” plus an ideology that places emphasis on the efficient solving of problems that require the use of state force, the latest and most sophisticated technology, various forms of intelligence gathering, the use of “special operations” (e.g., SWAT) in both the police and within the prison system, the use of military discourse and metaphors (e.g., “collateral damage,” “under siege”) and last, but not least, collaboration with “ the highest level of the governmental and corporate worlds, between the defense industry and the crime control industry.” 

How big is this network of social control?  One way to answer this question is to borrow the popular phrase, “follow the money,” for the money involved is truly staggering.  To begin with, expenditures on the criminal justice system came to $147 billion in 1999, the latest year available. Five years ago criminologist William Chambliss estimated that by 2005 annual expenditures will be more than $200 billion.  He was not far off the mark, for if we take the average annual percentage increase over the past five years (8.4%), currently the expenditures would come to around $208 billion; therefore this figure will be used for the estimates given here.  As of March, 2000 (the latest estimates) over two million are employed in the criminal justice system.  Then there is the truly vast private security industry, which includes more than 15,000 firms with annual revenues totally about $40 billion.  How many are employed in this industry is not known, but a USA Today report in 2003 noted that there are more than 1 million security guards nationwide, in what they call a $12 billion industry.  Also included is the recently formed Department of Homeland Security, with a budget of $41 billion.  Homeland Security includes several different departments, including the Border Patrol, Immigration and Naturalization Services, the Coast Guard, Secret Service and many more.  According to one estimate about 165,000 are employed within this department.  Finally, there’s the Pentagon budget, reaching an all-time high of a proposed $401.7 billion in fiscal 2005.  The total expenditures for all of the above come to about $663 billion.  The total number employed is almost impossible to calculate.  As for the military, there were about 1.4 million on active duty in fiscal year 1999. 

            The above total leaves out a lot.  For instance, we have no idea how many businesses are involved in providing various kinds of products and services to agencies of the criminal justice system, Homeland Security and the military.  Concerning the military, not counted in the Pentagon budget is the cost of the current war in Iraq.  The latest count comes to around $104 billion as of April, 2004. It is not possible at this time to provide anything more than crude estimates of the number of people employed in private businesses that provide products and services to the various agencies of social control, nor the extent of the revenues obtained from such services.  It would be safe to assume, however, that revenues come to several billions of dollars.

The above estimates come to at least $767 billion in expenditures/revenues.  As for estimating the number employed, if we take the estimated 15,000 firms in the private security industry and assume an average of about 100 employees per firm, we have about 1.5 million in the private security industry (more than the above-referenced 1 million security guards).  This would bring the total employed to more than 5 million. (Missing from these estimates are the public school security police officers, for which there are no national data available.)

At a minimum, we have a society that employs over 5 million people (perhaps more) whose main job is connected in some way with the social control of literally billions of citizens both here and abroad, with expenditures that are at least three-quarters of a trillion dollars.  Given the money and the number employed, it is safe to say that the control of crime and related security concerns is one of the most important industries in the world.

It is probably impossible to estimate the total number of people who, on any given day, are subject to the control functions of the modern American state, whether it is the crime control industry or the military.  We do have, however, some fairly accurate numbers for those under the direct control of the American criminal justice system, especially prisons and jails.

            At the end of 2002, there were more than 2 million prisoners in the United States, with an incarceration rate of 701 (per 100,000). Both of these statistics are all-time highs and highest in the world. These figures alone tell the story of the results of the Aget tough,@ ultra conservative polices that began in the early 1970s. 

            Not included in these figures are those detained under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (formerly the INS), which totaled 21,065 on December 31, 2002.  This number represented a 46% increase over 1995.  Additionally, there were 2,377 prisoners held under military jurisdiction, plus 16, 206 prisoners held in the custody of correctional authorities in U.S. territories.  These numbers together add up to 39,648.  The total number of prisoners comes to 2,072,979. 

It should be noted that our incarceration figures do not include all of those in various community-based facilities (e.g., work-release centers) and incarcerated juveniles. The exact number of those in these community-based facilities is not available, but as of 1998 there were more than four million on probation and parole, up from about 1.3 million in 1980. The number of juveniles incarcerated was about 109,000 as of 1999 (the latest figures available).

            Finally, there is the rather astonishing figure of 47 million American citizens (about one-fourth of the adult population) who have criminal records on file with some state or federal agency!  This is a truly amazing statistic.  That brings the total of current and previous criminal justice “clients” to more than 50 million people, not counting juveniles on probation, parole or under some other form of supervision!  It might be said without much exaggeration that the crime control industry reaches into every nook and cranny of American life.

© 2005 by Randall G. Shelden. No part of this may be reproduced without permission from the author.