From Plantation to Prison: A Look at the Continuous Mental, Social and Cultural Imprisonment of Criminal Offenders Using the Realist Theory

Kandice Purdy


Slavery and its harsh conditions ended over a century ago. Or, did it? In addition to the psychological effects still in existence today due to slavery, the institution of slavery also left behind a business blueprint which is currently being used and mastered by a powerful entity—the American criminal justice system. Today, prisoners are forced to endure harsh conditions similar to those that existed during slavery, including torture, humiliation, and labor with little to no pay. The Realist Theory suggests that an individual with power can influence a powerless individual to behave in a manner or perform acts which the powerless individual would not normally perform. Applying the Realist Theory, this paper hypothesizes that rather than serving as a form of rehabilitation as intended, the American prison system functions as a powerful business which exploits prisoners to perform work they would otherwise not do for very little or no pay in order to gain profit. Since the American prison system generates major profits for private owners and wealthy individuals who are able to benefit from the labor of prisoners, prisons seem to no longer have any intention of rehabilitation and seem more interested in having prisoners return. Upon release from prison, obtaining necessities for survival such as employment and housing is extremely difficult, if not impossible for offenders. Applying the Marxist Theory, this paper further hypothesizes that the American prison system not only functions similarly to slavery from a business aspect, it also does so culturally as it seeks to keep offenders at the bottom of society even after their physical release from incarceration. Qualitative data collected from primary and secondary sources employing three expert interviews and the document analysis technique were used to test the hypotheses. The findings delineated from the systematic data analysis support both hypotheses.


Slavery; American Criminal Justice System; Prisoners; Realist Theory; Marxist Theory

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