118 The Injustice of Mass Incarceration & Why Vegans Should Care (Part 2)

We continue our discussion about the prison industrial complex today, getting into ways that mass incarceration intersects with animal exploitation.

In This Episode

We continue with part 2 of our look at the United States’ system of mass incarceration, focusing on how it impacts the people caught up in it, how animal exploitation ties into it, and we end with some ways we can help prevent people from being locked up as well as some alternatives to prison altogether.

Rape in Prison

Sexual assault in prison is a huge issue. Some relevant facts taken from Human Rights Watch’s report US: Federal Statistics Show Widespread Prison Rape:
  • Some 2.1 percent of the inmates surveyed by the BJS reported sexual abuse involving another inmate. In its 2001 landmark report, “No Escape: Male Rape in US Prisons,” Human Rights Watch documented vicious and brutally violent male rapes in prison as well as other more common, less overtly violent forms of coerced sex. Certain prisoners are more vulnerable to rape and are targeted for sexual exploitation – especially prisoners who are young, physically small or weak, gay, first offenders, or have been convicted of a sexual offense against a minor.
  • According to a report released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), “Sexual Victimization in State and Federal Prisons Reported by Inmates, 2007,” 4.5 percent of the state and federal prisoners surveyed reported sexual victimization in the past 12 months. Given a national prison population of 1,570,861, the BJS findings suggest that in one year alone more than 70,000 prisoners were sexually abused.
  • Human Rights Watch’s research revealed that sexual abuse by other inmates often occurred because staff failed to adequately supervise inmates or respond appropriately to complaints of unwanted sexual activity. In some prisons, staff tacitly as well as explicitly condoned inmate-on-inmate abuse.
  • Victims feel like they can’t report the attacks because they may face harsher retaliation from both prisoners as well as prison staff, and getting caught fighting can hurt their chance of parole. Staff may even identify men they know are being assaulted and call them pejoratives for gay. Staff often don’t care, and/or will assume it’s all consensual. Boys who are targeted get identified by all prisoners as easy prey and will be attacked anywhere. Some staff will even threaten to facilitate a raping to keep power and control over inmates

Impact of Incarceration on Youth

The system targets young black men specifically, and the research done on the effect of incarceration on youth paints a sad, horrifying picture:
  • 10,000+ youth are in adult jails in prisons at any given time (as of 2012 report)
  • A recent literature review of youth corrections shows that detention has a profoundly negative impact on young people’s mental and physical well-being, their education, and their employment. One psychologist found that for one-third of incarcerated youth diagnosed with depression, the onset of the depression occurred after they began their incarceration,6 and another suggests that poor mental health, and the conditions of confinement together conspire to make it more likely that incarcerated teens will engage in suicide and self-harm.7 Economists have shown that the process of incarcerating youth will reduce their future earnings and their ability to remain in the workforce, and could change formerly detained youth into less stable employees. Educational researchers have found that upwards of 40 percent of incarcerated youth have a learning disability, and they will face significant challenges returning to school after they leave detention. Most importantly, for a variety of reasons to be explored, there is credible and significant research that suggests that the experience of detention may make it more likely that will continue to engage in delinquent behavior, and that the detention experience may increase the odds that youth will recidivate, further compromising public safety.
  • Instead of reducing crime, the act of incarcerating high numbers of youth may in fact facilitate increased crime by aggravating the recidivism of youth who are detained. Prior Incarceration was a Greater Predictor of Recidivism than Carrying a Weapon, Gang Membership, or Poor Parental Relationship – A recent evaluation of secure detention in Wisconsin, conducted by the state’s Joint Legislative Audit Committee reported that, in the four counties studied, 70 percent of youth held in secure detention were arrested or returned to secure detention within one year of release.


Parole violators account for a large portion of the incarcerated population: Many people may think that parole violators must be doing bad things and therefore should be locked up, but it is very easy to violate parole for non-violent and hard-to-avoid scenarios. Parole violations are split between new criminal activities and technical violations. Parole conditions often make it extremely difficult for a person freshly out of prison to get their footing back in the “free” world:
  • Technical violations: include breaking restrictions around where a parolee can live, who they can live with, where they can work and who they can talk to.
  • New Criminal Convictions: failed drug screens are considered a very serious violation. This includes alcohol if you were convicted of a crime that was considered to be alcohol-related.
  • Parolees typically are also required to maintain or attempt to maintain steady employment; continue on any educational track they have begun; report regularly to a parole officer; notify their parole officer of any change of address; refrain from possessing, using or administering controlled substances; refrain from possession or control of a firearm or any defensive or deadly weapons; refrain from corresponding with anyone in a correctional facility or on parole; and waive extradition. Submitting to drug testing is also a common condition of parole, and parolees are required to submit to warrantless search and seizure and searches conducted without probable cause.

Human Experimentation in Prison

Historically, prisoners have been considered an ideal population on which to conduct research because they are readily accessible and in a controlled environment. Some notable cases:
  • 1944 Statesville Penitentiary Malaria Study: Malaria studies conducted on prisoners in response to the drastic numbers of U.S. soldiers dying in World War II from the disease. There are a lot of questions of how well informed the prisoners were of the risks and what the study would entail, and whether they would be released early for participating. Nazi doctors used this study as a comparative example of the U.S. conducting experiments on prisoners to excuse their experiments conducted during the Holocaust during trials after the war ended.
  • 1952 Ohio State Penitentiary Cancer Study: Chester Southam, a virologist at Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research, injected HeLa cells into Ohio State Penitentiary inmates without informed consent in order to see if people could become immune to cancer. Southam injected live cancer cells into prisoners at the Ohio State Prison. Half of the prisoners in this NIH-sponsored study were black.
  • Cosmetic testing on prisoners: Prisoners were routinely used for testing of cosmetics, details of which were documented by Allen Hornblum in his book, Acres of Skin: Human Experiments at Holmesburg Prison. 8 The title was derived from a comment by Dr. Albert Kligman, a professor of dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School. When he first entered the prison, he reportedly recalled in a newspaper interview: “All I saw before me were acres of skin. It was like a farmer seeing a fertile field for the first time”
The cases above, along with many others not listed, gained notoriaty, eventually causing public demand for stronger regulations around human testing:
  • Common Rule: the Common Rule, established in the 70s, provides guidelines for human testing. One of the conditions of which, under Section __.118, humans may not be tested on in federal studies if the tests haven’t been conducted on animals first. Some additional regulations were passed in early 2017, but none of the standards listed in the Common Rule apply to research that is privately funded, so pharmeceutical companies can still conduct human experiments without having to adhere to the Common Rule. We have privatized human experimentation. Let that sink in for a minute.

Vegan food in prison

Cost to taxpayer

Source: Vera Institute of Justice Study (2012)
  • Average cost per inmate per year in the United States: $31,286 (but varies widely from state to state and whether the prison is privately run or government run
  • Taxpayer costs: almost $39 billion for 40 states surveyed in 2010

Profit of prisons

  • Privatized prisons make up over 10% of the corrections market—turning over $7.4 billion per year
  • Many corporations, including Whole Foods, Walmart, McDonald’s and AT&T profit from prison labor


  • Free Education
  • Housing for everyone
  • Food for everyone
  • Universal Basic Income
  • Mental illness, addiction treatment & support – free and open to all

Alternatives to prison

Resource: Alternatives to Incarceration – Families Against Mandatory Minimums PDF
  • Drug Courts & Mental Health Courts – have to plead guilty first and prosecutor decides if case goes there
  • Halfway Housing
  • House Arrest
  • Parole & probation
  • Abolish drug laws, legalize prostitution, decriminalize homelessness
  • Restorative justice – reconciliation with the victim that they harmed & community at large vs incarceration as punishment
  • Anarchistic: Mutual aid & 100% restitution. Imprisonment only for violent criminals who must work to self-sustain the prison that they are in. Public shaming, beating, execution, compassionate care, expulsion – families/loved ones decide fate.

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    • Hey!
      Ive listened to a few of your recent podcasts and theyre awesome. Really like your take on intersectionality!
      Im not sure which episode it was but you talked about Ben & Jerrys icecream. Not sure if youre aware but Ben & Jerrys is actually owned and run by Unilever one of the world biggest transnational companies. In Australia, weve also had B&J (which is really just unilever under another name…) greenwashing us with being progressive. In the #StopAdani coal mine campaign theyve tried to join forces with environmental bigNGO 350.org coining the phrase ‘scoop icecream not coal.’ Although a clever phrase, having a multinational company with human rights, environmental damages & animal exploitation track record pairing with a grassroots climate change campaign is super aweful. So I feel your hate of B&J and be sure to remember theyre actually unilever in disguise. Classic capitalism. Thanks for your awesome shows.
      Li – Melbourne
    • Pingback: 9. #MeToo and the Threat of Carceral Feminism – The Vegan Vanguard

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