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  • Writer's pictureNicola Graham

American Prisons are the new Factory Farms

Updated: Aug 2, 2023

As I learn more about the racial disparity of our criminal justice system, I see the disproportionate numbers of BIPOC - Black, Indigenous, and people of color - not only arrested and convicted but also serving more severe sentences than their White brethren. For example, today, people of color make up 37% of the U.S. population but 67% of the prison population.

When looking into prisons, I was struck by something hauntingly familiar. As I mentioned before, I was born and raised in Texas and I was a big time meat eatin’ BBQ fan. I then discovered the horror of factory farms and have not eaten meat since. The more I read about our prison and correctional system, the more I realized that American prisons are the new factory farms.

Before we get started, I just want to say that the overwhelming amount of atrocities in both factory farms and prisons cannot possibly be explored in this one little blog. What I will discuss is the very tiny tip of the very deep icebergs of animal and human cruelty. Not to worry though, we will definitely be coming back to the criminal INjustice system on our antiracist journey.

So, to kick things off, here are 3 main similarities I see in Factory Farms and prisons:

1) Babies and Families being ripped apart

2) Overcrowded and cramped cages

3) Inhumane treatment and inadequate medical care

First, families being ripped apart:

In Factory Farms, mother animals are inseminated and live a continuous cycle of pregnancy, birth, and insemination again. Usually within hours of birth, calves are taken away from their mothers, becoming so distressed they get sick, lose weight, and cry so much that their throats become raw.

65% of incarcerated women and 45% of incarcerated men report having minor children at home. 80% of women in jails are mothers. Not surprisingly, incarcerated women are often the primary caretakers of their children before their imprisonment, meaning children have the only parent they’ve ever known ripped from their lives.

Next, we have overcrowded and cramped cages:

Pigs, chickens, dairy cows, and baby cows used for veal, just to name a few, are all kept in cramped cages suffering sores, loss of feathers and bruised hooves from being forced to constantly stand or not move.

The intense boredom and frustration pigs suffer in gestation crates have been known to cause abnormal and neurotic behaviors like repetitively biting at the bars of the crate or chewing with an empty mouth causing sores and mouth damage. This is oddly similar to the behaviors that men and women face in solitary confinement.

Studies show that people held in long-term solitary confinement suffer from anxiety, paranoia, perceptual disturbances, and deep depression.

Severe overcrowding coupled with inadequate staffing in many jails create dangerous conditions including numerous inmates injured in fights, medical emergencies without proper attention, and health issues, most notably mental health issues and infectious diseases.

At the end of 2014 the US reported being at 103.9% of prison capacity. There were 2.3 million inmates incarcerated in 2018 which means roughly 100,000 people are being stuffed into small cells and areas where they don’t fit.

And finally, moving to Inhumane treatment and inadequate medical care:

In addition to the cramped conditions, at Factory Farms, animals are Injected with antibiotics to unnaturally fatten them quickly for meat. Chickens are painfully mutilated by debeaking their highly sensitized beaks, male chicks are literally thrown away or gassed and because it is thought to improve meat quality and tenderness, male calves are castrated at a young age by crushing spermatic cords until their testicles die and fall off.

Inmates have also suffered from physical mistreatment, excessive disciplinary sanctions, barely tolerable physical conditions, and inadequate medical and mental health care.

According to a study released in 2017 by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, nearly half the people held in jails suffer from some kind of mental illness, and more than a quarter have a severe condition, such as bipolar disorder. Prisons can also be a breeding ground for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and other infectious diseases.

And when it comes to the healthcare of these medical and mental issues, 2 of the largest nationwide prison healthcare providers have been sued about fifteen hundred times during the past 5 years over matters including alleged neglect, malpractice, and, in dozens of cases, wrongful injury or death.

There are many more similarities I found between factory farms and prisons, such as exploiting animals and humans for labor and profit and dirty and unhealthy conditions, just to name a few. All this to say, as a vegan, it seems easy to want to save and care for the cuddly, sweet-faced cow, chicken, or pig and also to end the abuse as it directly affects our health and environment. But what about the faces of the innocent BIPOC men women and even children who are wrongfully convicted, or coerced into jail time with plea bargains by public defenders who profit from it, or abnormally high bail bonds for unconvicted minorities who are simple unable to pay? These people are lost in our system wrongfully but the loss of their lives, their families, and their humanity doesn’t affect our health or our planet so we don’t care about them. We don’t have California’s Prop 12 for these innocent BIPOCs so they stay in their factory farm prisons and jails. Out of sight, out of mind, or so the criminal justice system hopes. But we can see them and we can do something about it. They’ve unjustly served their time, it’s now time that we come together and educate ourselves and vote to pass laws and fight to serve them.


“…the regular civil courts tended to become solely institutions for perpetuating the slavery of blacks. Almost every law and method ingenuity could devise was employed by the legislatures to reduce the Negroes to serfdom,—to make them the slaves of the State…”

-W. E. B. Du Bois from The Souls of Black Folk

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