Yes, U.S. prisons ARE ‘concentration camps’

concentration camps

Most Americans are loathe to condemn their own country. Even when they do, they refuse to acknowledge its vast history of criminality and prefer to behave as if the latest outrage is an outlier event. 

The disgraceful treatment meted out to asylum-seekers at the southern border must be condemned unequivocally. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other House members performed their due diligence when they witnessed the horrible conditions first hand. 

But Ocasio-Cortez is also the source of confusion on the subject. Her assessment that these facilities can be called “concentration camps” created consternation and debate. That reaction isn’t surprising, considering that Americans are in a permanent state of denial about their nation. 

Can’t connect history 

Those very loaded words are commonly associated with Nazi Germany, the country we are told was the ultimate embodiment of evil. It is difficult for most people to connect the country they think of as being good and virtuous with Adolph Hitler’s atrocities. 

There were already thousands of concentration camps in the United States before Donald Trump began his reign of terror over asylum seekers. These concentration camps are usually referred to as “prisons.” 

More than two million people are locked up for serious crimes, but more often for more minor cases that should be adjudicated otherwise. There are people serving life sentences for nonviolent offenses under the notorious “three strikes” sentencing laws. A Black woman in Alabama was recently indicted after she was the victim of a shooting which caused her to miscarry. 

The real truth 

That kind of draconian sentencing and punishment for its own sake is the hallmark of an authoritarian regime that is full of concentration camps. Juveniles are tried as adults, pregnant women given birth in shackles, and prisoners work for a pittance or are even charged for their incarceration. 

Private corporations run prisons and turn a profit. Other companies make money by selling products made by prisoners. Call centers are staffed by inmates and everything from clothing to furniture ought to be labeled “Made in Prison.” 

The term “concentration camp” could have been used long before in describing the world’s worst prison state. Unfortunately, even liberals succumb to the urge to defend their country. The use of nonsensical expressions such as, “This is not who we are,” are created by wishful thinking and are an effort to disappear a very ugly history. 

All-American history 

The country that began with the attempt to exterminate the indigenous population and continued with the enslavement of millions of people was obviously the site of many concentration camps. Native Americans were held in them before being sent far from their homes. Slave markets and plantations were concentration camps, as were the chain gangs which followed. The internment of Japanese Americans fits the same description. 

That sordid history culminates in the mass incarceration state which disproportionately impacts Black people. The group represented by a mere 13 percent of the total population comprises half of those caught behind bars. 

It is important to speak truthfully about this country, even if tender sensibilities are hurt in the process. The rampant injustices in this country must be called out, and there is no better place to start than with the prison state. 

Major issue ignored 

Anti-Black racism is so firmly entrenched in the system and in the national psyche that it continues to be unaddressed even by those who claim non-racist credentials. Every other group in need of redress may become the topic of national discourse; the elephant in the room is unnoticed.

If concerned people want to call the migrant detention centers “concentration camps” they should do so. They shouldn’t forget that this institution is as American as apple pie.

Margaret Kimberley is a cofounder of, and writes a weekly column there. Contact her at



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