Democratic candidate for president Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.) on September 17 introduced bills to ban private prisons, reinstate the federal parole system and eliminate quotas for the number of immigrants held in detention.
Of the nearly 1.6 million people in federal and state prisons in 2013, 8.4 percent were in private prisons. That includes over 41,159 federal prisoners in private facilities and 91,885 state prisoners in private facilities. The U.S. Marshal Service held 20 percent of its detainees in private facilities and Immigration and Customs Enforcement held 62 percent of its detainees in private facilities in 2014. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is mandated to detain and maintain an average of 34,000 individuals at any given time.
Justice should not, and can not be for sale. The for-profit prison industry trades on the stock exchange and increases the value of their stock by locking people behind bars, very often, for decades at a time. The federal government, my government, your government pays these corporations to house inmates convicted of a variety of crimes.
Very often, these crimes are non-violent drug offenses.
America’s failed war on drugs supplies an almost endless stream of inmates to these corporations. The more people these companies incarcerate, the more money these companies make. There is something fundamentally wrong with all of this. When companies have a monetary incentive to lock people away, they lobby for stiffer sentencing and short cuts to law enforcement, making it easier to arrest, convict and sentence offenders.
Our corrections system exists to uphold justice – not to house innocent refugees or feed the greed of corporate interests,” Grijalva said. By an ever increasing number of inmates, who often do not receive the basic staples of life, and are forced to live in overcrowded facilities, our corrections systems are collapsing under their own weight as the prison industry gets rich and countless innocent men, women and children are ensnared in their trap.
In the United States of America (a free nation) this is an abomination, a true travesty of justice.
The current for-profit prison systems, and the failed war on drugs is ruining the lives of not only these inmates and detainees, it devastates families for years to come.
Once again, large corporations profit while American citizens suffer. Once again, the rich get richer at the expense of the poor and unfortunate. We must ask ourselves how these things are possible in a free and democratic society.
This abomination hurts us all in the end and must be stopped. Thank goodness for rational, compassionate and principled people like Senator Sanders and Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, and Rep. Keith Ellison and Rep. Bobby L. Rush.
Yes, there are some criminals, really bad people who need to be locked away, but there are far too many, doing far too much time, for non-violent offenses and nobody should be able to profit from this. In my opinion this is a form of modern day slavery and should be abolished just as the horrendous practice of owning and selling human beings was abolished over one hundred and fifty years ago.
A terrific article, Homie!
I didn’t get a chance to read it until this evening. Which turned out to be a good thing, because I read it after I’d heard Pope Francis’ speech to the Joint Session of Congress.
I think Taoist you and Catholic Francis are very much of the same mind on this issue. Over and over today he emphasized the notions of mercy and rehabilitation in the way we think about the imprisoned.
Private prisons are neither merciful, nor are they places that prepare people to be released into the world again as productive citizens. In fact — as you mentioned — their profits depend upon people not being released at all!
They are just as sick and warped in their way as this Martin Shkreli person (the guy who bought the pharmaceutical company that manufactures the essential AIDS med and then jacked up the price 5000% on day one) is in his. He depends on peoples’ life-threatening illnesses to maintain his obscene profits, and they depend on an steady influx of helpless prisoners to maintain theirs. Making fortunes off the misery of others. Appalling.
There are times when Big Government — complete with all its regulations — is exactly what the doctor ordered.
And this is one of them. Private for profit prisons need to go away — yesterday!
Thanks Homie. What we have now in America is what some see as a surplus citizenry. It’s a horrible way to describe people that have no opportunity, people who have been unemployed mainly by the huge decrease in manufacturing jobs. They can’t really contribute to society at large, mainly due to lack of opportunity.
What can they do to feed their families and themselves? How do they acquire housing and the basic necessities of life? In the inner cities, there is an industry that can and does supply the means to get these basic necessities, and that industry is drug dealing. I’m not talking about the kingpins and those at the top of this industry, but those at the bottom. Those that don’t rake in thousands of dollars a day. These small time dealers make enough to live on and maybe have a few nice things, but that’s about all.
These are the unfortunate souls who get arrested the most. They are low hanging fruit, easy arrests for cops on the make. It takes time, money, resources and many, many hours of work for the police to bust those at the top, and it’s much easier for cops to go after the little guys.
Many of these people get out of jail and go right back to doing what they know best, and consequently, they get arrested again and again. The three strikes and your out laws put these people behind bars for life. Combine that with mandatory minimum sentencing laws, and you have a steady stream of inmates that these corporations profit from.
The war on drugs is almost custom made to supply these corporations with the necessary means to make huge profits. This is simply unacceptable and must be stopped.
I was so excited to see Sanders and the others actually take the first step to enact legislation that would stop this abomination.
KT – Great piece!
This is such a core issue of equality in this country and one that people miss the big picture on.
By feeding this prison corporations all the prisoners they can eat so they can get wealthier, society becomes poorer. A couple of quick stats:
There are more facts in the article linked above that should make any fair minded American very upset.
The Prison Industrial Complex has created and is sustaining as racist and destructive system that benefits them. They use their ill gotten gain to buy up legislators to pass or protect racially oppressive sentencing laws. And those laws, with the help of racially biased policing and prosecution, take the futures away from many young people who are minorities and may have made some mistakes but not ones that should consign their lives to prison and greater crimes.
Prisons are criminal factories. In the old days, there was a concept about prisons rehabilitating prisoners so that when they eventually got out, they could be productive citizens. That was of course seen as too liberal and “coddling” because, as our RW friends make clear, prison is all about wreaking harsh vengeance even on non-violent offenders.
Recidivism is at a very high level for convicts, it only makes sense that when they get out of prison with no more abilities (aside from criminal ones) than they had when they entered prison, what else are many going to do to get money than turn to crime?
And all those young black men whose lives are forever poisoned by that first stay in prison over a non-violent drug offense (that white people are far less likely to serve time for), how does having a criminal record and being hardened by prison prepare them to contribute positively to society when they get out?
The Prison Industrial Complex is quite happy perpetuating a revolving door for prison since it assures them of ongoing wealth. And that wealth is spent freely on buying politicians and legislatures to keep racist and unfair sentencing laws in place.
As with health care, the criminal justice system should not be for-profit because that in itself injects the element of greed that corrupts the purpose of that system.
One can hope that efforts to de-privatize prisons will eventually succeed
as the abuse and corruption continues to be exposed.
Thanks for the added info Ad. Having a monetary incentive to incarcerate people just has no place at all in a so-called free society.
it’s difficult to get support for the type of legislation that Bernie and his fellows are proposing, because far too many people have the attitude that says, “well they’re criminals, and they get what they deserve.”
People who think this way simply have no idea about the circumstances that lead many, many of these poor souls to break the law. many of these “offenders,” have little to no choice in dealing drugs. Their fathers have done it, their cousins, their brothers and so on. Many of these young people are born into it and see it as the only way to get by, to get the basics of life.
I don’t have much sympathy for the real criminals, like rapists, murderers and bank robbers. But these young people, who are basically just trying to survive, are easy targets for law enforcement and they are the ones who pay too dearly.
This has to stop. Things must change, or we will no longer be able to call ourselves a free nation. As it is, we must do so with a grimace.
Just had to thank you AdLib for posting the link to this article. I sure wish more people in this nation would admit the fact that the criminal justice system has been used as yet another method of continuing to punish the black community after slavery. I am so glad the Pope decided to add to his speech the excerpt from the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speech that is this:
“…..In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”
In my opinion, Dr. King was correct beyond a doubt, he was describing the way in which this country has failed the people most responsible for her success. Prisons, and private prisons even worse are evidence of what it is I speak. Since slavery these institutions have been used to destroy the black family. When will those who have an eye to see and an ear to hear wake up, look at, or listen to what the words of this great man says about this nation, supposedly one of the greatest on earth. Will we listen to the words of the Pope, another great man who is in effect in his soft spoken and humble way calling to attention the fact that this nation still owes a debt to people of color, African Americans especially? This Private prison system, and the prison system itself should be an affront to every intelligent citizen that lives in this nation and to every person with a conscience throughout the world. Hopefully there are more intelligent citizens in this nation than not…I’m beginning to wonder. 🙂
Very interesting article. I don’t know much about your prison system over there, but do know that incarceration for profit is deplorable and too many are in jail who should never be there. It’s the same in the U.K. but they have a terrible reputation as do hospitals run by private trusts where profits are more important than patient care, and many have died through neglect. This is the conservative game plan.
I came across this article a few days ago about the financial hardship of the families of those in prison. It’s really appalling.
Thanks for the post.
Here’s How Much It Costs To Have A Family Member In Prison
Thanks Kalima. Thanks also for the link. Unfortunately the Gonzalez’s situation is repeated many, many times over. Far too many people don’t consider the exorbitant cost to the families of those behind bars.
Talk about carpet baggers. There are far too many vultures out there that don’t think twice about profiting from the misfortune and dire circumstances that put people behind bars, far too often, for decades at a time.
There are hundreds and hundreds of people serving life sentences simply for drug possession. This cannot continue.
Excellent article Kalima, and a wonderful addition to an excellent article written by KT. We, in this nation, the U.S., really need to stand up to lawmakers and challenge them on this absurdity that is privatization of everything the wealthy can make a buck on, even at the cost of human misery. Where are those who are supposed to have a conscience, and I’m not talking about the scum bags in congress only, I mean the rest of government as well, the Presidency and the Supreme Court, I’m talking about the powers that be that continue to allow the usurping of governmental processes by private corporations. I wonder if when we are voting in this nation we actually take into consideration the fact that those that are writing legislation “for us” are actually writing legislation “against us” and in favor of the lobbyist and wealthy donors that continue to make their lives a bit better while making the lives of the majority of the rest of the citizens in this nation unbearable.
KT, this is very important for people to know. Many of the people in “prisons for profit” are nonviolent offenders. Users of MJ, or some other crime with no victims. In fact some have been “railroaded” by the “justice”system.
Bernie has spoken about this and has taken the action to prove his point. I fear that it will not pass due to the republican “do nothing” congress.
Excellent article, KT!
Thanks Nirek. There are thousands of people locked up in our prisons for “victimless,” crimes. People who were non-violent and law abiding in every way except for drug possession.
I have known many, many really decent people in my life, who were hard working, conscientious and loving, who also used MJ, or some other substance that was illegal. To incarcerate people like this is wrong, and then to make a profit from it, is inexcusable and downright shameful.
Excellent article KT. I am so happy those congressmen that you have listed have taken an interest in this problem, and believe me it is a problem. I know you know this, but not only do these prisons cash in by charging to house inmates, they also cash in by using these inmates for labor for their corporate buddies. Case in point published in the Guardian:
“In 1979, Congress created the Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program (known as PIE; pdf) to establish employment opportunities for inmates “that approximate private sector work opportunities”. On the surface, the program is a great idea. It gives prisoners something to do, allows them to contribute to their own upkeep and, hopefully, gives them a better shot of getting an actual living wage job upon release. Such was the intention, anyway.
Unfortunately, and perhaps unsurprisingly, this is not how the PIE program has worked out. Instead, it has become little more than a tidy profit-making scheme for corporations and other entities willing to exploit the captive labor force – often at the expense of private sector jobs.”
There are also other reasons why these corporations are wreaking havoc on the system. Immigrants that have not committed a serious crime are being exploited while in these prisons, children are being treated horribly, and there is no accountability for the actions of these capitalist that insist upon selling human misery for a profit.
The prison industry in this country has been a dismal failure since before the drug wars. Always utilized in a racist manner, always operated in a manner that is not in any way a opportunity for rehabilitation even for those who are serious criminals, they enhance the malicious attitudes of those that are unfortunate enough to be sent there. The prison industry is just that, an industry, used to further ruin the lives of individuals who are unfortunate enough to come into contact with the “Just Us” system. I truly hope these congressmen are triumphant in their attempt to finally make inroads into changing this God forsaken capitalistic prison system we use for detention in this country.
Thanks Monica. I appreciated the added information and the link.
For-profit prisons are such an abomination and really a shameful thing for America. It’s as if we learned nothing from the horrible practice of slavery, so long ago.
Profiting from human misery should never be tolerated in a so-called free society. This is yet another disgraceful example of how money trumps principles, in America.