Let me see if I get this right. We wage a war on drugs. But the drugs keep coming. So we throw the users of those drugs in jail. But we apparently can’t do that fast enough because people still buy drugs and the drugs keep coming, but now the jails are getting full. So we contract with private firms to build and run more jails and let them make money off of that. What could possibly go wrong?
As we well know, there’s no such thing as too little profit, so the private prison industry develops a lobby to push for more business and more profits. Since 1989 they have spent nearly $25 million on lobbying efforts.
Sooo… there are people in Washington whose job is to lobby congress to… throw people in jail? Really? And not just in congress, but in state legislatures all over the country.
And apparently it works because the federal prison population more than doubled between 2000 and 2010. At the same time, the crime rate declined.
So… less crime, more prisoners?
And interestingly in our current climate of rancor over the immigration issue, private companies now house nearly half the immigration detainees, compared to a quarter of them ten years ago.
In case you might consider any of this a coincidence, here is a direct quote from the 2014 annual report from the Corrections Corporation of America, one of the two big private prison companies:
“The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws. For instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them. … Legislation has been proposed in numerous jurisdictions that could lower minimum sentences for some non-violent crimes and make more inmates eligible for early release based on good behavior.” [1 ]
Let’s be clear, any changes with respect to either drugs and controlled substances or immigration will affect the bottom line! Lowering sentences will affect the bottom line! What’s the bottom line? About $3.3 billion annually.
In Pennsylvania a judge was sentenced to 28 years in prison last month for taking bribes from private developers of juvenile detention centers. In this “kids for cash” scandal, Judge Mark Ciavarella Jr. presided over cases that sent juveniles to those same centers. Over 4000 cases were reversed or dismissed.
At one time rehabilitation was the goal of our prison system. Logically, for-profit prisons can’t afford rehabilitation. Anything that cuts into the recidivism rate cuts into profits.
It should be apparent the impact this issue has on race relations in this country. We know that a black person in the United States was 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession. African Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population. If current trends continue, one in three black males born today can expect to spend time in prison during his lifetime.
Putting more people in jail means putting more black people in jail. Keeping more people in jail means keeping more black people in jail.
But change will impact the bottom line of our corporate chain gang providers, and they can’t have that.
Bernie Sanders has outlined a comprehensive program of judicial reform. In his speech in Nevada in August he announced his intention to introduce a bill this month that would eliminate private prisons in this country. “We need to end prisons for profit, which result in an over-incentive to arrest, jail, and detain, in order to keep prison beds full,” he said. Bernie believes “our job is to keep people out of jail, not in jail.”
Senator Sanders believes that the “War on Drugs” is a failed policy that has served to increase unemployment, imprison nonviolent offenders, and unfairly target blacks.
Ending the “War on Drugs,” introducing real judicial reform, and eliminating for-profit prisons would change the social landscape in America and help ease racial tension. Bernie Sanders is the man to do that.
Educate your friends.
Enough is Enough.