The Obama administration just made a decision that has the potential to transform the fabric of our society.
In the absence of legislation for criminal justice reform, the US Department of Justice announced that it will no longer award contracts to Private Prison Corporations.
This may seem like a rather lackluster administrative action. But it may be viewed by historians as the defining moment of the Obama administration.
Incarceration is a thriving industry in America. We may no longer lead the world in automobile manufacturing, or aeronautical pursuits. But for decades, our nation has emerged as the world leader in imprisonment. More people per capita are imprisoned in the US than anywhere else in the world. The numbers are staggering.
Your tax dollars provide billions of dollars annually to support the private prison industry. In return, the private prison industry has rewarded its stockholders with great profits. And decimated families and communities all over our nation.
The private prison industry has lobbied relentlessly for laws designed to ensure a steady flow of low level offenders. Low level offenders are the cheapest to house. People with drug abuse problems have been funneled into a system that benefits the industry’s stockholders. Medical care might have benefited the individuals with the drug abuse problems, their families and their communities. But that would have impeded profits in the industry. And there are so many profits to be made.
It is a brilliant, evil scheme, really. Millions of human beings are removed from workforce, and then employed (in prison) for as little as 23 cents per hour. They work for some of your favorite corporations. Walmart. McDonald’s. Whole Foods. AT&T. They sew flags for State Police Departments. They cleaned up the waste at the toxic BP spill. The companies that employ them get massive tax breaks. And the manufactured products are labeled “Made in America.”
The vast majority of prisoners are men of color. In fact, according to Bureau of Justice Statistics, one in three black men can expect to go to prison at some point in his life.
Policing policies, such as stop and frisk, increase the probability that contraband will be found. Immigration policies insure that a large percentage of those seeking refuge in our nation are incarcerated, at taxpayer expense. And drug laws insure that a steady stream of low-level human beings will end up in the system.
Of course many incarcerated people are guilty of the crime of poverty. Failure to pay traffic tickets can result in bench warrants. Failure to respond to bench warrants often leads to incarceration.
Crime is down. But incarceration rates are way way up. How can this be? Well, in a little known piece of legislation slipped through Congress, the Private Prison Industry was able to ensure “occupancy rates” of as high as 96% in their prisons. The government has promised the industry that they will keep their jails full. At taxpayer expense.
But that is about to change.
On August 18 of 2016, the US Justice Department announced that it will no longer grant contracts to Private Prisons. Once the existing contracts expire, they will not be renewed. Prisons will still exist, of course. Publicly operated prisons. But the forces that have lobbied our legal system for decades will cease to have power to influence our laws.
We as a nation may return to a semblance of sanity. Maybe your tax dollars will no longer pay more than a year’s worth of college tuition to incarcerate a kid who had a few joints in his pocket. Maybe heroin addicts will receive medical care instead of jail sentences. Maybe folks who didn’t have enough money to pay a traffic ticket will not end up in jail. Maybe millions of kids will not have their families torn apart as a beloved parent is stolen away.
We still need the next Congress to start taking legislative action. And now that the powerful pro- incarceration lobby has been effectively castrated, that might be possible.
For more, please read
12 Things You NEED to KNOW About Our Private Prisons, Your Taxes, and Your Community