A recent decision by the Department of Justice to close certain private prisons has been hailed by some as a victory, but does it go far enough to address the root of prison overcrowding?
On Thursday the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it would phase out contracts with thirteen private prisons. Speaking at a press conference. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates explained that the prisoner population has declined over the last three years.
“They simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and as noted in a recent report by the Department’s Office of Inspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security,” Yates said.
Yates said it was ‘hard to know precisely’ when private prisons would be completely absent of federal inmates, but that next year’s May goal represented less than half the total federal inmates housed in private facilities three years ago, at the peak of that population — indicating the department was ‘well on our way to ultimately eliminating the use of private prisons entirely.’
Following the announcement from the DOJ it was reported that stocks of private prison companies were falling. “By Thursday afternoon, Corrections Corporation of America stock had plunged by nearly 50%,” reported the BBC.
The DOJ’s plan to shutter some private prisons comes after a report from the DOJ’s inspector general that found the prisons have higher amount of safety and security incidents than the prisons run by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The incidents include property damage, bodily injury, and at least one death of a correctional officer. Jonathan Burns, a spokesman for the Corrections Corporation of America, told BBC News that the report contained “significant flaws.” In early August, Mother Jones published an exposé detailing the experiences of a reporter who took a job as a guard in a private prison in Louisiana for four months. The reporter also found an abundant use of violence by guards and prisoners.
According to the Sentencing Project group, there were 94,365 prisoners being held in private facilities in 2010. The BBC reports that as of 2016, private prisons housed 22,660 federal inmates, out of a total of nearly 200,000 inmates in public prisons. According to those numbers, the closing of thirteen private prisons will hardly affect the culture of mass incarceration and mass criminalization of victimless crimes that exists in America.
There is also the issue of calling these prisons “private” when they directly benefit from subsidization via tax dollars which are taken by force and granted government privilege to social their losses and capitalize their gains. Private prisons are nasty, violent places that should be abolished and the special interest groups who lobby government to pass laws that will further criminalize free people are also a huge problem. But, an even more deeply rooted problem is the legal structure that sentences people to prison in the first place.
As Reason reports, the Federal Bureau of Prisons started contracting with private corporations in 1997. The government took this step to help alleviate overcrowding, having arrested and imprisoned huge swaths of the population as a response to public panic stemming from the crime wave of the 1980s and early ’90s. Incarcerating so many people was an overreaction to the problem—it was bad public policy, and terribly costly. The rise of private prisons is a symptom of this mistake, and getting rid of them without addressing the underlying condition that made them necessary in the first place is counter-productive to the cause of criminal justice reform.
It is not only the private prison industry that we should seek to abolish, but a prison system that does not care for the human beings who are shuttled around like cattle, that we should work to destroy. The Private Prison industry is simply an unfortunate response to the growth of mass criminalization and incarceration that leads to overcrowding and violence. According to Federal Bureau of Prisons data, nearly half (84,746, 46.3%) of all federal inmates are incarcerated for drug offenses. That is nearly 85,000 human beings in prison for victimless crimes.
America has become a nation of prisoners and that will not be fixed by closing a few private prisons. While this announcement should be taken as a small victory worthy of celebration, it should not be viewed as the end of this fight. Only when the unjust laws have been abolished and the prisoners freed from their chains will we see true change worth a victory celebration.
Image Credit: TheFreeThoughtProject.com
Derrick Broze is an investigative journalist and liberty activist. He is the Lead Investigative Reporter for ActivistPost.com and the founder of the TheConsciousResistance.com. Follow him on Twitter. Derrick is the author of two books: The Conscious Resistance: Reflections on Anarchy and Spirituality and Finding Freedom in an Age of Confusion.
Derrick is available for interviews. Please contact Derrick@activistpost.com
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