Nation’s private prisons pimp the poor

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by: Lamont Lilly

 Here in the United States, our great “land of the free,” there are approximately 130,000 inmates housed in privately owned prisons.

Lamont Lilly is a contributing editor with the Triangle Free Press and organizer with Workers World Party. Follow him on Twitter @LamontLilly. He graciously agreed to share this piece, originally published in the Durham Herald-Sun, with the Clarion Content.

Here in the United States, our great “land of the free,” there are approximately 130,000 inmates housed in privately owned prisons. It‘s a foul stench within a justice system that leads the world in number of people incarcerated within a state, federal or private institution. The latest tally of 2 million inmates equates to 25 percent of the globe’s incarcerated population. This massive waste of human life is commonly known as the Prison Industrial Complex, an oppressive current led from the top down by the highly profitable Prison Privatization Movement.

Its roots can be traced to Ronald Reagan’s “War on Drugs” and tougher sentencing platform in the 1980s. Due to policymakers’ concerns about prison overcrowding, in 1984 the Corrections Corporation of America was contracted to oversee its first facility in Hamilton County, Tennessee. Such transition set a federal precedent for private control of correctional institutes.

Though depicted as cost-saving, efficient operations, independent studies suggest the contrary. A lack of regulation permits smaller staff and inadequate training, which in turn produces more violence and consistently unstable conditions among inmate population.

Sustainable medical care has come into question. Private prisons such the George W. Hill Center, Walnut Grove Youth Facility and New Castle Correctional Institute have garnered a barrage of recent scrutiny over the deaths of dozens of inmates. Though touted as inexpensively designed, private prisons have proven just as costly to construct as federal and state run prisons.

It is no secret that private firms such as The GEO Group possess direct appeal to federal legislation like “Three Strikes” and Mandatory Minimum Sentencing. The same companies grossing billions from the capture and incarceration of human beings (mostly poor, black and Latino) are the same brokers who donate millions to state senators, school boards, mayors and police chiefs.  Common sense says such merging complexities spell corruption – political dividends too close for public comfort.

Meanwhile, predatory investors like Wells Fargo, American Express and Merrill Lynch reap robust returns on private bond purchasing – the same greed-driven giants literally “banking” on the results of black boys and their fourth-grade EOG’s.  (The Children’s Defense Fund details this association through its Cradle to Prison Pipeline Campaign).  As far as the diversity of stock in such investments, additional stakeholders include a slew of corporate sponsors: Nordstrom’s, Microsoft, IBM, Revlon, Target, Dell, Hewlett-Packard and even AT&T – a smorgasbord of our favorite brands.

Fact is, we as Americans aren’t committing more crime; we’re doing more time because it pays.  We’re talking “Third World” sweatshops disguised as rehab programs and inmate workforce. Such human rights infringement isn’t punishing someone who does wrong; it’s profiting from the pain of that punishment, exploiting the limited freedoms of inhumane confinement, maximizing such restrictive conditions for capital gain — the same profits that merely perpetuate the incarceration of more people for longer periods of time.

While poverty in the U.S. continues to plague the working poor, job positions are going for $1 an hour in the private prison sector. No wonder we can’t find jobs — our furniture and home appliances are being produced by rent-a-slaves now. Such control sounds eerily similar to the Convict Lease System.

If this is what big business means by “Made in America,” I don’t want any part of it.

Lamont Lilly photo by: Brenda Ryan

Lamont Lilly photo by: Brenda Ryan

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