The United States of America heralds itself as the world’s premiere champion of democratic principles and human rights, but with only 5% of the earth’s population, it has 25% of its prison inmates. Notorious human rights offenders like China and Iran don’t incarcerate its citizens to the same degree as the U.S. The United States was also in the forefront of privatizing prison services……..prisons for profits.
Reducing the numbers of Americans in prison is an issue during this year’s presidential campaign, but it’s a backburner item. A concern for the centre and left of centre, prison populations involve states’ rights which are more a conservative cause. This won’t be front of mind for the candidates.
But now to the question of who runs U.S. prisons. As the Washington Post recently reported, after years of documented human rights abuses by the private prison industry, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is finally ending its use of privately-run, for-profit prisons. As Senator Bernie Sanders put it in a press statement responding to the DOJ decision, “Study after study after study has shown private prisons are not cheaper, they are not safer, and they do not provide better outcomes for either the prisoners or the state.”
On the contrary, corporations in the business of operating prisons for profit are planning for growth, looking for cost cutting efficiencies, and opportunities to benefit from criminal activity.
Unfortunately, the U.S. federal prison population currently stands at about 193,000, and is dropping due to changes in sentencing policies over the last three years. Of this, only 22,660 inmates are living in federal private prisons. While this represents a small minority of the total number of men and women imprisoned in the country, the feds example should spur state governments to take a closer look at their penal systems.
The Justice Department’s decision doesn’t put an immediate end to their partnership with the private prison industry. It instructs officials to decline to renew contracts or to limit a contract’s scope, with a goal to reduce and eventually end the use of privately operated prisons.
This doesn’t cover private prisons used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) is asking the U.S. government to act on these centers as well. “The Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, whose civil immigration detention facilities form a far larger component of private prison contractors’ portfolios, must immediately follow the DOJ’s example. Locking up immigrants, including families and children fleeing extreme violence in Central American, should not be a source of profit for huge corporations, particularly given private contractors’ terrible record providing inadequate medical and medical health care to dying immigrants.”
Whatever criticism can be levelled at government operated prisons, here or in the U.S., there is still no excuse to allow for-profit corporations to use crime to fuel a growth industry, abuse the human rights of individuals, criminals or not, and promote recidivism rates at the risk of community safety.