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Jakada Imani

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Private Prisons Profit From Pain

Posted: 02/23/2012 11:18 am

I've been working on issues of police accountability, locked-up youth, violence, and community investment for a long time. Sometimes I think that no example of injustice could still surprise me. I was recently proved wrong.

It happened when I was sent a Huffington Post article about the Corrections Corporation of America's (CCA) move to buy prisons from cash-strapped states. As part of their offer to the 48 states they propositioned was a 20-year management contract, plus an assurance that the prison would remain at least 90 percent full over the course of the contract. Shame on you CCA, shame on you!

Incarceration for profit is just plain wrong. Making a business from other people's suffering is wrong. And demanding that states guarantee their for-profit corporation chock-full prisons is immoral.

Over the last decade, crime has decreased every year. Last year, the FBI's Annual Uniform Crime Report showed that the nation experienced a 5.5 percent decrease in the number of violent crimes in 2010. The preliminary report from 2011 shows the same trend- both violent and property crimes have continued. Crime is on the decline, yet the CCA is demanding that governments continue to deliver bodies at sustained rates.

Public safety is one of government's first duties. In theory, our states' correctional systems do this through rehabilitating offenders. Yet, we know all too well that most prisons fail to rehabilitate the people warehoused there. Public prisons already struggle to address the root causes of drug use, poverty or violence that are often at the root of crime. They fail at giving inmates the education, counseling or job training they need to turn their lives around. Prisons across the nation do nothing to reduce harm in our communities and in fact, the high rates of incarceration in communities of color has proven to further destabilize our communities.

For-profit prisons are not going to do better. What incentive do private lock-ups have to end the revolving door of incarceration when they profit from it? Allowing a profit motive to drive our country's prison system guarantees injustice.

I'm not the first to suggest that the CCA puts profit ahead of people's lives. This week a lawsuit was filed against the CCA by the family of a prisoner who was stabbed to death in a CCA facility.

Let's also be clear that over-incarceration in America impacts people of color first and worst. There is a well-documented disparity about who serves time in prison and for how long, regardless of their offense. More than 60% of those locked up in adult prisons across the US are people of color. It has been shown time and time again that poor folks and people of color are more likely to go to prison and to serve longer sentences than their white or wealthier counterparts who've committed the very same offense.

So where will these 90% full prisons the CCA demands come from? By continuing to wage failed drug wars in poor communities and by locking up more and more people of color.

CCA's CEO Damon Hininger stands to benefit should the states provide him with prisons well-stocked with prisoners. In 2010, for example, his total compensation equaled $3,266,387.

One way for the 1% to stay at the top, not to mention to widen the disparity between our nation's richest and poorest citizens, is to make a profit from locking up the bottom rungs of the 99%.

Our country needs to invest in businesses and industries that, in turn, invest in our people, create real jobs and help to build a future we can be proud of. Join me in calling on the CCA to immediately rescind its 90% clause from any future contracts with States. And to publicly agree that their future contracts and bids will not include occupancy clauses. Let's not allow the CCA to put their profits ahead of the health and well-being of our people and communities any longer.