On Monday February 20, actions will be occurring across the country in solidarity with the more than 2 million people locked in cages -- the incarcerated. Monday, is National Occupy Day in Support of Prisoners.
"OWS is a struggle for human rights," said Jay Chiu, an activist with Occupy Wall Street. "You can't take a stand against severe economic inequity, the denial of human rights, and the universal dominance of the 1 percent -- some of which are private prison execs who spend millions every year lobbying our politicians -- without also denouncing the prison industrial complex."
The U.S. has the world's highest documented incarceration rate. (Russia is second, Rwanda is third.) More blacks are under correctional control today than were enslaved in 1850. These unprecedented rates of incarceration have helped turn the two largest for-profit prison corporations, Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group, into billion-dollar companies, according to Unholy Alliance, a report released in November 2011 by Public Campaign and PICO National Network.
So what can hurt these profits? Well, let's let Corrections Corporation of America speak for itself. This is from its 10K to the SEC:
The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws. For instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them.
Legislation has been proposed in numerous jurisdictions that could lower minimum sentences for some non-violent crimes and make more inmates eligible for early release based on good behavior. Also, sentencing alternatives under consideration could put some offenders on probation with electronic monitoring who would otherwise be incarcerated.
The private prison industry has devoted time and money to ensuring that crime legislation benefits their financial interests. They have donated millions to political candidates and parties, as well as helped pass more punitive sentencing laws.
"Through involvement in the leadership of ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), private prison companies have played a key role in lobbying for and passing harsher sentencing for non-violent offenses including three-strike laws, mandatory sentencing, and truth-in-sentencing," according to the report, Unholy Alliance.
If you weren't part of the 99% when you went in to prison, you most certainly are as a prisoner: a number; a person whose potential sexual abuse is mocked in television and movies; a person whose brutalization is taken for granted; a person who can be subjected to cruel but shamefully not unusual punishments, like solitary confinement; a person who can be discriminated against in housing, employment and public benefits once you are released.
But the vast majority of those incarcerated and those targeted by the criminal justice system -- from stop-and-frisk to conviction -- are the 99%.
"Being racially profiled by the police, stopped and frisked all the time, being arrested for walking into my building without an ID makes me part of the 99%," Frankie, 22 years old and from the Bronx, told Occupy Our Stories. Occupy Our Stories records and shares the stories of the 99%.
Frankie continued: "I worked for McDonald's, I worked for a couple of Papa John's... It was always minimum wage. Each and every job I had I went up to the managerial position and see nothing but a 20 cent raise."
Frankie is one of hundreds of thousands who have been harassed by the police as part of its stop-and-frisk campaign. Eighty-seven percent of the 684,330 stopped by the NYPD in 2011 were black or Latino. Ninety-two percent were male.
And so today we march to end a criminal justice system that casts young men of color as perennial criminals. We march in solidarity with those locked away in cages, and their loved ones. We march in solidarity with those killed by the State -- in their homes; on the street, the night before their wedding; on their front steps; in the prisons.
Occupy Our Stories is currently collecting stories of the 99% who have served time in American jails and prisons, who have loved ones who are incarcerated, and those who have been harassed by the police. Please visit Occupy Our Stories to learn how to submit your story.