It is about time someone called for the end of our modern domestic slave market, and Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders is trying to do just that.
The for-profit prison industrial complex is a huge multi-billion dollar giant, one that most politicians would not attack, but Bernie has never backed down from playing the roll of David to a Goliath, so I actually believe him. At a campaign rally in Nevada, the Democratic candidate made history with the announcement that he would be introducing legislation that if enacted “takes corporations out of profiteering from running jails.”
If you are unaware of the problem, prisoners who are more often than not incarcerated for non-violent crimes, are being used as slave labor and currency vouchers for corporations. The number 1 and 2 reasons people are put in jail or prison are telling, drug offenses and immigration law violations. In fact, according to The Sentencing Project, overall, nearly three-fourths (72.1%) of federal prisoners are serving time for a non-violent offense and have no history of violence.
According to a 2014 Human Rights Watch report, “tough-on-crime” laws adopted since the 1980s have filled U.S. prisons with mostly nonviolent offenders. This policy failed to rehabilitate prisoners and many were worse on release than before incarceration. Rehabilitation programs for offenders can be more cost effective than prison.
Except they were not looking for cost effective rehabilitation, not when, GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the two most profitable prisons, earn a combined annual revenue of over $3 billion dollars.
That means that there would be plenty of money to at least pay the prisoners, overwhelmingly poor and minority males, a decent wage for work they have done. They don’t. They do however pay plenty to lobbyists to keep for-profit prisons a legal and healthy racketeering gig. In fact, $17.4 million was spent by CCA alone, lobbying to keep their shady business legal in the last 10 years, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Why, then, is this something that anyone allows, that is an actual thing in the United States? Well, E. Branch said it so well I won’t even try to say it better:
Republicans love the for-profit prison system because it embodies their policies in one clean package—people of color and the poor are kept down by the system, there is no minimum/living wage, there is no need to help prisoners because they have “done it to themselves” or “not been able to pull themselves up by their coat-tails” as Republican logic dictates everyone—regardless of circumstance or strife, should be able to do—and therefore are undeserving of sympathy/help. It is this stripping away of human empathy and compassion while corporations benefit from for-profit prisons that makes the issue so charged and so divisible along party lines.
Many things have come together to make this nation the highest in incarcerations in the industrialized world, and most of it was strokes of a pen – law making – not an increase in crime. The fact is that it seems that if we actually build the middle class by investing in education, ending the so-called war on drugs and start helping people get off them, and stop putting people in jail for basically being poor, we may actually pull ourselves out of this one percent economy.
For your viewing pleasure, the entire Bernie Sanders Nevada rally (rally begins at 6:19):
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Feature Image courtesy of Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons