In Americathere 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 persons incarcerated within a state, federal or private institution.Our latest tally of 2 million 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 now being led from the top down by the highly profitable Prison Privatization Movement. Its roots can be traced back to the 1980s of Ronald Reagan, his “War on Drugs” and tougher sentencing platform. Due to policy makers and their concerns of prison overcrowding at the time, in 1984 the Corrections Corporation of America was contracted to oversee its first facility in Hamilton County, Tenn.. Such transition marked a new federal precedent of complete private control of a correctional institute.
Though depicted as cost-saving efficient operations, independent studies suggest the contrary. A lack of regulation enables smaller staff and inadequate training, in turn, producing more violence and unstable conditions among those who “serve time.” Sustainable medical care has also come into question. Private prisons like the George W. Hill Center, Walnut Grove Youth Facility and New Castle Correctional Institute have garnered a barrage of scrutiny over the deaths of dozens of inmates. And though touted as inexpensively designed, private prisons have proven just as costly to construct.The same companies grossing billions from the capture and incarceration of Americans (mostly poor, black and Latino) are the same brokers who donate millions to state senators, school boards, mayors and police chiefs. It’s no secret that private firms such as The GEO Group possess direct appeal to federal legislation like “Three Strikes” and Mandatory Minimum Sentencing. 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 regressive 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 some of your favorite brands.
Fact is, we as Americans aren’t committing more crime; we’re doing more time because it pays. In a way, such structural manipulation is almost worse than slavery, considering America’s global claim to moral democracy at its highest order – an order not far removed, it seems, from Nazi Germany’s concentration camps at Warsaw and Auschwitz. We’re talking “Third World” sweatshops disguised as rehab programs, possibly in your home state!
No wonder we can’t find jobs; our furniture and appliances are being produced by rent-a-slaves, now. I hope this isn’t what Big Business means by “Made in America.” If so, I don’t want any part of it.
Lamont Lilly is a contributing editor with the Triangle Free Press and a columnist for the African American Voice.