With over 2 million Americans incarcerated — a staggering 737 inmates per 100,000 people, the largest such population in the world — it’s time to face an unpleasant reality. America has a prison problem.
Admittedly, this issue isn’t as clear cut as it seems. America’s prison system is complex, with varying systems of confinement and classification depending on the severity of the crime committed and where one is arrested. One facet, however, stands out above the rest: our unique use of private prisons.
Private prisons, as the name implies, are private institutions run for-profit by corporations. Give that a moment to sink in. Our prison-industrial complex quite literally profits from the arrest and incarceration American citizens. This fundamentally-skewed system is in dire need of sudden and total reform.
The Obama Administration took steps to end the practice of private prisons, gradually phasing them out through a memo sent by former Attorney General Sally Yates. Thanks to our new Attorney General Jeff Sessions, however, it appears the Trump Administration is greasing the wheels to keep our prison-industrial complex moving.
The elation of corporations could hardly be more obvious. The day after President Trump won the 2016 election, private prison stocks enjoyed a surge in value, with some companies soaring up by as much as 40 percent.
It would be prudent for our attorney general to focus his energy on issues elsewhere, such as rebuilding the trust between law enforcement and their communities, for instance, or even continuing his absurd war on marijuana.
Alas, all signs point toward these next four years seeing harsher policing, harsher judicial policy and more private prisons.
It may come as a surprise, but for-profit corporations don’t always have the broader interest of the American public in mind when crafting their policy. When mixed with judicial philosophy, this is a recipe for nothing short of disaster. There is rife abuse within private prisons, as detailed by the Justice Department’s 2001 report on the subject.
All of these valid reasons aside, there is an even more fundamental reason to be repulsed by the very idea of a private prison: Do we really want to be in the business of turning a profit off of incarcerating our fellow man? This is an inherently unjust system that will not lead to rehabilitation but rather to a furthering of the cycle of poverty and crime already so pervasive in our communities.
This unjust and self-aggrandizing system will only further exacerbate our already dire incarceration situation, benefitting corporations and profit margins in lieu of people and justice.
It is a petty argument to say that Americans commit significantly more crimes than people from other nations; clearly, there are other factors in play here. It is surely no coincidence that private prison companies such as GEO and Corporate Corrections spend millions lobbying our politicians each year.
If Trump intends to keep his promise to “drain the swamp,” he would do well by beginning with its fiercest gators — the time for private prisons in America has come to an end.