By Glenn E. Martin
Last week we witnessed the opening salvo in what we can expect will be a wholesale retrenchment of the federal policy gains we so recently made. On February 23rd Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the directive issued last August by the Justice Department ordering the Bureau of Prisons to “phase out” the use of private prisons. In an ominous sounding memo, Sessions wrote that private prisons would be needed “to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system It’s been reported that CoreCivic (formerly known as the Corrections Corporation of America) donated $250,000 to Trump’s inauguration! On the day of the Sessions announcement, the industry’s stocks soared.
In response to the Sessions announcement, I issued the following statement:
“Today’s announcement that the Department of Justice has rescinded its decision to phase out the use of private prisons in confirmation of this administration’s commitment to doubling-down on the suffering caused by four decades of mass incarceration. As long as corporations continue to monetize misery, the most vulnerable among us will continue to be subject to the human grist mill that we look to for justice in America. During the campaign, candidate Trump asked black Americans what they had to lose. The answer appears to be another generation of their children to the privatization of punishment.”
Private prisons are notorious human rights violators. The desire for higher and higher profits inevitably leads to cutting corners when it comes to conditions of confinement. Just as insidious, private prisons have an incentive to maximize the number of days served by each person by meting out excessive infractions and preventing earlier release. Their use as detention centers for thousands of immigrants rounded up in workplace and home raids is causing horrendous suffering.
Rest assured that we will be working with our partners in the private prison divestment and immigrants’ rights movements to bring an end to this sorry episode. Prisons should never be for profit. The monetization of misery is not acceptable.
Glenn E. Martin is the founder and president of JustLeadershipUSA, an organization dedicated to cutting the US correctional population in half by 2030. JLUSA empowers people most affected by incarceration to drive policy reform.