The Rich Get Richer, the Poor Get Prison
As a freshman at the University of Pittsburgh, I was walking through the campus when I saw a protest taking place outside the student union. I briefly stopped to ask a passerby if he knew what was happening and they told me that it was a student demonstration against the use of products made from prison labor. As it turns out, one of our contracted food distributers, Sodexho was known to use prison labor in their operations. As an ignorant, fresh from the suburbs teenager, I wasn’t quite sure why this was a problem. In my perfect world I thought the issue was black and white, the bad guys go to prison and as punishment they do manual labor. No problem, right?
Although I was ignorant at the time, I did not plan to stay that way. Always having had a thirst for knowledge, I decided to do some research and what I found astounded me.
Privately owned prisons are NOT the answer. They have not proven to rehabilitate inmates, they do not provide them with skills they could use upon release and they are actually FOR PROFIT industries. I know what you are thinking, “What’s the problem? They committed the crime so they are doing the time!” I wish it were that simple. Do you think that it is acceptable that approximately 80% of these laborers are minority? Well, they are. It is impossible to believe that most minorities are all criminals. They aren’t. But I can tell you this: blue collar crime (stabbings, drugs, robbery etc.) only affect about 4/10 households whereas white collar crime (insurance fraud, identity theft, etc.) affects 8/10 households. Why is the government prosecuting lower level crimes and drug offenses with harsh time but merely tapping others on the wrist? Is it a coincidence? I think not. Rule of thumb: What you search for you will find. You will find more police presence in the so called “ghettos,’ but you will find people breaking the law everywhere!
Is the system fair? Let’s say I commit a drug crime and I can afford a high priced attorney. Now let’s say you commit the same crime but you can’t afford an attorney so you are appointed a public defender. Is this fair? Absolutely not. Are we both criminals? Sure. Will we get the same punishment/treatment? No. Class is the supreme divider. I could write for days as to the gross inequities of being poor versus being part of the “elite” but the private prison labor issue is one that disturbs me the most.
The ACLU has released a new report ‘Banking on Bondage: Private Prisons and Mass Incarceration’ which documents what they call the ‘spoils’ of the US having the world’s highest rates of imprisonment. The report focuses on the private prison industry, which has grown to be worth billions over the past few decades. It is the first comprehensive study of this kind of privatization.
It documents how, over the past four decades, imprisonment in the United States has increased explosively to 2.3 million. The imprisonment rates have grown due to new criminal laws that impose bigger and bigger sentences and cut short any opportunities to earn probation and parole.
Record imprisonment rates disproportionately affect people of color. The report shows that it has, “at best a minimal effect on public safety.” Record incarceration is also massively impacting government budgets, leading to rising debt and worsening the fiscal crises confronting states.
Are you aware that there are studies being conducted that track the academic progress of fourth graders around the country in hopes to figure out how many prisons they will need to build? Are they serious? What about intervention? What about making sure they DON’T end up there? Of course they WANT to fill these prisons because the profits are in the billions! How sad. Where is that same investment into community programs for children that uplift, teach and inspire?
Reflect on this: As incarcerations increase, states are leaning toward using privately funded prisons to house inmates. It’s cheaper for the government that way. The private prison industry has given more than $7.3 million to state candidates and political parties since 2001, including $1.9 million in 2010, the highest amount in the past decade. THEY ARE BUYING OUR APPROVAL…AND IT’S WORKING…!
“…Has been part of an intentional effort by the private prison industry to shape public policy to push more people into prison and keep them there longer. The industry has achieved this through the classic three-pronged strategy of contributing to political campaigns, lobbying, and gaining access to policymakers through close relationships.”
You can make a change. Write your state government. Petition. Be the change you would like to see in the world, or sit back and watch huge corporations RAPE our democracy and unfairly shine a bright spotlight onto our minority communities which are not filled to the brim with criminals. Wake up!
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