Do you really want to reform our prisons?

The following is something I posted on recently:

No dialogue on prison reform is complete without a serious look at the profit incentives found in the privatization of many of this nation’s prisons, both federal and state.

I will submit here what should be viewed as the best words written on the subject, and the words I quote are part of the majority opinion of a Supreme Court ruling. Unfortunately, it was the Israeli Supreme Court that issued the ruling in 2009 denouncing the concept and declaring its implementation in Israel to be unconstitutional.

The ruling was 208 pages long, but the crux of it can be found in the following:

Imprisoning persons in a privately managed prison leads to a situation in which the clearly public purposes of the imprisonment are blurred and diluted by irrelevant considerations that arise from a private economic purpose, namely the desire of the private corporation operating the prison to make a financial profit,” the Court found.

Imprisonment that is based on a private economic purpose turns the (prisoners), simply by imprisoning them in a private prison, into a means whereby the . . . operator of the prison can make a profit. Thereby, not only is the liberty of the (prisoner) violated, but also his human dignity.”

The Court concluded that “the scope of the violation of a (prisoner’s) constitutional right to personal liberty, when the entity responsible for his imprisonment is a private corporation motivated by economic considerations of profit and loss, is inherently greater than the violation of the same right on an (prisoner) when the entity responsible for his imprisonment is a government authority that is not motivated by those considerations.” This is true, “even if the term of imprisonment that these two (prisoners) serve is identical and even if the violation of the human rights that actually takes place behind the walls of each of the two prisons where they serve their sentences is identical.”

“When the state transfers the power to imprison someone, with the invasive powers that go with it, to a private corporation that operates on a profit-making basis, this action — both in practice and on an ethical and symbolic level — expresses a divestment of a significant part of the state’s responsibility for the fate of the (prisoners), by exposing them to a violation of their rights by a private profit-making enterprise,” the Court held.

“This conduct of the state violates the human dignity of the (prisoners) of a privately managed prison, since the public purposes that underlie their imprisonment and give it legitimacy are undermined, and, … their imprisonment becomes a means for a private corporation to make a profit.”

I have attended several conferences in Washington, DC recently where both Sen. Cory Booker and/or Sen. Mike Lee have attended, and while I admire, applaud, and support any effort to find alternatives to the excessive imprisonment of human beings I would urge that we look to the role private prisons – and not simply the ‘war on drugs’ – played in getting us where we are today. Declaring war on illegal drugs was simply the way the practice of excessive incarceration began. It was what was sold to the American public to justify all that followed.

I served 4 years in federal prison beginning in April of 2010, and while there I researched private prisons extensively and became very familiar with the practices of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). I wrote a very detailed, multi-part article in this blog called “America’s Culture of Incarceration” and is worth a look.

While America has the highest incarceration rate of any country, the state of Louisiana has a rate which is almost double giving Louisianans the distinction of living in the place that incarcerates more of its citizens than anyplace on earth! That issue is specifically addressed in Part 4 of that series and I urge you to take some time to read it.

 I would hope that others will come to recognize this plague of profiteering from the caging of human beings and insist that taking the approach of the Israeli Supreme Court is the only way to effectively begin to reform this out-of-control criminally UNjust system that is an embarrassment to this great nation.