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EDITORIAL: Private prison system cruel, inhumane

Drive for profits leaves inmates in compromised positions

The private prison industry in the United States has caused untold amounts of suffering.

The entire concept of private prisons is concerning. When individuals breach laws and receive punishment under the jurisdiction of our legal system, it is up to the government to tend to that punishment, not for-profit corporations.

Under capitalism, corporations do whatever they can to save money. This extends to corporate prisons, which often place the importance of money higher than the importance of inmate safety and living conditions. In 2016, the federal government declared that it would begin phasing out private prisons for this reason.

“(Private prisons) simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs and resources,” said then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates in a 2016 Justice Department memo.

With their cost saving measures, private prisons often train their officers far less than public prisons, which leads to poorer outcomes for inmates. Private prisons are more dangerous environments for their inhabitants than public ones.

“To achieve their modest savings, private prisons tend to cut back on staff costs and training. More than a decade ago, researchers found that private facilities pay their officers less, provide fewer hours of training and have higher inmate-to-staff ratios, a combination which may account for their much higher turnover rate among correctional officers, as well as the uptick in inmate assaults,” according to Time Magazine.

The poor quality of private prisons is yet another indicator that profit and law should not mix. This problem is most notably seen with the enforcement of drug laws.

Private prisons came into play during the 1980s, when the “War on Drugs” really kicked into high gear. Due to mass incarceration caused by draconian drug laws and mandatory minimums, public prisons could no longer house the entirety of the U.S. prison population.

“In the 1980s, for-profit prisons began winning contracts to operate entire jails for the first time. Politicians in both parties responded to prison crowding with private prisons: The industry grew by 1,600 percent over a 20-year period ending in 2009,” according to MSNBC.

Private prisons have also gained power in the political arena which should be concerning for anyone who cares for the purity of the law.

Private prisons get government contracts — money — when they house more inmates. When those same prisons have a voice in Washington D.C., politicians will write stricter, more unfair laws that will help those prisons gain inmates and revenue.

Private prisons also have no incentive to rehabilitate their inmates, as keeping them in a cycle of criminal life bodes better for their balance sheets than helping them return to society as law abiding citizens.

There is also no working around the fact that this profiting prison system has unfairly victimized communities of color.

The "War on Drugs" has always had racial connotations to it, and despite the fact that white and minority communities smoke marijuana at a similar rate, Black and Latinx people are far more likely to find themselves in prison for it.

“The Sentencing Project estimates 1 in 3 Black men will spend time behind bars during their lifetime, compared with 1 in 6 Latino men and 1 in 17 white men. Arrest rates for marijuana possession are four times as high for Black Americans as for white,” according to NPR.

It is tough to ignore the truth of private prisons: Much like the for-profit slavery system that came before it, free market prisons make money off of exploiting and victimizing minority communities in the United States. This is a continuation of slavery, sharecropping and the Jim Crow laws that came prior, only with a new way of doing so, according to Michelle Alexander's "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration In the Age of Colorblindness."

President Donald J. Trump has empowered private prisons during his time in office so far. But the corruption of private prisons is now a mainstream political topic to discuss and progress is attainable on the issue.

Part of solving this issue is to curtail the power of lobbying in the federal government — if prisons’ legislative pull is weakened, laws that imprison more people unfairly will lose support.

Additionally, there are candidates for office around the nation that support the abolition of the private prison. With an election coming up this fall, those who care about this critical issue must exercise their democratic responsibility of voting.

We are too developed as a society to still have private institutions writing the laws, imprisoning nonviolent offenders and exploiting their suffering for material gain. As a collective, we must vote out anyone who supports private prisons.


The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 152nd editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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