Published DateTo the editor,
One would think that the civil Rights Reform of the 60s eliminated most of the discrimination against blacks and minorities. One would be wrong in thinking so. Michelle Alexander's new book "The New Jim Crow" makes an impressive case showing how the U.S. criminal justice system uses the so called "War on Drugs" to continue the use of new and old forms of discrimination.
In 1973, the National Advisory Commission on criminal justice standards and goals of the justice department stated that there is overwhelming evidence that prisons and jails create crime rather than prevent it and recommended no further construction of adult facilities. Of course the U.S. went in the exact opposite direction as they embarked on an "unprecedented in human history expansion of its prison system".
As with guns, one only has to follow the money. Fortune 500 companies (too numerous to mention here) are invested in "prison labor". The potential profit of the prison labor boom has encouraged U.S. corporate society to move their production forces into American prisons — and why not? The lowest prison wage is .17 an hour! This is a nifty profit since these companies turn around and sell their products to the U.S. government — i.e. the taxpayers — at premium prices.
The U.S. has 5 percent of the world's population and 25 percent of the world's prisons. According to the ACLU, the U.S. imprisons more people per capita than any nation in the world — including Russia, China and Iran. Enter private prisons for profit. A system outlawed in Israel in 2009 because these prisons for profit severely violated the prisoners' basic human rights. Again, Michelle Alexander: "The majority of young black men are 'warehoused in prisons' because their labor is no longer needed in today's globalized economy. Labeled as 'felons' they are permanently trapped as second class citizens."
Dead center in all this profit making is the Correction Corporation of America (CCA). They along with the GEO, another for profit prison company, get 40 percent of their revenue from federal source — namely we the taxpayers. The CCA has reached out to 48 states as part of a $250-million plan to own existing prisons and manage their operations. In return CCA wants a 20 year contract and assurances that the state will keep the prisons at least 90 percent full. The CCA is also a major player in the conservative organization known as ALEX, the American Legislative Exchange Council. One has to wonder why these conservative groups want to privatize industries such as defense, schools, prisons and hand them over to their largest donors? Oh, I think I just answered my own question.
Immigration convictions in record numbers are fueling corporate profits. Private prisons spend $45 million on lobbying and rake in 5 billion for immigrant detention alone. The prison industrial complex is alive and well and we're all paying for it. In the words of an astute observer on the national scene: "Every prison we build becomes a lasting monument to greed and fear and political cowardice that is now prevalent in this society".