Prisons for Profit

prison-profitby Kristyn Komarnicki

Why do we call the US the "land of the free" when it allows private enterprise to profit from imprisoning both its citizens and its immigrants?

Americans love to brandish our "Let freedom ring" bumper stickers. We take pride in our Statue of Liberty and her promise to receive the world's "huddled masses yearning to breathe free." Every US president is routinely called the "leader of the free world."

But it's time to drop the pretense, people! Let's come into the light and see who we really are as a nation. We imprison our own people at a rate higher than any other country in the world—we're right up there with the likes of Rwanda, Cuba, and Russia. And the private prison lobby wants to make sure it stays that way.

Then there's the way we love to complain about immigration. But one group that isn't complaining is the group that detains undocumented immigrants to the tune of $2 billion a year, thanks to legislation that actually requires that a minimum of 33,400 undocumented immigrants be locked up at all times. Absurd, I know, but true.

So, who's making all the money? CCA and the GEO Group are the top two private prison companies, and they spend millions lobbying for that privilege. Check out this infographic to better understand what's at play here.

And be sure to read "Correctional Capitalism in the 'Land of the Free': How profit fuels America's prison industry and keeps our citizens in captivity" by Jens Soering in PRISM. Things have only gotten worse since this article was published in 2008.

Here in Philadelphia, where dozens of schools have closed this year and $400 million is being spent to build two new prisons (as elsewhere across the country), the school-to-prison pipeline appears to be complete.

Please join those of us who are calling for DECARCERATION. To get a better understanding of what's at stake in this country, check out "Broken on All Sides: Race, Mass Incarceration & New Visions for Criminal Justice in the US," a compelling documentary addressing racial inequities within our criminal justice system and its devastating collateral consequences. This film is an excellent resource for educating, motivating, and empowering your group, organization, or community on this critical issue.

To see what happens when we educate instead of incarcerate, read PRISM magazine's award-winning article "A Costly Thing to Waste," about the work of Urban Promise in Camden, NJ.

Here are some groups across the country that you can join hands with to raise your voice for a saner approach to criminal justice:

Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB) are calling on people from across the country to write to CA Governor Brown, urging him to reduce the prison population.

Decarcerate Illinois
Decarcerate Pennsylvania

Critical Resistance is one of the oldest organizations committed to grassroots movement building to end mass incarceration. It seeks to build an international movement to end the Prison Industrial Complex by challenging the belief that caging and controlling people makes us safe.

The Campaign to End the Death Penalty (CEDP) is a national grassroots organization dedicated to the abolition of capital punishment. CEDP believes that those who have experienced the horrors of death row firsthand—death row prisoners and their family members—should be at the forefront of the movement.

The Campaign to End the New Jim Crow is a grassroots organization based in New York City. It is committed to building a movement with the goal of replacing prisons and life-long discrimination with caring communities. The group was created out of study groups around Michelle Alexander's excellent book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an age of Colorblindness.

The Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference (SDPC) is a national network of several thousand progressive black churches. Inspired by The New Jim Crow (see above), SDPC has made ending mass incarceration and building a new moral consensus its main priority for the coming years, and committed itself to consciousness raising and movement building from a faith perspective.

The Formerly Incarcerated & Convicted People's Movement (FICPM) seeks to change the criminal justice system, find alternatives to incarceration, and work toward a society where prisons do not exist.

The American Friends Service Committee is a Quaker organization that addresses many issues of peace and justice, including criminal justice reform. Almost since its founding, AFSC has carried the concern for prisoners, as well as victims, believing that even if a person is convicted of a crime, incarceration should not take away their inherent dignity or humanity.

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