On Feb. 23, the Department of Justice released a memo announcing it will continue using privately run prisons. This means that thousands of federal inmates will remain in prisons that operate for a profit.
This decision reverses a policy lauded by supporters of prisoner rights that former President Barack Obama implemented during his presidency. This decision is a step back for the United States and prisoner rights. The very model of private prison systems depends on high incarceration rates. Because of this, for-profit prisons ride on the back of unfair laws such as sentencing jail time to nonviolent drug offenders.
While private prisons likely could not be removed from the justice system in one fell swoop, Obama had plans to phase out these for-profit prisons.
As a first step, the Obama administration planned to scale down a pending contract from a soliciting corporation from housing 10,800 prisoners to only 3,600. This first step was part of a bigger objective to ultimately shrink population of private prisoners to below 14,200, a number that stands in stark contrast to the 30,000 inmates incarcerated in private prisons in 2013. President Trump’s canceling of this plan came as no real surprise. The day after Donald Trump’s election victory, the stocks of the two largest prison companies skyrocketed.
The Corrections Corporation of America’s stock traded at 34 percent higher at 10:14 a.m. the day after the election, and GEO Group Inc., another private prison, saw a boost of 18 percent at the same time. The idea that private corporations can earn more money based on the percentage of American citizens behind bars is inherently wrong, and flawed.
Furthermore, private prisons also tend to have worse conditions, display higher rates of violence and employ inexperienced guards. An investigative reporter speaking to NPR reported that many of the prisons were overcrowded, understaffed and underwent unnecessary prisoner deaths. We, the Editorial Board, think the U.S. needs to shift away from the use of private prisons.
Additionally, this country needs a larger reform to the prison system in general. A reform to end the current state of prison labor.
Federal Prison Industries — a government-run enterprise — employs tens of thousands of prisoners to manufacture goods for federal agencies. These prisoners only get paid 23 cents to $1.15 and even less inside private prisons. In some prisons labor is voluntary, but in others, it is forced and not participating will lead to punishments like solitary confinement. This exploitation of prisoners is unacceptable. While they are criminals, these prisoners are still human beings. Just like any other American, they should not be forced to work for the enrichment of someone else.
This issue of unfair prison labor represents a relatively unknown problem to the average American.
Private prisons have no place the U.S. justice system, and the exploitation of prisoners from our current prison labor system needs to come to an end immediately.