The End Of the Prison In­dus­trial Com­plex?

How we can abol­ish for-profit jails for­ever

Newsweek - - News - OMAR EPPS & DES­MOND MEADE BY

An Ac­tor and an Ex-in­mate On For­profit In­car­cer­a­tion

On­screen, One Of us por­trayed a pris­oner. In real life, one of us was ac­tu­ally a pris­oner.

In the dic­tionary, “jus­tice” is de­fined as just be­hav­ior or treat­ment: a con­cern for peace and gen­uine re­spect for peo­ple. “And gen­uine re­spect for peo­ple” sends rip­ples through our con­science. The very no­tion of a for-profit prison is in­her­ently against such a thing.

As Black men, we both have ex­pe­ri­enced the im­pact of the coun­try’s prison-in­dus­trial com­plex in some way, shape or form. It is a cor­rupt sys­tem that prof­its from pain and im­pris­on­ment.

For pri­vate prison com­pa­nies to make money, they need com­modi­ties of value, and the com­modi­ties they are trad­ing are hu­man be­ings. The al­lowance of prisons to be­come pri­va­tized busi­nesses is the down­side of cap­i­tal­ism run amuck.

Us­ing hu­man be­ings as com­modi­ties to make money is akin to pre-civil War slav­ery. It is dis­gust­ing, de­plorable, and the mere thought of such a thing should make your stom­ach queasy.

We want ev­ery­one who reads this to see the images in the mir­ror we are hold­ing up to so­ci­ety in a clear un­bi­ased way.

Over­all crime has been go­ing down for years, yet Amer­ica has around 2.3 mil­lion peo­ple locked be­hind bars. If noth­ing changes, one out of ev­ery 17 white men, one out of six Lati­nos, and close to one out of four Black men born to­day will end up in jail at some point in their lives.

An ab­surd amount of our tax dol­lars are spent to house prison­ers each year. Non-vi­o­lent of­fend­ers (es­pe­cially drug addicts), and those who sim­ply can’t af­ford bail for mi­nor charges, get swept up in an un­just sys­tem and the Amer­i­can peo­ple foot the hefty bills for their in­car­cer­a­tion. There are more vi­able, sus­tain­able op­tions that can come at a min­i­mal cost to tax­pay­ers, but the modern-day prison sys­tem in this coun­try is built on mak­ing profit. Let that sink in. As tax-pay­ing cit­i­zens, we would much rather some­one suf­fer­ing from ad­dic­tion be put into a non-profit, state­funded drug re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­gram, or a pro­gram that spe­cial­izes in men­tal health than some ex­pen­sive, over­crowded for-profit prison.

Now, do some peo­ple break the law and de­serve to be held ac­count­able? Of course. But the prison sys­tem should also work to

“Our gov­ern­ment should work for you and your fam­ily. Join us, and to­gether, we can make real change. Change that puts the power back into the hands of the peo­ple.”

cor­rect and re­store those who have served their penance to the com­mu­nity. Our modern-day prison sys­tem is de­signed to entrap peo­ple, and en­tan­gle them in webs they can’t es­cape.

Even worse, our gov­ern­ment has done next to noth­ing to fix this. As the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment gains recog­ni­tion and sup­port, we can­not lose this mo­ment to en­act real and sub­stan­tial policy re­form to over­haul our crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem.

We are here to say we have the power to fix this mess. Peo­ple power.

We can abol­ish pri­vate, for-profit prisons. They hold 10 per­cent of Amer­ica’s prison in­mates, and three-quar­ters of all im­mi­grant de­tainees. Pri­vate prisons spent $64 mil­lion dol­lars lob­by­ing our gov­ern­ment over the past decade, and when you con­sider they earned $6 bil­lion dol­lars in rev­enue from our tax dol­lars, that most cer­tainly should raise con­cern. Imag­ine a world where we

could spend this money ac­tu­ally re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing peo­ple, in­vest­ing in im­prov­ing lives, in­vest­ing in com­mu­ni­ties, break­ing the school to prison pipeline.

We can en­act bail re­form. Peo­ple sit­ting in jail of­ten have not been con­victed of a crime, but sim­ply can’t af­ford bail. Many lose their jobs and apart­ments while wait­ing for trial. Who ben­e­fits from this sys­tem? Correction­s of­fi­cers and bail bonds­men. Mean­while, you and I are foot­ing the bill. It makes no sense.

We can change the way we pick judges. Many are elected by vot­ers. Re­search shows that to keep their jobs, judges are more likely to hand out harsher sen­tences as they ap­proach Elec­tion Day. They get cam­paign do­na­tions from lawyers, lob­by­ists, and busi­ness in­ter­ests who have a vested in­ter­est in keep­ing the sys­tem just the way it is. We call this cor­rup­tion.

We can ban cor­po­ra­tions from us­ing cheap prison la­bor in­stead of hir­ing paid work­ers. In­mates cleaned up the BP oil spill, mak­ing pen­nies on the dol­lar, in Louisiana, where com­pa­nies can earn a $2,400 tax break for ev­ery in­mate used. Cor­po­ra­tions not only save money on prison la­bor—they di­rectly profit from those tax cred­its!

We can do all of this, and the Amer­i­can peo­ple sup­port it. So, what’s stand­ing in our way?

Spe­cial in­ter­ests—pros­e­cu­tors, po­lice unions, drug com­pa­nies, lob­by­ists. On this is­sue, just like so many oth­ers, spe­cial in­ter­ests have a grip on our elected of­fi­cials, and they stymie the progress we so crit­i­cally need.

A path to putting power back in the hands of every­day Amer­i­cans ex­ists right now. States across the coun­try are pass­ing the pro­vi­sions of the Amer­i­can Anti-cor­rup­tion Act cham­pi­oned by Rep­re­sen­tus (the na­tion’s lead­ing right-left anti-cor­rup­tion

Correction­s of­fi­cers and bail bonds­men, the au­thors say. Mean­while, tax­pay­ers are foot­ing the bill; prison­ers from the Weott fa­cil­ity in Cal­i­for­nia.

or­ga­ni­za­tion). Des­mond sits on the board. The Anti-cor­rup­tion Act would ban gifts from lob­by­ists to politi­cians, close the re­volv­ing door be­tween Congress and the prison in­dus­try, and en­fran­chise even more vot­ers—so politi­cians ac­tu­ally rep­re­sent we, the peo­ple.

Time and again, av­er­age cit­i­zens think they can’t make a dif­fer­ence, but they can. Des­mond has proved it is pos­si­ble. After he served time in prison, he led a grass­roots cam­paign that brought con­ser­va­tives and pro­gres­sives to­gether to win back vot­ing rights for 1.4 mil­lion felons in Florida. The Florida Rights Restora­tion Coali­tion ef­fort be­gan with the col­lec­tion of more than 760,000 sig­na­tures from cit­i­zens and ended with the pas­sage of Florida Amend­ment 4, which was sup­ported by Democrats and Repub­li­cans alike.

Our gov­ern­ment should work for you and your fam­ily. Join us, and to­gether, we can make real change. Change that puts the power back into the hands of the peo­ple.

→ Omar Epps is an award-win­ning Amer­i­can ac­tor whose film roles in­clude Juice, Higher Learn­ing, the WOOD, in TOO deep and Love and Bas­ket­ball. He co-starred on the crit­i­cally-ac­claimed FOX med­i­cal drama, House, for which he re­ceived an NAACP Im­age Award for “Out­stand­ing Sup­port­ing Ac­tor in a Drama Se­ries” in 2007. Des­mond Meade is Pres­i­dent and Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor of the Florida Rights Restora­tion Coali­tion, a Florid­i­ans for Fair Democ­racy Chair­man, a TIME 100 hon­oree, a Rep­re­sen­tus board mem­ber, and an at­tor­ney. In 2018, he led a his­toric vic­tory to re­store vot­ing rights to 1.4 mil­lion in­mates in Florida.

COM­MODI­TIES The al­lowance of prisons to be­come pri­va­tized busi­nesses is the down­side of cap­i­tal­ism run amok; a pri­vately run fa­cil­ity in Mis­sis­sippi.


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