November 4, 2015
Bernie Sanders via Daily Kos
Today in America, shamefully, we have more people in jail than any other country on earth. The United States is home to 4.4 percent of the world’s population, and 22 percent of its prisoners. A big reason for this is because companies that profit from prisons have spent millions of dollars lobbying for laws that needlessly keep people behind bars for far too long.
It is our job, in my view, to recreate our criminal justice system. And I believe that we cannot do that as long as corporations are allowed to profit from mass incarceration.
Today this situation has gotten so out of hand that our prisoners are no longer people — they have simply become sources of profit as laborers who work for pennies an hour on behalf of major corporations. Keeping human beings in jail for long periods of time must no longer be an acceptable business model. Our focus should be on treating people with dignity and ensuring they have the resources they need to get back on their feet when they get out. I am glad that President Obama last week ordered the release of nearly 6,000 nonviolent offenders from federal prison, but there is much more to do.
I have recently introduced legislation that will put an end to for-profit prisons. My bill will bar federal, state, and local governments from contracting with private companies who manage prisons, jails, or detention facilities. And it will require Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to improve their monitoring of detention facilities and eliminate private detention centers within 2 years. Now I want to know if you’re willing to fight with me on this issue.
The private-for-profit prison racket is a $70 billion industry, and with so much money at stake, it’s not surprising they’ve corrupted our political process. The industry has contributed millions of dollars to candidates in pursuit of laws that increase incarceration of nonviolent offenders — a practice that disproportionately impacts people of color in the United States. We must stop the practice of governments guaranteeing prison occupancy as part of deals with private corporations that incentivize states to keep prison cells filled. And we must stop the practice of private companies charging exorbitant rates for prisoners to contact their families by phone — sometimes up to several dollars per minute to talk with loved ones, and charging outrageous service fees to prisoners trying to access their money upon release. That kind of exploitation takes an already difficult family dynamic between husbands, wives, parents and children and strains it even further.
It is wrong to profit from the imprisonment of human beings and the suffering of their families and friends. It’s time to end this morally repugnant process, and along with it, the era of mass incarceration.
But my legislation goes even further. It also takes steps to reduce our bloated inmate population by reinstating the federal parole system so that officials can individually assess each prisoner’s risk and chance for rehabilitation. It ends the immigrant detention quota, which requires officials to hold a minimum of 34,000 people captive at any given time. And it would end the detention of immigrant families, many of whom are currently held in privately-owned facilities in Texas and Pennsylvania.
If we act, not only can we prevent thousands of lives from being destroyed, but we can save billions of taxpayer dollars. This legislation enjoys a broad coalition of support on both sides of the aisle. And if we stand together and continue to bring attention to this issue, we can put a stop to the abomination of private prisons profiting from human suffering.