Sanders, Grijalva, Ellison, Rush Introduce Bills Banning Private Prisons

Dave Johnson

Private prisons with a profit incentive to put more and more people in jail? Lobbyists exerting influence against releasing prisoners so their companies can make more money? Contracts requiring governments to imprison a certain number of people for a minimum amount of time? Sentences based on corporate greed, with someone making money from putting people in jail? Quotas for detaining immigrants? That is where we are as a country. Can you believe that?

Today several progressive members of Congress submitted bills to do something about this travesty.

Thursday Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.) introduced the Justice Is Not For Sale Act to ban federal, state, and local private prisons, reinstate the federal parole system, eliminate quotas for the number of immigrants and asylum seekers held in detention and rein in banking and telecommunications fees (over)charged to prisoners.

Currently, there are more than 41,000 federal prisoners in private facilities and 91,000 state prisoners in private, for-profit prisons. This population doubled between 2000 and 2010. There are 130 private prisons and 157,000 beds in the U.S. Can you believe that?

Currently, the federal government is not allowed to parole prisoners. Can you believe that?

Currently, the government’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency is required to keep an average of 34,000 immigrants in private facilities on any given day. Moving them to more humane quarters would save taxpayers $1.4 billion per year. Can you believe that?

The Hartford Courant, in their report, “Interfaith Council, Nuns Urge Education, Action on Private Prisons,” explains:

Nearly two-thirds of private prison contracts mandate that state and local governments maintain a certain occupancy rate, often as high as 90 percent, or require payment for empty beds. In Arizona, three private prisons are operating with a 100 percent occupancy guarantee according to Mother Jones.

Can you believe that?

Sen. Sanders said the following:

“We cannot fix our criminal justice system if corporations are allowed to profit from mass incarceration. Keeping human beings in jail for long periods of time must no longer be an acceptable business model in America. We have got to end the private prison racket in America. 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.”

Comments by Rep. Grijalva:

“Our corrections system exists to uphold justice – not to house innocent refugees or feed the greed of corporate interests. By treating prisoners and detainees as a means to a profit margin, we’re incentivizing jailors to lobby for ever more inmates, and for inmates to be denied even the basic staples they’re entitled to. The result is a corrections system collapsing under its own weight as the prison industry gets rich and countless innocent men, women and children are ensnared in their trap.”

Rep. Ellison said:

“In a society dedicated to liberty and justice, for-profit prisons offend our bedrock principles. Depriving someone of their freedom is the most severe punishment the federal government can levy – the sole incentive must be justice, never profit. Private prison corporations spend millions of dollars lobbying government for harsher sentencing laws and immigration policy that serves their bottom line, while taxpayers foot the $80 billion dollar a year bill to incarcerate 2.3 million people. Incarceration should be about rehabilitation, not profit. Now, more than ever, we need to restore confidence in our criminal justice system. Step one is taking the profit out of the punishment.

“I have repeatedly expressed my concern over the exorbitant phone call rates from and to correctional facilities that are unjust and unreasonable. Many families have to pay an average of 300 to 400 dollars a month just to stay in touch with an incarcerated family member. Exorbitant phone rates harm the families and children of the incarcerated where studies have shown that consistent communication with loved-ones reduce recidivism. The ability to stay in touch with a family is a fundamental need, and one’s humanity does not perish when they enter the prison system.”

You can read the bill here .

You can read a fact sheet on the bill here.

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