Too many Americans in prison

According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2,220,300 adults were incarcerated in US federal and state prisons, and county jails in 2013 – about 1 in 110 of the U.S. resident population. Additionally, 4,751,400 adults in 2013 (1 in 51) were on probation or on parole. For-profit companies were responsible for approximately 7 percent of state prisoners and 18 percent of federal prisoners in 2015 (the most recent numbers currently available).

A 2016 report by the U.S. Department of Justice asserts that privately operated federal facilities are less safe, less secure and more punitive than other federal prisons.  Shortly thereafter, the DoJ announced it will stop using private prisons. Nevertheless, a month later the Department of Homeland Security renewed a controversial contract with the CCA to continue operating the South Texas Family Residential Center, an immigrant detention facility in Dilley, Texas.

Stock prices for CCA and GEO Group surged following Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 elections. On February 23, the DOJ under Attorney General Jeff Sessions overturned the ban on using private prisons. According to Sessions, “the (Obama administration) memorandum changed long-standing policy and practice, and impaired the bureau’s ability to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system. Therefore, I direct the bureau to return to its previous approach.” (NPR report)

2,220,300 people locked up! Extraordinary. While the more enlightened countries, such as the Nordic countries, are incarcerating fewer people and trying to rehabilitate offenders in more civilised ways, the United States jails people for possesion of marijuana or driving through red lights, especially if the happen to be black. Then, when the offenders leave jail they are on their own – no help, no money and no help to find jobs. At least in England there are advisors available to help released offenders adjust to freedom, sending them to companies prepared to accept offenders, arranging temporary accommodation, clothing etc.

Someone commented to me years ago that the so-called War on Drugs in the US was simply a way of getting young blacks off the streets. Because with a criminal record you don’t have the vote i. most states; thus the black vote is suppressed. Meanwhile, the incentive for private jail owners is obviously profit. They are well known for cutting corners in staffing, space allocated to offenders, food and prisoner welfare. This is a human rights issue. It is also an indication of the level of fear among the proponents of the “lock ‘em up” crowd.

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