October 21, 2016
To Whichever Candidate the People Chose,
Prisons in the United States are undemocratic and cruel in their current form. The United States has the greatest rate of incarceration of any developed country in the world and the largest total prison population (1). According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), 2,220,300 adults were incarcerated in federal and state prisons and county jails in 2013 (2) (3. Why?
I. Prisons for Profit
Private prisons are for profit, and therefore benefit from a flawed justice system that imprisons LGBT, colored, and immigrant Americans. The GEO group, specializing in prison and mental health facilities, stated in an annual report (4):
In particular, the demand for our correctional and detention facilities … could be adversely affected by changes in existing criminal or immigration laws, crime rates in jurisdictions in which we operate, the relaxation of criminal or immigration enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction, sentencing or deportation practices, and the decriminalization of certain activities … or the loosening of immigration laws. For example, any changes with respect to the decriminalization of drugs and controlled substances could affect the number of persons … incarcerated, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them. Similarly, reductions in crime rates could lead to reductions in … sentences requiring incarceration at correctional facilities. Immigration reform laws … also could materially adversely impact us. Various factors outside our control could adversely impact the growth of our GEO Community Service business, including government customer resistance to the privatization of residential treatment facilities, and changes to Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement programs.
This annual report by GEO shows GEO’s interest in keeping crime rates high, drugs illegal, and immigrants persecuted. Immigration reform would clearly not be in the interest of their profits.
GEO doesn’t just sit there and hope the government reforms in its favor, according to opensecrets.org, GEO spent $300,000 in 2016 so far (5), showing that a company that directly benefits from government policy is attempting to buy influence.
Total Lobbying Expenditures: $300,000
Subtotal for Parent GEO Group: $230,000
Subtotal for Subsidiary BI Inc: $60,000
Subtotal for Subsidiary GEO Care: $10,000
According to humanrightsadvocates.org, “Unencumbered by the demands of unionized government workers, private prison corporations are free to offer lower salaries and benefits packages, leading to greater employee turnover of up to 90% in some cases.” (6) The privatization of prison saves costs by reducing the quality of pay, and the number of laborers.
Because GEO is a private group, when GEO reduces costs, by reducing employee salary, taxpayers do not see savings, the cash goes straight into the pockets of businesspeople. We would benefit from nonprofit or government-run prisons.
Prisoners are paid below the minimum wage (7). Prisoners in good condition are being pressured to work, which is slave labor. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted the United Nations, gives "everyone ... the right to form and join unions to defend their interests," yet prisoners cannot.
The Free Alabama Movement (FAM) and the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC), published online this call for action:
This is a call to end slavery in America…To every prisoner in every state and federal institution across this land, we call on you to stop being a slave, to let the crops rot in the plantation fields, to go on strike and cease reproducing the institutions of your confinement.
This call to action resulted in the largest prison strike in U.S. history. That prisoners feel treated as slaves is a reflection of how flawed our sentencing and correction system is.
II. Criminalization without Representation
Prisoners are treated as slaves in more than one way: There are some states where if you have a felony conviction in the past, you lose the right to vote permanently, unless specifically governor decides he or she wants to forgive you (8).
Prisoners count as population, and affect the number of representatives in a district, but cannot vote themselves. Prisoners increase the power of rural districts in the elections, without being represented (9), reminiscent of the Three-Fifths Compromise.
The loss of the right to vote is equivalent, if not worse than, taxation without representation. By allowing the same entity, the US government, that we vote for decide who can vote, we allow politicians to choose their voters. If we were to decide that being gay is a felony then homosexuals would lose the opportunity to challenge that decision. The status quo is perpetuated. This is the situation with immigrants, 21.9% of inmates in federal prisons are not citizens (11). This is happening to immigrants, it is happening to black voters, poor voters, gay voters, and has been for years.
III. Discrimination in the Justice System
A Black person is about six times more likely to be imprisoned in the United States than white person (12). This means that the votes silenced, jobs lost, and the families separated are disproportionately minority.
One of every four young black men can expect to spend part of his life in prison.
In New York, 75% of inmates come from only seven neighborhoods: Harlem, Brownsville, East New York, Bronx South Jamaica, Bedford-Stuyvesant and the Lower East Side (13).
But this is clearly not because African-Americans are violent people. According to a 2014 report by Human Rights Watch, the "tough on crime" laws adopted since the 1980s, they have filled US prisons with criminals mostly non-violent.
Finding a job is difficult for a released inmate or one on parole, as even criminal and arrest records can determine the available positions, but a person who was recently released from prison is not eligible for public housing or welfare in most states. Besides this, the little money a prisoner makes going to prison fees accumulated during his time. And if one on parole cannot overcome these difficulties, cannot find a job, that prisoner will be returned to prison for violating parole.
These difficulties are why we need to reform the justice system. I’m sure you already have considered about this, but I have some suggestions for you, Congress, and the courts of this land:
Take prisons out of the hands of those who are incentivised to increase crime and expand the definition of crime.
Allow the minimum wage to apply to prisoners.
Allow prisoners to vote, in prison, because without the ability for those affected by the law to have a say in it, we cannot have true democracy.
Allow those released from prison to have access to food stamps and federal housing, if they have served their time, their punishment is over.
Allow judges more discretion in their sentencing practices.
Encourage states to decriminalize marijuana (and tax it heavily.)
Sentence drug users to treatment, not imprisonment, as once one has been through prison, it is very difficult to return to society, get a job, support oneself, and stay out of drugs. Users are victims, not perpetrators. They are sick and need help, not punishment.
I understand that little of what I have suggested will be easy, or even under your control, but your influence on others can help to steer us toward what is right for democracy and equality in America.
(1)"The United States Has The Largest Prison Population In The World ..." 2016. 25 Oct. 2016 <https://thinkprogress.org/the-united-states-has-the-largest-prison-population-in-the-world-and-its-growing-d4a35bc9652f>
(2)"Ki in Daily Life Behind Bars - Ki Research Institute." 2015. 28 Oct. 2016 <http://www.kionline.org/ki-in-daily-life-behind-bars.html>
(3) "What has America become under the rule of the Talmud and Kabbalah ..." 2016. 28 Oct. 2016 <https://stanstasblog.wordpress.com/2016/10/12/the-state-of-the-united-states-is-not-good/>
(4) "Risks Related to Our Business and Industry - Securities and Exchange ..." 2015. 26 Oct. 2016 <https://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/923796/000119312513102373/d500901dex992.htm>
(5) "Lobbying Spending Database - GEO Group, 2016 | OpenSecrets." 2013. 26 Oct. 2016 <https://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/clientsum.php?id=D000022003>
(6) "Prison Privatization and Prison Labor - Human Rights Advocates." 2012. 26 Oct. 2016 <http://www.humanrightsadvocates.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/Prison-Privatization-and-Forced-Prison-Labor-2012.pdf>
(7) "Section 3 The Prison Economy - Prison labor - Prison Index | Prison ..." 2006. 25 Oct. 2016 <http://www.prisonpolicy.org/prisonindex/prisonlabor.html>
(8) "State Felon Voting Laws - Felon Voting - ProCon.org." 2010. 25 Oct. 2016 <http://felonvoting.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000286>
(9) "1 I. QUESTION/MOTIVATION Does the increasing rate of incarceration ..." 2013. 25 Oct. 2016 <http://politics.as.nyu.edu/admin/staging/IO/4600/tramposch_p.pdf>
(10) "Why Prisoners Deserve the Right to Vote - POLITICO Magazine." 2016. 25 Oct. 2016 <http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/06/prisoners-convicts-felons-inmates-right-to-vote-enfranchise-criminal-justice-voting-rights-213979>
(11) "BOP Statistics: Inmate Citizenship - Federal Bureau of Prisons." 2015. 30 Oct. 2016 <https://www.bop.gov/about/statistics/statistics_inmate_citizenship.jsp>
(12) "U.S. incarceration rates by race | Prison Policy Initiative." 2006. 28 Oct. 2016 <http://www.prisonpolicy.org/graphs/raceinc.html>
(13) "Ex-Inmates Urge Return To Areas of Crime to Help - The New York ..." 2009. 28 Oct. 2016 <http://www.nytimes.com/1992/12/23/nyregion/ex-inmates-urge-return-to-areas-of-crime-to-help.html?pagewanted=all>