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America's Private Prison Issue is an Existential Crisis

By M. Francis Mirro

Last week, California’s state legislator officially abolished all private prisons in the state, including ICE detention facilities (concentration camps) run by government contracted private corporations. This should be a much bigger deal than it’s been received as, and California deserves a lot of praise for making what is essentially a no brainer.

America’s incarceration rate is out of control. More people are in our prisons than in that of China or Russia; although, to be fair, those countries are better at permanently silencing people than locking them up.

But the United States very clearly throws people behind bars at a disproportionate rate to any other country on the planet.

Our prison population accounts for 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated population while the entirety of the U.S.’s population only accounts for about four percent of the world. And it should come as no surprise to anyone that this system unfairly and disproportionately effects minority Americans.

Behind so much undo pain and continued suffering of our despotic and antiquated prison network is, in part, money, of course.

Private prisons are run like a business by businessmen. The simple reality is that private prisons require prisoners to exist. That turns human lives into commodities, numbers on a spreadsheet to be sold and managed to keep the company in the black and the suits up top lined with cash. This has even led to countless of CHILDREN being thrown into private juvenile facilities for “crimes” that a hundred kids I went to school with committed on a daily basis. Not because they were evil or irredeemable, but because it made the people who operated the facility lots of money and they in turn handsomely paid the people who were supposed to help those kids. Instead, they condemned them just as the system condemns so many others on petty crimes.

And don’t be fooled by a shrinking incarceration rate.

The prisons and the politicians know that high number is unpopular and they’ve made attempts to bring it down while maintaining their cash flow.

The solution? Ankle bracelets.

Yup, seriously. This will turn prisoners into a restricted labor force as they will be permitted to (and necessity will mandate that they do) find a job and work during the day only to be confided to their homes at all other times with heavily chopped away liberties and, naturally, no right to vote. Honestly, we might as well start calling ourselves the United States of Orwell at this point.

I think the problem of private prisons gets lost in our political discourse, or it gets blended into the greater topic of mass incarceration. But I believe that this industry poses an existential crisis for the country, and not a new one. This is about how we as a nation value human life. In a country where all men are created equal, if these companies can reduce anyone to dollars and cents then everyone can be reduced to that.

Now ask yourself, are you worth more than that?

The solution is, frankly, not on a legislative level. Legislation can be overturned. For trading and profiting off the backs of human lives, what is the “prison industrial complex” but modern day slave traders, ferrying their captives through the courts instead of across the Atlantic? As such, they need to be dealt with as we dealt with the slave traders. Congress must adopt, and the states must ratify, a constitutional amendment permanently abolishing all private prison contractors from operating within the United States.

The prison system must be left to the government and the courts, not to businessmen and lobbyists. First and foremost, incarceration must be made about rehabilitation and petty crimes should be handled with petty punishments.

Human lives matter more than any company’s bottom line.

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