Imprisonment costs people more than time: how prisons make money

There is an old saying that it is expensive to be poor. If this is true, it is even more expensive to be poor and in jail. Imprisonment affects black people disproportionatelyespecially from communities of poverty – and there is a growing trend that shifts the cost of imprisonment to people who are imprisoned.

The cost of imprisonment begins even before you are convicted of a crime. On April 7, the Baltimore Legal Action Team (BALT) sent an urgent email to people who need help paying electronic surveillance fees. of BALT “Security cagesThe campaign started in the first days of the blockade of COVID-19. According to Jana Brown from BALT, who is coordinator of pre-trial logistics, community residents were faced with the decision to go to jail or pay private companies for house arrest up to $ 19 a day to be placed under home surveillance. “You can imagine how quickly this is coming together,” she told the Daily Kos in a call to Zoom.

With court records related to COVID, combined with the fact that there were 500% increase in prison populations since the “war on drugs” began 40 years ago, “we’ve seen cases where pre-trial detention has lasted a year,” Brown said. And unlike bail, even if the accused is found not guilty, they still have to pay home surveillance fees. This means that community members have not even been convicted of a crime there may still be debt to private e-mapping companies..

Prisoners find themselves in the “Trick-22” situation: prisons and prisons have incredibly high levels of COVID transmission. Much public scrutiny has put the Ministry of Justice (DOJ) under pressure to enforce more COVID security protocols for inmates, so prison authorities have responded by requiring mandatory isolation. In federal prisons, even the lowest risk offenders they were forced to carry out a number of mandatory isolations– Adding mental health pressures from intensive isolation to “regular” pandemic stress and physical health risks.

If you want to stay out of jail, you have to pay a lot of money –all this in the midst of a pandemic, when businesses closed daily and long-term unemployment rates have risen sharply. “People were afraid of being violated for non-payment. I had a client tell me: at this point I will just give up because I can’t pay. We try to keep people out of their cells, Brown said, so they can move, they can work, they can stay with their families. We are trying to keep people free. “

From prisoner leasing to corporate profits

IN GEO Group Inc.., the self-proclaimed “largest provider of GPS, alcohol, and radio frequency technology and services in the United States,” sells electronic surveillance technology to governments. As of December 31, 2021, GEO Group also coped 83,000 prison beds and approximately 250,000 “offenders” and defendants in pre-trial proceedings. They have made a total income from $ 2.26 billion in 2021 alone.

How did we get to a world where private individuals can imprison people, profit from their labor, and earn billions in the process? The Daily Kos spoke with Robert Craig, a lawyer with the Termination of Private Prisons (APP), who argued that private prisons were unconstitutional because they violated the 13th Amendment’s ban on slavery. “Our goal is when people make decisions […] “What the criminal justice system looks like should be guided by data and experts, not incentives for profit,” Craig said.

But prison has been tied to profit from the start. In the era of the release of prisoners after the Civil War, “Black codes“It is criminalized that he is black and imposes sentences of imprisonment for minor crimes such as wandering or lack of work permit. With deep roots in slavery, black codes were imposed by “slave patrols”police-style groups, a direct predecessor of the modern police. Both children and adults were classified as convicted and “rented” to mines, railway companies or, in some cases, the same plantation they had just left. Craig told the Daily Kos: “These plantation owners had no incentive to keep people alive. They can always get cheaper labor from the state from the prison leasing system.

As Craig put it: “Prisons and industrialization have grown together. The era of Manifest Destiny created a need for fast infrastructure […] and cheap labor. Railways had to be built; the factories needed staff. There are lawsuits from the time that say “prisoners are slaves to the state.”

Still, there is a key difference between the state, which extracts wealth from prisoners, and private corporations, which imprison people and force them to work. In order for this change to be possible, a war on drugs was needed. According to the APP, this “requires Reagan’s idea that private parties are doing better.”

The 13th Amendment has an “exception clause”: Slavery is illegal except for cases of imprisonment. “If we remove the exception clause, the state can’t put people in jail at all. And if they put people in jail, they can’t make them work,” Craig said. “And we consider the clause an exception definitely does not mean that private corporations can close people. We believe that this is what the 13th Amendment should stop. This is supposed to prevent a private individual from forcing someone else to work for them. “

If private prisons offer any benefit, it is the flexibility to build more prisons faster. Craig asks, “Do we want that flexibility?” If it makes it easier to detain immigrants? To imprison more people? […] A more rational response would be to release low-risk offenders or arrest fewer people in the first place. “

Close less people. Release those who cannot pay a guarantee. Create restorative justice systems that fill communities instead of exhausting them. Stop encouraging imprisonment by bribing politicians with discounts. These reforms are a direct threat to the business model of private prisons. Profit imprisonment, which encourages corporations to enslave essentially private citizens, has a certain enemy: criminal justice reform.

He pays to be in jail

If it seems strange that these huge monopolies profit from selling the prison to prisoners, it is because it is so. Poor color communities are disproportionately deprived of their liberty; this increases the cost of paying family members to prisoners, exacerbating the poverty cycle instead of returning wealth back to communities or re-entry programs.

Reported by relatives they spend thousands of dollars talking to their family members, and lawyers complain about ridiculously high call fees. Prices vary, but a 15-minute phone call can cost that much like $ 5.90 in Kentucky.

“There is there is no concrete evidence that electronic monitoring reduces recidivism rates, ”the Electronic Frontier Foundation said. Still, there is evidence that electronic surveillance and so many other practices are purely profitable. Almost any need can be capitalized; the same is true in prisons. From food to care packages, phone calls to clothes, human contact to the public domain electronic books, prison companies have many opportunities for redemption. It is estimated that in 2016 the prison commissioners took over $ 1.6 billion nationwide, based on data from a survey in 34 states of the Association of State Correctional Administrators. The Prison Policy Initiative announces:

“These figures contradict the myth that prisoners buy luxury; rather, most of the little money they have is spent on basic needs. Consider: If your only bathing option is a shared shower, you are not shower sandals need? Uses more than a roll of toilet paper a week is really a luxury (especially during periods of intestinal distress)? Or what if you have a chronic illness that requires constant use of over-the-counter medications (eg, antacids, vitamins, hemorrhoid ointment, antihistamines, or eye drops)? All of these items are usually only available in the store and only for those who can afford to pay.

Let’s say toilet paper costs $ 2 to the commissioner and eye drops cost $ 7. Prison salaries range from $ 0.14 to $ 2 per hour across the country. It can take a day of work to pay for a phone call home or a roll of toilet paper.

Securus is a corporation that makes millions by selling telecommunications services to prisoners. It is sinister to read such manipulative marketing advertisements Securus website:

“$ 20 for petrol and parking per visit or $ 5 for 20 minutes every day if you want… yes, it’s totally worth it.” Destiny Choquette, family

First, it is clear that $ 20 is an understatement – calls can reach exorbitant prices and, unfortunately, the days of refueling with $ 20 on gas are long gone. Second, no amount of phone calls can compensate for the fact that your loved one is not there, locked in a cage away from you, and that just sucks.

From here to where?

The answer is not that states can or should bear the costs of imprisonment. The answer is that we need to close fewer people and end prisons for profit. People go to jail more than 10 million times a year in the United States Many of these arrests are the result of the criminalization of mental illness, substance abuse and poverty. Targeting more spending on struggling families who have lost a loved one to the penitentiary system is not fair. It is not fair to pay slave wages to prisoners and then sell them basic necessities. What could justice look like in a world without prisons?

James Baldwin, in his letter to Angela Davis in 1970while she was in prison, offers a way forward when he writes:

“… we WILL to feel worthy enough to fight even with relentless forces to change our destiny and the destiny of our children and the state of the world! We know that man is not something and should not be placed at the mercy of things. We know We know that the baby does not come into the world just to be someone else’s profit tool. “We know that democracy does not mean forcing everyone to deadly – and ultimately vicious – mediocrity, but the freedom for all to strive for the best that is in it or that has ever been.

next steps

This does not have to be the world we live in. There are probably people in your immediate area who are working to end imprisonment for profit. Support these organizations. Support Baltimore Legal Action Team, a team “dedicated to building the strength of the local Black Life Movement”. I follow Removal of private prisons, the only organization that fights private prisons at the constitutional level. Find an organization for criminal justice reform, guarantee fund, or a protest against the prison in your area. Freedom depends on insisting that “everyone’s coercion to deadly – and ultimately vicious – mediocrity” cannot be normalized.

This story was created through the Daily Kos Emerging Fellows (DKEF) program. Read more about DKEF (and meet other new contributors) here.

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