11-Point Plan for Social Justice – Ending private prisons, court collection and probation services

151229103405-private-prisons-780x439All Americans enjoy certain rights under the constitution even when they have been accused of a crime, but these rights are being violated by a system that puts money over justice.

This will be a reoccurring theme through the next few points in this series.

I am not against capitalism, but when we put capitalism and privatization over the rights of citizens then it is time for us to look at what it means to be an American because it no longer resembles what it was meant to be.

Private Prisons

Private prison are one of the biggest dangers facing our system of justice. They are supposed to serve the same purpose as our state and federal prisons at a lower cost, but that is just not the case.

A study by the Arizona Department of Corrections shows that private prisons cost their state as much as $1600 more per prisoner each year. The study also revealed that those costs were even higher because most private prisons do not take inmates with chronic medical issues. This leaves the inmates that are the most expensive to care for in the hands of the state or federal government.

According to a study by the University of Wisconsin, this is compounded by the fact that, on average, inmates in private prisons spend an additional three months behind bars  compared to those in public prisons, and even though private prisons tout low rates of recidivism, the rate of recidivism is generally higher in private prisons than in public prisons.

Parole boards use prisoner conduct records in the course of deciding who will receive a parole. The study shows that private prisons issue infractions at twice the rate compared to public prisons. This accounts for the longer stays.

Furthermore, these corporations spend millions each year lobbying our government. Many have worked with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to pass tougher immigration laws (Alabama’s HB-56) and to increase penalties for drug and other nonviolent crimes.

A study by the ACLU found that:

  • For-profit facilities are often more dangerous and have worse conditions than state-run facilities.
  • They are found to have 50% more inmate-on-staff assaults and 2/3 more inmate-on-inmate assaults.
  • For-profit prisons are exempt from many open government laws that apply to state-run facilities and do not have the same reporting requirements as state-run facilities. As a result, it is more difficult for a community to learn about what is happening inside private prisons, including abuse, unsanitary conditions, and misuse of tax dollars.

One of the greatest tenets of our constitution is the guarantee that anyone accused of breaking the law is entitled to a fair and impartial trial, but how fair and impartial are those trials when corporate interests are involved.

According to court records, Pennsylvania Judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan began accepting money in exchange for sentencing children to private juvenile correctional facilities in 2003.

Yes, you heard that right.

Two Pennsylvania Judges were taking bribes for putting children in prison. What makes the story even worse is the sheer number of children that were illegally sentenced to correctional facilities

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court threw out 5 years of juvenile convictions because the court found that Judges Ciavarella and Conahan violated the constitutional rights of more than 6000 children involved in about 4000 cases.

Some of these children were as young as 10-years-old and some of the charges were as minor as making fun of their assistant principal on MySpace (90 days of boot camp).

This is not an isolated incident.

In Mississippi, former Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps and former state lawmaker Cecil McCrory each pleaded guilty to two federal charges after the justice department receive a 40-count indictment against them for bribery, money laundering and falsifying records and tax returns.

Our justice system should not be for sale.

When you allow business to profit off our judicial system, you open the door to corruption, and for that reason, I would sponsor legislation that prohibits the use of private prisons in the United States.


Private Probation and Court Collections

Over the last 15 or 20 years, many cities around the country have opted to go with private companies to supervise probation and collect fees for the city.

Recently, the practices of these companies has come under fire.

These companies do not charge the cities for their services; instead, they tack fees on to the fines and court costs paid by the offender.

These fees range from 40% to 90% of the original fines, and offenders who are unable to pay are put on payments and are required to pay the private company interest that averages 14% per month or 168% per year. If they are unable to pay the fines and fees they are threatened with jail time and if they still cannot pay, they are arrested.

Several of these companies, and the cities that employed them, are currently facing state and/or federal lawsuits. The suits allege that these companies, acting on behalf of the government, wrongfully detained and jailed people who were too poor to afford court and probation fees.

Fortunately, many of the cities are cutting ties with these companies.

Montgomery, Harpersville and Childersburg were all sued over their use of private probation companies. In the Harpersville case, Circuit Court Judge Hub Harrington took over the cases and accused the company (JCS) and the city of running a “debtors prison” and “judicially sanctioned extortion racket.”

Following a letter from the Southern Poverty Law Center to 106 Alabama cities using Judicial Correction Services (JCS), and 30 cities using similar services, more than 70 cities using JCS elected to end their arrangements with the company. The loss of revenues and threat of lawsuits caused JCS to end their operations in Alabama, but similar companies are still operating within the state.

Whenever money is involved, there will be corruption. In politics, business and life in general, you will find people who obey the law, people who use loopholes to violate the spirit of the law without violating the letter of the law and you have those who will simply break the law.

Unfortunately, we will never completely remove corruption from the world, but we can end much of the corruption in our judicial system by removing the potential for profit.

Many people will say that ending these services will cause even more problems for the nation’s prison systems, which are already operating above capacity in most cases.

The majority of politicians will complain about the cost of building and operating new prisons, but the answer lies in putting fewer people in prison, not in building new prisons.

America is the most incarcerated country in the world. We have five percent of the world’s population, but we account for twenty-five percent of the world’s prison population.

We need to change our jail them all mentality.

Prisons are inherently violent places and putting someone in prison that has not perpetrated violence on others is just not right. Those incarcerated are subject to abuse, lack of treatment, loss of employment and family discrimination upon release, which only makes it harder for them to re-integrate to society, and makes it more likely that they will re-offend.

It is time to look at new alternatives to prison for nonviolent offenders. Studies show that putting nonviolent prisoners in prison does not reduce the chance of them committing crimes in the future; it increases the chances of them committing violent crimes in the future.

The first part of the process would be to limit their mobility and interaction in the community through electronic monitoring. Offenders would be allowed to go to work, community service and other court ordered activities. At all other times, they would be restricted to their place of residence.

The second part is counseling the offenders, so that we can determine if there is a way that we can help them live within the law. Most nonviolent offenders tend to be under- educated, or they suffer from behavioral disorders or mental illness.

Education and job related training coupled with job placement programs would make it easier for many of these offenders to contribute to society and eliminate their need to break the law.

Many of these offenders are in prison due to legitimate illnesses like drug addiction, kleptomania, etc. Treating these illnesses is much more productive than incarcerating the offender without addressing the underlying problem.

In the case of juvenile offenders, we need to look at mediation, which is when the juvenile offender meets with a court appointed mediator and the offended party for the purpose of coming up with a program for the offender to compensate the victim for the damage they caused. This approach was common at times in the U.S. and studies show that juveniles that have to face their victims and make amends are less likely to reoffend.

It is time for us to realize, on this issue and others, that when the solution only serves to make the problem worse, it is not a solution at all.

It is time that we as a society decide whether it is more important to issue draconian sentences that makes society feel better, or is it more important to issue sentences that will serve to insure that less crimes are committed in the future.


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