Barack Obama was fond of reminding his talented, young, energetic, enthusiastic and idealistic staff members that “Better is good.” He made a habit of doing so because quite often the incremental solutions that the administration was able to get through the broken machinery of D.C. politics seemed far too mild to tame the beasts they were trying to slay. “Better is good” kept everybody mindful of the fact that if you continue to take concrete steps toward a solution to a bedeviling problem, you are making things better. And as usual 44 was right.
D.C. has been celebrating the passage of The First Step Criminal Justice Reform Act this week. The celebratories could have been done before but this president is having a pretty brutal news cycle so I guess he remembered that he had something positive from a few months ago that he could pivot to. The passage of The First Step was a minor miracle but a miracle just the same. It is perfectly fair to recognize that the First Step just scratched the surface of the problem and still acknowledge and respect the people that busted their asses to get it done. Prison reform and criminal justice reform had to start somewhere and First Step is that legislative marker. To be sure, media will focus on the “work” of D.C. diletante Jared Kushner when they discuss the new guidelines to make the Federal Prison system a little more humane but I doubt those in the trenches give a damn. Legislation that only helps a couple hundred thousand of the millions of prisoners in the United States is a lot better than nothing.
But now that we have scratched the surface we can scratch the itch that has been driving America insane for decades: Prison is a profitable business and it shouldn’t be. It should not be a business at all- in any form or fashion. It is fundamentally immoral and unethical for anyone to profit off of incarceration. Free markets were supposed to stop leveraging the value of enslaved bodies 156 years ago. Yet billions and billions of dollars are made year after year off of locking people up and that profit motive infects our policy-making because it infests our state-houses.
Now that we have an unapologetically progressive Congress framing the issues and setting the nation’s priorities we should attack the prison industrial complex with the same urgency as we propose attacking climate change.
There are a myriad of issues that point to the corrosive effects that mass incarceration has on American culture and on black and brown communities specifically. Those are well documented. But the truth is that too few voters care about those issues enough to bring about wholesale change. Perhaps our focus on “income inequality” and community investment as legislative priorities will help turn that tide. To wit: if Americans don’t care about the human beings being warehoused and tortured in our prisons, maybe they will care about the obscene profits being made by private prison owners and the pittance they reinvest in the municipalities that host them in the form of taxes or community development. What effect does it have on a community when the most readily available job is at a prison? What child grows up wanting to go to that place for 8 hours a day? Is the prison guard the new factory worker in the workforce of the future? It appears to be trending that way and that is deeply troubling for any civilized society.
The Anti-Prison Profiteering Act should be proposed and passed by this Congress. Make the jackals in the GOP oppose it and openly admit that they are in support of corporations organizing around the principle that the more people are in prison the more money they can make. Then make them openly admit that the lobbyist employed by private prison corporations are actually drafting the criminal justice legislation that they support. And then make them admit that they get huge campaign contributions from these same bad actors- making them scum-bags by association. It is virtually impossible to defend the prison industrial complex so we need to make those that profit off of it stand in the stark light of truth and do so. Congress would not have to look far to find the corruption and pure evil in that system and haul somebody before the cameras to answer to the public.
I recognize that with the Trump death spiral in full affect and the efforts to restore voting rights to the RE-disenfranchised and trying to flesh out The Green New Deal this Democratic congress is a little busy. But this just can’t wait. It truly is time to go big or go home. This is the kind of debate that is especially valuable because it hits multiple hot-button issues at the same time. We cannot waste the opportunity to move on it and lead the country in the right direction- and away from the antiquated “tough on crime” b.s. that got us into this mess in the first place.
Since you ladies are pretty busy these days (and let’s be real, its the newly elected ladies who can make this happen) I offer this rough draft of the plain language of the statute I am proposing. To wit:
“No person nor corporation (sorry, Mitt) shall be permitted to contract with or for any municipality for purposes connected to providing incarceration services or any service related to incarceration. Neither person nor corporation shall be permitted to contract with or for the provision of services performed by or purchase of goods or materials manufactured by any person held in the custody of any correctional facility anywhere in the United States of America or it’s territories. Any such profiteering off of incarceration shall be a class A felony punishable by (wait for it…) imprisonment in a maximum security correctional facility for a term no less than ten years (minimum sentencing guidelines apply of course) and a total forfeiture of any and all remuneration or assets arising from or connected to the illegal enterprise.”
I hope that helps. Call me with any questions. Good luck and Godspeed.