Over-incarceration and Poverty
The era of mass incarceration, or as others call it, over-incarceration, is not solely an issue within the United States. Countries around the world are also experiencing a rise in incarceration rates. With the rise of global poverty comes the rise of imprisonment. Sadly, incarceration disproportionately affects people living in poverty. This system of retribution creates a conveyor belt of crime. When authorities arrest people living in poverty more often, it becomes more challenging for targeted individuals to provide for them and their families and secure a living income; as a result, many felons may resort to crime out of necessity. These factors contribute to the phenomenon many countries are experiencing including high rates of recidivism and the number of ex-felons that authorities re-arrest. This cycle of crime is continuing and many impoverished are behind bars; people must address the relationship between over-incarceration and poverty.

The Relationship Between Over-Incarceration and Poverty

The estimated number of prisoners worldwide was 10.35 million in 2018, but the number is most likely 11 million as there are a number of countries that have a difficult time collecting data. Eleven million may not seem like a lot compared to the over 7 billion people in the world, but that is only the number of people in prison and not the millions on probation who face difficulties surviving after prison. On top of that, a prison sentence is hardly an individual experience. When authorities arrest someone so they enter prison, it affects their family and often makes it more difficult to obtain a livable income. Men make up the majority of the prison population, and in countries where people see men as the breadwinners of the family, this puts stress on the family the men leave behind. Over-incarceration refers to not just the imprisonment of someone, but also the group of people their imprisonment affects.

Pre-Trial Detentions Across the World

Much of over-incarceration is due to the stigmatization of drug users and the incarceration of nonviolent drug offenders, as well as many countries, like the U.S., using pre-trial detention. Around 30 percent of prison populations have not received a conviction. Pre-trial detention is a major reason for why criminal justice affects the impoverished more than the wealthy. A lack of legal assistance and expensive bails lead people to enter pre-trial detention.

Many countries have attempted to find alternatives to pre-trial detention. In Bolivia, the government has implemented a limit on the length of pre-trial detention. Similarly, Egypt is currently attempting to pass a bill capping pretrial sentences at six months. Colombia has put an emphasis on expediting the low-level cases, to cut down the number of prisoners who have not obtained a conviction. There are efforts around the world focusing on criminal justice reform as a way to create a more equal system.

Over-Incarceration Reforms Worldwide

 To reduce the relationship between over-incarceration and poverty, many countries have looked to focus on rehabilitation, using social integration and training. In this way, prison helps ex-felons return to normal life and find employment. Behind the U.S. and China, Brazil has the third-largest prison population with over 690,000 prisoners. Seeing the mass incarceration levels, the Association for the Protection and Assistance to Convicts (APAC), opened its first prison in 1972. The APAC looks to rehabilitate the people that enter its prisons, referring to those inside as recovering people. A system such as the one the APAC created marks a change in consciousness towards criminal justice systems around the world. Instead of punishment, rehabilitation drives the system by helping the marginalized seamlessly transition into normal life. The APAC’s prisons allow its members freedom, giving them the keys to their own cells and privileges to wash their clothes, cook their own meals and study what they please. Nineteen countries around the world have begun to implement similar prisons.

Penal Reform International’s Work With Recidivism

As Penal Reform International states, “Criminal justice policies affect nearly every aspect of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including poverty, food security, human rights, health and well-being, education, social inclusion, gender equality, employment, environmental issues, human security, access to justice, inclusive political processes, and governance and the rule of law.” Penal Reform International conducts work worldwide to help promote fair criminal justice practices. Its focus is on promoting rehabilitation and fair treatment by preventing torture and ensuring a speedy and fair trial for alleged felons. The group works with intergovernmental organizations to provide more rights to offenders and victims, as well as assist policymakers, criminal justice authorities and civil society to help de-link the relationship between over-incarceration and poverty.

Jared Hynes
Photo: Flickr

Corruption in Argentina
Political corruption has long plagued Argentina’s government, dating all the way back to the 1800s. In the country’s modern history, there has rarely been a decade where some sort of political scandal has not occurred. However, the country has been steadily improving over the past decade. Here are 10 facts about political corruption in Argentina.

10 Facts About Corruption in Argentina

  1. Corruption Index Rating: The country had a Corruption Index rating of 40 in 2018, which was its best rating since 1995. This rating is based on the level of perceived corruption in a country’s public sector. The rating reached its lowest in the early 2000s during the tenure of former Argentine President Fernando de la Rua but has steadily risen in the following years, reaching higher numbers in the late 2010s. Its 2018 corruption index of 40 is fairly high if one compares it to other Latin American countries, although it is well below more developed countries.
  2. Police Corruption: Several Argentine businesses have reported that the police are among the most corrupt government agencies in the country and that Argentinians cannot rely on the police force to enforce the law. The Economist reported in 2014 that the police were reforming their systems, however. This started with giving policemen a higher salary, which is still increasing to this day, to reduce the risk of metropolitan police officers accepting bribes in exchange for their silence. While many issues remain with high ranking federal officials, Argentina is taking more action to reduce the amount of crime happening on the streets.
  3. Political Corruption: Political corruption often plagues businesses in Argentina due to excessive taxes and expensive, difficult customs process, with much of this revenue going to Argentina’s elite. In 2018, Forbes reported that people siphoned nearly $36 billion and put it into the pockets of wealthy businessmen in a corrupt public-private ring. Reports have determined that legislators have also taken bribes, leading to a messy lawmaking and enforcement process.
  4. Human Rights: The constitution of Argentina guarantees freedom of the press and speech, although journalists do receive threats. Because the government lacks federal legislation pertaining to access to information for the public, the government is able to manipulate economic statistics. There remain some problems pertaining to the safety of the press, but the government highly respects freedom of speech and it has taken reports of human rights violations very seriously. Argentina is also the first country in Latin America to pass laws protecting LGBT rights.
  5. The Justice 2020 Initiative: According to Anti-Corruption Digest, in response to issues revolving around legal loopholes and lack of criminal convictions, Argentine President Mauricio Macri enacted the Justice 2020 Initiative. This plan seriously overhauled Argentina’s court systems, which are in need of legal upgrades, along with fixing several legal loopholes. ACD cites that the changes from this act have doubled the court system’s productivity and helped clear the prior backlog of people waiting for prosecution.
  6. Prison Conditions: Prison conditions in Argentina are very poor. Prisons in the country tend to suffer overcrowding and violence between inmates; police abuse and bad upkeep of prison facilities are also very common. Under the Justice 2020 Initiative, President Macri made a commitment to prevent these abuses from happening further, and in 2011, members of the police made a commitment that it would only use force when absolutely necessary.
  7. Judicial Corruption: High ranking officials in Argentina are among the largest problems in regards to corruption in Argentina, with many of them accepting or demanding bribes for political favors such as pardoning crimes. High court judges are especially at risk of corruption; since 2003, with the approval of the senate, the president can handpick people for the courts, leading to poor separation of power between the executive and judicial branches. There are a president, vice president and three justices that currently preside over Argentina’s supreme court, making the policing of high ranking officials challenging to do. The federal court system is small, understaffed and underutilized, making the trial and removal of high ranking officials a long and difficult process.
  8. Quality of Life: Despite government corruption in Argentina, it remains one of the best countries in Latin America in terms of education. Nearly everyone in the country also has access to a reliable source of water and sanitation, with only around 1 percent not having access to water and less than 4 percent not having sanitation. Part of this could be due to Argentina’s abundant natural resources and booming economy, but one should also credit the country’s increasing focus on human rights enforcement.
  9. Abortion: While Argentina is a Latin American pioneer when it comes to human rights, women’s rights still remain an issue in the country. Abortion is illegal in Argentina unless the pregnancy is a danger to the mother’s health. The Catholic Church, which is the faith of the vast majority in Argentina, condemns abortion. Women’s rights groups have lobbied for legal abortion, including in 2018 when the country held a vote on the status of it.
  10. The Fundacion Banco de Alimentos: There are many nonprofits in Argentina that dedicate themselves to helping improve the quality of life for those who live in poverty. In the wake of severe socio-economic issues, the Fundacion Banco de Alimentos, a nonprofit food bank that emerged in 2000, acts as a channel for citizens to give food to Argentina’s most impoverished inhabitants. The vast majority of donors are local companies, farmers and supermarkets that donate food that would have otherwise gone to waste. Considering the country’s most recent economic issues, this is a great way for businesses to give back to the less fortunate in Argentina and reduce poverty without going through the government; over 1,000 communities participate, and people have donated over 5,000,000 food products with the food bank reaching over 143,000 people.

Political corruption in Argentina has plagued the country for centuries and one can trace much of this corruption back to issues with federal officials. There is not enough separation between the executive and judicial branches, which has led to the country’s continual issues with properly handling crime and enforcing justice. More citizen lobbying and human rights groups will be necessary to end government corruption and further push for the protection of human rights in Argentina’s near future.

– Andrew Lueker
Photo: Flickr

poverty among Aboriginal AustraliansAboriginal Australians have faced discrimination, genocide and marginalization within their own lands since the British began their initial colonization of the continent in 1788. Aboriginals did not receive any credence in the eye of the Australian government until 1967. Because of this, poverty among Aboriginal Australians skyrocketed.

By simply removing the words “…other than the Aboriginal people in any State…” in section 51(xxvi) and the whole of section 127 of the constitution, the country finally saw Aboriginals as their own individualized people. They are now part of the census and the government can make laws specifically concerning Aboriginal issues. However, even with the government’s recognition of these peoples did not eliminate the discrimination and inequality they often face from the government and society. Here are eight facts about aboriginal Australians’ quality of life.

8 Facts About Aboriginal Australians’ Quality of Life

  1. Today in Australia, a mere 3.1 percent of the Australian population is indigenous. Even though they make up so little of the population, however, 19.3 percent of Aboriginal Australians live in poverty compared to 12.4 percent of other Australians.
  2. Only 4.8 percent of Aboriginal peoples have employment within the upper salary levels in Australia. This low percentage may link to pervasive racism within the country. Nineteen percent of Australians believe they are casual racists but refuse to change. Twenty-six percent of Australians have anti-Aboriginal concerns. Meanwhile, eleven percent of Australians do not think all races are equal. There does seem to be a changing tide, however, as 86 percent of Australians believe that Australia needs to do something to fight the pervasive racism in the country.
  3. There have been significant improvements and money allocations towards the betterment of the indigenous communities in Australia in recent years. In 2017, $33.4 billion went toward government expenditure on indigenous Australians, a 23.7 percent increase since 2009 (taking into account inflation). That is $44,886 per indigenous person or two times the amount of direct government expenditure on non-indigenous peoples. However, Aboriginal peoples are still more than twice as likely to be in the bottom 20 percent for equivalized gross weekly household income. High unemployment and lasting impacts from colonialism have caused low income in Aboriginal homes.
  4. Today, people often find that Aboriginal communities in non-rural areas live off welfare in crowded housing. About 20 percent of Aboriginal Australians living in non-rural areas were living in overcrowded accommodations in 2014 and 2015. In remote or very remote areas of Australia, the overcrowding was almost 40 percent. Overcrowding can often lead to a faster spread of illness in these communities. The proliferation of disease in overcrowded spaces creates a significant financial burden on families who must then seek treatment for their ailing loved ones. However, Australia has put multiple initiatives into place to address and resolve these issues. In 2008, the Federal government started and funded the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing.
  5. From 2014 to 2015, three in 10 Aboriginals (29 percent) 15 and over experienced homelessness for a portion of time. Homelessness prevents individuals not only from human, tribal and societal interaction but can also often prevent them from being active members in the workforce, and therefore, the economy. Aboriginal peoples 15 and over in remote or very remote areas experienced homelessness in their lifetime at a 3 percent increase from non-remote Aboriginals (32 percent).
  6. Aboriginal Australian children between the ages of 5 to 17 are committing suicide at a five times higher rate than non-indigenous peoples in Australia. There is a direct link between the suicide rate and the crushing poverty in these communities and failing government-funded aid services. People have called upon the Australian government to either increase spending on indigenous peoples’ aid or to even wholly reconsider its tactics. As of 2019, the Australian government has implemented restrictions on takeaway alcohol, broadening education initiatives and developing further cultural healing projects.
  7. More than 28 percent of Australia’s prison population was Aboriginal in 2016, which is a shocking fact as less than 3 percent of Australia’s population identifies as indigenous. This widespread incarceration significantly impacts rates of poverty in the Aboriginal community. When one removes a person from a home–that statistically is likely to suffer overcrowding and have underprivileged individuals–they remove supporting income from an already disadvantaged family.
  8. People widely acknowledged that limited completion of education, and more specifically, secondary education, have close ties to poverty for Aboriginal Australians. In previous years, Aboriginal peoples were less likely to obtain a Year 12 or equivalent level of education; 45 percent of Aboriginals achieved this level of education in 2008. However, the gap is closing fast, and as of 2014-2015, records indicate that that percentage has risen to 62 percent of Aboriginal peoples obtaining their Year 12 level of education.
Though the gap between non-indigenous and Aboriginal people ages 20 to 24 with post-school qualifications has not changed, the number of indigenous peoples in this age range who have received a secondary education has doubled since 2002.

NASCA

NASCA, or the National Aboriginal Supporting Chance Academy, is a nonprofit that works directly within indigenous communities doing mentoring, education and development programs. Its initiatives seek to create empowerment and movement from within these communities and alleviate poverty among Aboriginal Australians. Each year, over 1,200 indigenous youths directly benefit from the organization’s work.
In 2018 alone, the program delivered a total of 6,006 educational and health program hours, and attendance in its northern territory program schools saw a 33 percent increase in school attendance. Its work is seeking to create pride in communities and put into motion change that will bleed into the higher political and social sphere of Australia.

Australia has so long ignored its Aboriginal community on both a social and governmental level, so it is a welcome and pleasant change to see so much work on behalf of an underprivileged group of people. Though there is still far to go, some are taking steps both within and outside of the community to build up the visibility and civil rights of the Aboriginal peoples and their needs. Poverty among Aboriginal Australians has set them back long enough. Though they are undeniably Australian, they are fiercely and independently Aboriginal peoples with a right to civil liberties, native land and socioeconomic equality.

– Emma Hodge
Photo: Flickr

Prison Reform
Prison reform is a global imperative. According to the World Prison Brief,
26,734 people are incarcerated in the Dominican Republic as of 2018, and 30 percent of the Dominican Republic’s population of 10.6 million are below the poverty line. The Centre of Excellence on Prison Reform and Drug Demand Reduction in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic was created by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to strengthen criminal justice in the Caribbean and Latin America.

Prison Reform in Central America

This prison reformation focuses on training programs for previously incarcerated people and promotes effective policies regarding healthcare and prison conditions. Many incarcerated people suffer from poverty, which leads to homelessness, crime, drugs and violence.

Prison reform by the Centre includes social reintegration programs post-release, and job and educational resources as well. The Centre will also place more focus on women, juveniles, youth with incarcerated mothers, drug-dependent prisoners and mental health. Since many prisoners cannot afford the Centre’s reformation, the UNODC aims to make these resources within the current prison system affordable. In the Najayo prison, classrooms are built to reach goals of zero percent illiteracy and the provision of college-level courses. Prisoners here are treated more humanely with a bed, desk in classroom and medical attention.

The prison system had to be reformed in the Dominican Republic due to how: previous imprisonment disrupted families, overcrowding promoted the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and prison time encouraged poverty rather than reduced it. The Centre has been so successful in prison reform in the Dominican Republic that inmates’ rate of returning has reduced from 50 percent prior to the Centre to less than 5 percent where facilities have adopted reformation programs.

UNODC’s Global Efforts

The UNODC has also reformed the prison system in Panama by focusing on the health and safety of prisoners in order to properly reintegrate inmates back into society. Panama has a high rate of incarceration, with 400 per 100,000 people as prisoners and a remand rate of 70 percent. Prison reform in Panama looks like IntegrArte, which is a fashion program that rehabilitates female prisoners in Panama by turning their crafts (hand-sewn bags, clothing, etc) into sellable profit.

Participants in the program are very appreciative of such efforts, and say that sewing and IntegreArte as a reformation program in prison helps greatly with the transition back into society. These programs open up micro-financing and housing opportunities and help people escape the confines of poverty.

Costa Rica also undergoes prison reform with WOLA, Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas. In 2013, Costa Rica had the third highest percentage of prisoners in Central American, and now the nation’s prison reform focuses on education, drug decriminalization and rehabilitation.

In 2016, the Ministry of Justice and Peace reduced prison terms for women who smuggled drugs into prisons to a minimum of three to eight years, if they met certain conditions. The result? One hundred and twenty female prisoners were released immediately in Costa Rica, and have since sought health services.

In fact, Costa Rica just passed a law in 2017 for eliminating criminal records for released people who have served sentences under certain conditions. It is still early to conduct studies of the results of this law, but one can assume that this action can reduce poverty of former inmates by providing jobs.

Mexico, El Salvador and Efforts at Rehabilitation

Mexico and El Salvador are also trying to adopt drug decriminalization and reduce gang crime and violence of poverty-ridden areas by using education and business development to build and strengthen communities. Prison reformation programs by the government  — such as drug rehabilitation and mandatory work trainings — have reduced the number of El Salvador’s homicides from 6,071 to 4,881 between 2015 and 2016.

In addition, rehabilitation and work trainings have reduced Mexico’s incarceration rate dramatically, with 37 percent fewer inmates in 2016 than 2015. A report by WOLF concluded that strict drug legislation and its aggressive implementation are key factors in rising incarceration rates and extreme prison overcrowding.

Prison reform is essential to reduce crime, violence, inhumane prison living conditions and poverty. UNODC prison reform programs such as the Centre are very important in Central America as it helps combat crime, drug trade and poverty for high-crime, low-income neighborhoods.

– Areina Ismail
Photo: Flickr

Ghana's Prison Music ProgramIn celebration of his 40 years in the music business, gospel singer Yaw Sarpong has brought the Prison Project to life. The Prison Project’s main purpose is to teach Ghanaian prisoners how to express themselves through gospel music.

The Prison Project is a collaboration between the Yaw Foundation and Ghana Prisons Service, which intends to build music centers throughout Ghana’s prison system, beginning with Ankaful Maximum Security Prison. According to Joy Online, the Yaw Foundation is dedicated to transforming the lives of the prisoners with music. The Ghana Prisons Service wants to use this program to certify prisoners in music and other skills.

Ghana’s prison music program not will not only focus on music education; the Prison Project’s project and fundraising coordinator Esther Tettekuor Quayson states that the program will focus on other outreach programs as well. She also discusses how an education in music can lead to a desire for education in other areas – which is clearly a benefit to both prisoners and society as a whole.

Beyond education, the creators of Ghana’s prison music program hope to instill in Ghanaian prisoners leadership qualities. Quayson discusses in Ghana Web how she envisions prisoners becoming new leaders within the country.

What about the personal benefits of Ghana’s prison music program to the prisoners? According to Quayson, music gives them the opportunity to express the issues that they are dealing with. It also builds up their confidence and drive to succeed in their lives after they leave prison. Thus, the program is designed to assist with the prisoners’ ability to successfully re-enter society. Quayson states in Ghana Web that “There is therefore the need to provide solutions and programmes that will help society understand the plights of our prisoners and ex-convicts and take up their roles in shaping their lives to fit into society.”

Ghana’s prison music program is already off to a strong start. The Prison Project currently has an advisory board and a passionate group of young people willing to work with the program. Yaw Sarpong’s church is also planning a soccer game and a concert in support of the project. The Prison Project illustrates a commitment to rehabilitating prisoners in ways that will benefit the prisoners themselves and their society.

Cortney Rowe

African Prisons Project
The African Prisons Project (APP) is an organization that works alongside prisoners in Africa in order to improve prison conditions, assist with legal counsel and educate inmates.

The African Prisons Project was founded in 2007. The organization works with both prisoners and prison staff in order to create more humane and rehabilitation based approach to incarceration. The group focuses its work on four areas: leadership, access to health, life skills and access to justice.

The APP provides leadership training through its legal education program with the University of London. This is extremely useful to prisoners who are unable to afford legal representation. It has empowered many prisoners to work on their own cases and that of their fellow inmates.

The APP works to improve prison healthcare by providing classes on healthcare, offering clinical services and building health infrastructure. The group also provides human rights training to prisoners and prison staff in order to inform and empower both prisoners and staff members to protect human rights. In addition, the organization also works to facilitate dialogue between the officials and policy makers who legislate prisons and the staff and prisoners who are affected by these policies.

Their work is extremely helpful to inmates all across Africa, many of whom would never see a lawyer without it. Most prisons in Africa are 300 percent full, which leads to the spread of diseases and inevitable human rights violations. The APP’s work across these fields seeks to minimize these risks and other risks to prisoners. In Uganda, 11.3 percent of all prisoners are HIV positive. This is almost twice the national rate, and it makes the healthcare work that the APP does even more necessary.

The education that the group provides is also extremely valuable. At APP targeted prisons, 67.3 percent of all inmates are illiterate. Of these prisoners, four out of five cannot afford a lawyer. In Uganda and Kenya, this rate is 90 percent, and it is common for inmates to wait a decade for a trial.

The APP has made great strides in providing protection and education to these inmates. Their rehabilitative approach has been acknowledged by the United Nations Sustainable Solutions Summit, and the group hosted the first ever TEDx conference to take place inside a prison in Africa. The group has succeeded in overturning 57 convictions, 12 death sentences and gotten 298 cases dismissed.

When they cannot get a conviction overturned, the APP finds other ways to improve prisoners’ lives. Sometimes, this is through a legal education. Other times, they help by providing musical instruments to prisoners or recording a CD for inmates on death row. The African Prisons Project embraces many different roles in their efforts to create a more rehabilitative approach to incarceration in Africa.

Eva Kennedy

Photo: Flickr

 

Society’s Slow Progression Towards Prison Reform
The $212 billion criminal justice system in the U.S. has long been controversial, and prison reform has recently gained the attention of more mainstream media sources.

After expanding 700 percent since the 1970s, the prison population is now 2.4 million people, more than the 1.9 million seniors graduating with a bachelor’s degree in the 2016-17 school year.

According to the National Institute of Justice, about 76.6 percent of prisoners return to prison after five years of release. Because of a number of factors, from limited employment options to restricted social benefits, the formerly incarcerated are greatly disadvantaged after reentering society. As a result, many have entered poverty, while most have returned to prison.

Continued exposure of justice system flaws and advocacy for prison reform have given rise to many inspirational organizations and breakthrough successes. Among these organizations are the Bard Prison Initiative, Dave’s Killer Bread and Defy Ventures.

The Bard Prison Initiative sends professors from Bard College to teach courses to incarcerated individuals. Through this approach of educating people out of crime and poverty, Bard has reduced the recidivism rate of its participants to two percent. The organization’s major breakthrough into the national spotlight was when it sent students to debate and later win against Harvard students.

Dave’s Killer Bread is a baking company founded by Dave Dahl, a formerly incarcerated individual. After leaving prison, he founded the company, soon experiencing wild success thanks to his great product and generosity. Part of the business model is employing formerly incarcerated individuals. In 2012, the company generated $53 million in revenue and employed 300 people.

Defy Ventures seeks to revitalize the lives of formerly incarcerated individuals and tap into their potential business skills. The organization works with individuals lost in the criminal justice system and helps make their entrepreneurial ideas into reality, giving them the practical knowledge, emotional support and funding to do so.

Defy Ventures’ most notable start-up is ConBody, founded by Coss Marte. After losing 70 pounds and four years of his life in prison, Marte started the “prison-style boot camp” that employs many of the exercises that prisoners do without the access to a proper gym. Today, ConBody brings in 300 to 400 clients a week, while Marte has employed a few other formerly incarcerated individuals to be trainers.

As well as making societal changes to keep people out of prison in the first place, more changes must be considered to keep those who were previously incarcerated out of poverty.

Some business leaders are beginning to realize the untapped potential of the 2.4 million individuals in prison, and that many who once succeeded in crime could better use their skills in entrepreneurship. Some business leaders are beginning to change their policies to allow those with criminal histories to be hired.

Legislation could be introduced to provide education and therapy within the prisons. Without proper support and treatment, people will inevitably return to prison, as seen with current rates of recidivism.

Progress has been made in the past few years, but millions are still left behind bars for the rest of their lives, not because of a single sentence, but because the prison system does not support their abilities to re-enter society.

Henry Gao

Photo: Flickr

private_prison
The existence of private prisons has become, in recent years, a focal point of controversy in the United States. Proponents stress that privately owned prisons operate with efficiencies not present in the U.S. government’s vast bureaucracy and due to those efficiencies, have lower costs.

However, when examined closely, the benefits that proponents point to seem to evaporate quite rapidly.

First, the very concept of private prisons carries a disturbing incentive to both ensure criminal sentencing remains harsh while ensuring that the prison population remains high. Though there is little evidence of companies in the prison industry giving money directly for this purpose, there is no lack of funds sent directly to members of both political parties.

It is difficult to believe that vast amounts of money sent to United States representatives has no effect on whether they vote a certain way regarding criminal laws. Senator John McCain, House Speaker John Boehner and Former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist received $71,000, $63,000 and $58,500 respectively from companies running private prisons.

Altogether, the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), The GEO Group and Management Training Corporation (MTC) have spent $45 million on campaign donations and lobbying.

There is also the issue of transparency. As in, many private prisons are not subject to various transparency laws that state institutions adhere to.

Recently in Vermont, the Human Rights Defense Center submitted an open records request to the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and was stonewalled. CCA argued that since it is a private company, it did not have to obey Vermont’s transparency laws. However, a Vermont judge later ordered CCA to open their records due to the fact they are providing a public function.

Furthermore, though proponents argue that privatizing prisons can be a cost saving measure for budget strapped states, Arizona serves as a prime example that the cost savings promised by these prisons are seldom realized. Arizona law demands that private prisons seek cost saving measures, but state data shows that inmates in privatized prisons cost up to $1,600 more per year as compared to state prisons.

As a result, a research team at the University of Utah concluded that the cost savings promised from the use of private prisons seems minimal.

Again in Arizona, Management Training Corp required that prison beds remain at 97% capacity otherwise they would fine the state of Arizona for empty beds. When the prison capacity eventually dipped below 97%, MTC sent a bill to the Arizona state government.

After the state refused to pay the bill, MTC sued. A settlement was eventually reached, a consequence of which was the billing of Arizona tax payers for $3 million dollars.

While these companies claim that they do not participate in lobbying for harsher criminal laws, it is hard to image that the money sent to U.S. Congressmen does not inherently possess that request. It is also irresponsible for these private institutions to operate outside the expectation of the transparency expected of public institutions. As the judge in Vermont stated, these prisons conduct a public function.

This is not to condemn privatization as a whole, however. The majority of private companies operate more efficiently than government bureaucracy, but the very nature of incarceration demands that it remains in the hands of the state.

Zack Lindberg

Sources: The Economist, CBS, Forbes, The Huffington Post
Photo: American Friends Service Committee

Prison and Poverty
The incarcerated population of the United States has reached over 2.3 million, making the U.S. incarceration rate the highest in the world, housing more inmates than the top 30 European nations combined.  Mass incarceration strategies were put in place, in part, to reduce crime in poor neighborhoods, but decades after their initial implementation, individuals and communities continue to suffer.

Researchers attribute some of the large increases in prison populations to longer mandatory sentencing.  Going hand in hand with longer sentencing is the fact that the incarcerated population is disproportionately concentrated among young minority men with very low levels of education.   For instance, black men experience 20% longer prison sentences than white men for similar crimes.

When people are in their twenties and are locked up for 10 to 15 years, they not only adapt to the extreme culture of prison, but when they exit, they will find it hard to assimilate into normal society.  Moreover, the slim job prospects many people faced before going into jail are worsened upon release.

Sociologists have found that once one takes into account the various socioeconomic factors, incarceration typically reduces annual earnings by 40% for the former average male prisoner.  This does not include wages lost while behind bars or the burdens endured by the prisoner’s family and community during the stint.

Prison has such a debilitating impact on the U.S. that taxpayers end up spending over $50 billion annually on maintaining the system of incarceration.  Without the significant incarceration efforts made by the U.S. government, researchers calculate that the nation’s poverty rate would be 20% below the current level, equaling to roughly 9 million people who would be less reliant on subsidies and assistance programs.  These same people would add to the tax base and make up potential consumers of American products.

Furthermore, slightly under half of federal prisoners are in jail for drug crimes and nearly half of all prisoners in state prisons are there for non-violent offenses.  As a result, the Obama administration has recognized the moral and economic need to curb prison populations.  In 2013, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. announced policies that would increase the use of drug-treatment programs as alternatives to incarceration while expanding another program which releases inmates who committed non-violent crimes and have served significant portions of their sentences.

The experiment of mass incarceration in the name of public safety has been a clear detriment to American society.  Rather than throw away money and effort to a system that perpetuates unemployment, poor health, family instability and other conditions of poverty, the U.S. must focus on social policies that improve opportunities for those on the lower pegs of the socioeconomic ladder.

– Sunny Bhatt

Sources: New York Times, National Public Radio, Bureau of Justice Statistics

Photo: Barnard.edu