U.S. Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions says America is embroiled in a “multi-front battle” against violent crime, vicious gangs, an opioid epidemic, and threats from terrorism. He blames an erosion of the family, discipline, and respect for the rule of law as the reasons for this battle.
This is what the Attorney General told the Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association on October 19, 2017.
The Attorney General has sounded the same alarm before other receptive law enforcement gatherings since he took office on January 20, decrying to the Oklahoma sheriffs that the federal prison population has decreased 15 percent while federal prison sentences have declined by 19 percent.
Massive Prison Industry Needs Customers
Incarcerating human beings in prison is a massive business in America. America represents roughly 5 percent of the world’s population but incarcerates nearly 25 percent of the world’s prisoners—the highest rate in the world.
Thirty-two days after being sworn in as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, Attorney General Sessions rescinded a directive by the Obama administration to curtail the use of private prisons to house federal inmates.
The directive was issued after a 2016 audit revealed that private prisons have more security and safety breaches than penal facilities operated by the federal Bureau of Prisons.
First established in 1980s, private prisons have become an industry within an industry. They are the Walmart of the prison industry, offering lower quality goods at cheaper prices.
Inhumane Conditions Lead to Big Profits for Private Prisons
By 2012, private prisons housed roughly 10 percent of the nation’s nearly 2 million inmates taking in profits of close to $10 billion a year.
In 1999, there were 3,828 federal inmates in private prisons, representing just 3 percent of all federal prisoners. By 2013, there were 41,159 federal inmates in private prisons, representing roughly 28 percent of all federal prisoners.
But, in 2012, as states and the federal government began the implement sentencing and penal reforms, the private prison population began to decrease. The government-run prison industry had come to realize that private prisons are dens of corruption, violence, drugs, sexual assaults, and threats to public safety.
Private prisons are able to provide Walmart services because they pay lower staff wages, operate with minimal staff, provide reduced healthcare services, dish out prepackaged meals, and offer no (or extremely streamlined) vocational/education/rehabilitation programs.
Lobbyist Spend Millions to Promote Private Prisons
The Hamilton Project reported that in 2015 alone the private prison industry spent $2 million on lobbying costs promoting their interests.
That same year President Trump launched his campaign for the presidency with promises to lock up undocumented immigrants and wage a relentless war on crime.
These promises signal growth potential for the private prison industry, a way to “stench the bleeding” of a decreasing inmate population. Private prison interests donated hundreds of thousands dollars to Trump’s presidential campaign and as much (or more) to his inaugural festivities.
Attorney General Sessions rewarded the private prison interests last February when he rescinded the Obama directive to curtail the use of these prisons.
The Attorney General’s “multi-front battle” on crime, we suspect, is not as much about public safety as it is about reverting to the failed paradigm of systemic racism, economic injustice and mass incarceration as a substitute for education and rehabilitation.
Reverting to this failed paradigm is seriously flawed and will continue to stoke the growing mistrust towards our nation’s criminal justice system and the professionals who work in it.