By JoAnne Powers, August 25, 2016
The U.S. Department of Justice announced August 18th that it would stop using prisons operated by private contractors such as the Corrections Corporation of America. The decision came a week after the department released a damning report which revealed higher rates of violence in private prisons, endangering both inmates and workers. The federal government currently spends hundreds of millions of dollars to place nearly 23 thousand inmates, one-eighth of all federal prisoners, in the hands of fourteen private prisons. New directives require that contracts with these prisons are either not renewed or substantially reduced at the end of their term.
Maria Robalino is a Senior Program Specialist with the Civil, Human and Women’s Rights Department of the AFL-CIO:
[Maria Robalino]: “I really want to applaud this initiative. I definitely believe that our criminal justice system can never be fair while there is money to be made in locking individuals up. The entire labor movement will continue to fight until incarcerated people are treated with dignity, and every man and woman who works inside corrections has a safe job that gives them dignity as well.”
Robalino cited several studies showing that private prisons are less safe than federal or state prisons.
[Maria Robalino]: “Compared to publicly-run corrections facilities, private prisons provide a fraction of the safety and the rehabilitation to our communities. And they don’t keep us safe or secure. They don’t deliver savings to taxpayers. Instead they profit off really the suffering of communities through mass incarceration, and this is actually immoral.”
Robalino also says that working conditions in private prisons are sub-par compared to unionized federal and state prisons, with longer hours and a much higher instance of attacks by inmates.
[Maria Robalino]: “Workers are at risk every day. These for-profit prisons are doing anything they can to cut corners and make profit. Giving them less training. The overcrowding. The inmate-to-corrections-officer ratio is a lot higher in private prisons. Another way you cut corners in private prisons is giving them less of the tools that they need to do their work.”
The AFL-CIO is calling on state and local governments, as well as the Department of Homeland Security, to follow the DOJ’s lead and end use of private prisons to incarcerate convicts and undocumented immigrants. The union is also calling to end the push to privatize inmate services:
[Maria Robalino]: “This for-profit prison industry, they lobby for privatizing all the aspects of criminal justice, including juvenile detention, including juvenile justice, health care and services for the incarcerated, as well as probation and parole. They want to make this a big business behind mass incarceration. Even if it’s in federal or state prisons, we don’t want those services privatized because that’s another way to make money on the backs of communities that are already very, very poor.”