I’ve written about prisons before – focusing on the relationship between slavery, mass incarceration, and the prison industrial complex. All those things are related to the fact that there are so many ways in which corporations and individuals make money off of private prisons and having those prisons filled.
Of course the impact of that is that there now is a demand to have prisons filled (and thus for criminalizing people). There are so many ways in which corporations can make money off of prisoners, including off of phone calls from prisoners to their families. Ben Walsh describes that aspect and that some families can spend hundreds of dollars every month, highlighting in particular that:
[One family pays] $5.25, plus a $6.25 processing fee that is added to every transaction, to talk for 20 minutes. These rates and fees are the norm in the multi-billion dollar prison phone industry, which has turned simple landline phone calls into an absurdly expensive proposition for inmates and their families.
One interesting example of this profit being a former Pennsylvania juvenile judge who was caught and found guilty of numerous counts of racketeering and fraud charges after accepting millions of dollars in bribes from friends who owned detention centers. The reason this is interesting is not because he was actually sent to prison several years ago but instead that he accepted these bribes in return for unjustly incarcerating young people. He literally made millions in return for unjustly sending young people who came into his courtroom to detention centers.
Russ Baker and Justin Carissimo separately wrote about many astounding facts about this issue, highlighting among many other things that prison populations have significantly and exponentially grown in the last few decades. (And the US imprisons the most amount of people per capita and in absolute terms than any other nation.)
And the thing is that there is definitely an element of racism within this issue! Despite the fact that white people are just as likely to use drugs as other racial groups (more or less), people of color (particularly black men and other men of color) are more likely to be arrested and convicted of drug possession and use.
There is a bit of good news though – there is a movement for the divestment of private prisons, with corporations and places like Columbia University divesting from them! The organization ColorOfChange has been leading the movement for divestment, highlighting at one point something I’ve pointed out already:
For-profit prison companies get paid for each person that fills their cells — raking in $5 billion in annual revenue.1 Empty beds mean lost profits, so to keep the money flowing the industry spends millions lobbying the government to expand the destructive policies that keep more people behind bars for longer, harsher sentences.
There are so many other things to know about the prison industrial complex (like the school to prison pipeline) but I’ll leave it at that for now!