School to Prison Pipe-line: A Cash Infused Umbilical Chord !

Privatization of prisons, meaning private prison companies entering contractual agreements with governments  that commit  prisoners and then pay a per diem rate for each person committed in the facility has been trending since the early 80s roughly parallel to the crack cocaine epidemic in America’s big cities. Draconian policies later enforced like the”3 Strikes” rule sentencing formula aimed at countering repeat offenders in California were later implemented in 20 states. The rule committed lengthy prison sentences to any one convicted of three criminal offenses, even misdemeanors. Drug sentencing laws were often linked to fear mongering surrounding the HIV -Aids virus and  imagined ways of its containment. A poorly informed citizenry, and an anemic  public relations campaign  known as the “War on Drugs” fostered during President Reagan’s two terms  promoted a motto  “Just Say No” as a deterrent to drug use among youth . This hollow slogan was the nation’s “war cry” against the  back drop of crack cocaines’ infusion into the life-blood of low income communities; coupled with a rising tide of LSD usage along with a resurgence of heroine addiction.Yet the feckless mantra was promoted  enthusiastically  by First Lady Nancy Reagan although well intended managed little if any impact.Politicians and drug policies during the  height of”urban crack cocaines’ use supported incarceration over rehabilitation.The demonic scourge that smoked opium was believed to induce demanded harsh sentencing and “tough on crime” posturing needed to curry the electorate’s favor. The result often ending with those apprehended and found guilty of possessing even minuscule amounts of “crack or marijuana” often sentenced to  consecutive years in prison. These measures of harsh sentencing were deemed essential for containment of  small doses of the drugs found in low-income neighborhoods,but  actually aided in helping create an implosion in the school- to- prison, pipe-line. According to a March  2014 article by the Economist, 2.4 million people are locked up most, 1.36 in State prisons and 722, 000 in local jails, 22,00 as immigration detainees. Not all prisons in the U.S are privatized.The largest out-sourcing recipient as of December 2012 is the Corrections Corps of America CCA operates 67 facilities owned in 20 states and the District of Columbia. Fifty percent of those inmates are African Americans, 35 % Latino and 15 % white, thus privatization of prisons trending is beginning to suggest a link between race and commerce as cited by Michelle Alexander in her book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color-blindness”.There is a clear profit motive for prison privatization with facilities filled to maximum capacity  and further expansion as the monetary incentive. However, Draconian sentencing laws have fueled the present explosion in numbers of inmates , a reflection of bad public policy as much as capitalist greed and entrepreneurial savvy.Businesses like CCA  have seized the opportunity to exploit for profit the nation’s over-burdened prison system as it uses it’s vast resources lobbying for policies and rules that favor increased privatization for profits. State prisons make up the preponderance of inmates with 1.3 million 17% or 1-5 people in State prisons are there for drug related convictions.  The U.S Congress and Obama administration just as previous legislators and administrations are lobbied by CCA in efforts to retain and expand lucrative prison contacts as major providers and operatives of the prison industrial complex. Attorney General Eric Holder and the administration’s strategy has been to focus on the systemic issue of  racial disparity drug sentencing laws and rates of incarceration.  Between 1980 and 2007. there were more than twenty-five million adult drug arrests in the united States.The percentage of arrests that involved black men and women increased from27% in 1980 at a high ranging from 40% to 42% between 1989 and 1993. Relative to population blacks have been arrested(2.90 times the rate of whites.In the years with the worst disparities, between 1988 and 1993, blacks were arrested at rates more than five times the rate of whites. The racial disparities evident in drug arrests grow larger as cases wind their way through the criminal justice system., Blacks constitute 43% and whites 55% of persons convicted of drug felonies in state courts.  A comparison of the rates, relative to population, at which blacks and whites are sent to prison for drug offenses offers what may be the most compelling evidence of drug control policies : the black rate (256.2 per 100,000 black adults) is ten time greater than the white rate (25.3 per 1000,000 white adults.In short, Black adult men  were sent to prison on drug charges at 11.8 times the rate of white men. Since these data published by the Stanford Law and policy review in 2009 several significant legal developments have ensued. In 2014 the New York  State Supreme Court ruled against New York City’s controversial of Stop and Frisk,a police practice that had long been used to racially profile mostly black and Hispanic men for possible drug possession; there has also been a push for de-classification of Marijuana laws which would remove marijuana as a schedule 1 drug like LSD, ecstasy or heroine as cited in Federal Control Substance abuse laws.Attorney General Eric Holder has expressed a willingness to work with congress to de-classify the drug, but thus far neither congress nor the Obama administration seems willing to take the initiative. De-criminalization and perhaps full legalization of marijuana may even be a prime-mitigating factor reducing the sentencing disparity between low quantity drug possession and other crimes. State legislatures still have jurisdiction over their prisons; it will be at the State level where the threshold for federal penalties pursuant to illegal drug use will face stiffest opposition. There are nearly 5000 prisons in the U.S. and federal prisons have expanded by 800% and are at 40% over capacity. Re-alignment of the shameful disparity in drug sentencing laws for non-violent drug related crimes as is touted by Obama’s administration is not a cure all but will be a major stop gap to the burgeoning prison population overwhelmingly comprised of Black and Brown inmates. Conservatives will continue to rail against progressive policies and laws seeking to redress the imbalance, for a number of reasons: voter disenfranchisement, local job creation within under-employed prison- industrial rural communities and a host of reasons tied to billions in revenue producing products and prison services. But thus far the courts have ruled in favor of increased reform in drug sentencing laws after years of intensive protest by sentence reform advocates like “Drop the Rock” a movement centered in New York State. The group coordinated by the Correctional Association of New York in alliance of individuals and organizations dedicated to downsizing New York’s prison system and reducing the disproportionate impact of incarceration on low-income communities of color.The organization’s  decade long  strategy appears to be having some impact.It’s aim is to eliminate the primary cause for such disparities, failing schools, joblessness, and unfair sentencing rules and thus reduce or negate the need for out-sourcing prison services. In New York state led by then Governor David E. Patterson, New York Legislative leaders began to dismantle the  state’s strict so called Rockefeller Drug laws. These 1970’s drug era laws, among the toughest in the nation sought to repeal many of the mandatory minimum prison sentences now in place for lower level giving judges authority to send first time non-violent offenders to treatment instead of prison. Reforms like those being touted in New York State are needed in every jurisdiction across the nation if we are to put a serious dent in to reducing our shameful prison explosion,curtail the wholesale disenfranchisement of Black and Brown ex-offenders and remove the profit incentive for those corporations with vested interest in seeing our prisons expand rather than shrink in capacity. As former Assistant Superintendent of Illinois Correctional Schools and programs, I’m well aware that changes in Correctional policy and Criminal Justice reform seldom garner much political capitol or public out-cry, this time I think there’s a  big difference in what’s at stake.  Too many low income and African American and Hispanic families are being decimated by a systemic failure to implement rational prison reforms that are fair, cost-effective and do not reward big prison services corporations with a source of captive cheap labor and high profit margins.Image