Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

If you’ve been waiting for the right time to support our work—that time is now.

Our mission is simple: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good.

But without the support of our readers, this model does not work and we simply won’t survive. It’s that simple.
We must meet our Mid-Year Campaign goal but we need you now.

Please, support independent journalism today.

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

"Incarceration should not be a for-profit business," said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D.-Vt.), arguing for an end to for-profit prisons on the state level. (Photo: Jonathan Haeber/flickr/cc)

Sanders and Activists Say DOJ Ban on Private Prisons Doesn't Go Far Enough

Progressives in Congress call for ban on for-profit state prisons and immigration detention centers; activists draw attention to larger mass incarceration crisis

Nika Knight Beauchamp

Progressives and prison reform advocates hailed the U.S. Department of Justice's (DOJ) announcement Thursday that it would phase out federal private prisons—and celebrated the resulting plummet in private prison stocks—but many also argued that the decision does not go far enough.

"Until DHS and state governments around the country break ties with these corporations, justice in this country will continue to be undermined by private profit motives, and innocent people will continue to suffer."
—Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.)

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and other progressive members of Congress issued statements Wednesday urging President Barack Obama and state governments to go further and end the use of for-profit state prisons and private detention facilities for immigrants.

"We have got to end the private prison racket in America as quickly as possible," Sanders said.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said: "Until [the Department of Homeland Security] and state governments around the country break ties with these corporations, justice in this country will continue to be undermined by private profit motives, and innocent people will continue to suffer. This isn't simply unjust detainment, this is the exploitation of human captivity—including young children—for the sake of money."

"Today's announcement from the Justice Department is an important first step," said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). "But it is not enough. [...] Incarceration should not be a for-profit business."

And as Common Dreams reported, the Center for Constitutional Rights urged the government to address private detention facilities in a statement: "Locking up immigrants, including families and children fleeing extreme violence in Central America, should not be a source of profit for huge corporations, particularly given private contractors' terrible record providing inadequate medical and mental health care to dying immigrants."

In response to the push against private prisons, the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a statement [pdf] reaffirming its resolve to use for-profit facilities to detain immigrants—and so the progressive fight against that system continues.

Meanwhile, many activists and journalists also noted that ending the country's reliance on private prisons will not go far toward resolving the larger crisis of mass incarceration.

As Juleyka Lantigua-Williams wrote in The Atlantic:

About 22,000 of 193,000 federal prisoners are held in [for-profit] facilities, adding up to 11 percent of the population. Though meaningful as a gesture of the government's commitment to reducing the number of people in prison, the [DOJ's] move will have limited impact on the 2.2 million people in federal and state custody.

[...] While any reduction in the federal prison population will be welcomed by those released, their families, and by reform advocates, the majority of inmates reside in state or county facilities. Only one in eight federal inmates was in a private facility in 2015. Consistent review of and changes to federal and state sentencing guidelines, more humane pre-trial bargaining by prosecutors of low-level offenders, increased used of probation instead of jail time, and a more judicious application of bail practices would do far more to reduce the incarcerated population [pdf]. Those actions would also mean real strides toward a less punitive penal system.

Indeed, as Sarah Lazare observed in AlterNet, "While private prisons have been rightfully rebuked for their human rights abuses, they ultimately are not the key driver behind mass incarceration."

Moreover, there are still many venues for profiteering within the public prison system, as Truthout explored in an in-depth report in 2014: "Services that had previously been provided by the jail or prison, such as medical care, transportation, phone and communication services, food, and even money exchanges, are increasingly handled by private companies," the progressive outlet observed. For example, Bank of America was awarded a contract by the federal government to process inmates' money transfers—a venue of easy profit within the public prison system.

And so the DOJ's decision to phase out for-profit federal prisons "is another example of a more symbolic prison reform, which is what the prison reforms of the last few years have been," as Dan Berger, the author of Captive Nation: Black Prison Organizing in the Civil Rights Era, told Lazare. "It makes a difference to some people's lives, but it is nowhere near the sweeping and realizable changes that are needed."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

"I'm sure this will be all over the corporate media, right?"
That’s what one longtime Common Dreams reader said yesterday after the newsroom reported on new research showing how corporate price gouging surged to a nearly 70-year high in 2021. While major broadcasters, newspapers, and other outlets continue to carry water for their corporate advertisers when they report on issues like inflation, economic inequality, and the climate emergency, our independence empowers us to provide you stories and perspectives that powerful interests don’t want you to have. But this independence is only possible because of support from readers like you. You make the difference. If our support dries up, so will we. Our crucial Mid-Year Campaign is now underway and we are in emergency mode to make sure we raise the necessary funds so that every day we can bring you the stories that corporate, for-profit outlets ignore and neglect. Please, if you can, support Common Dreams today.

 

'We Need Action': Biden, Democrats Urged to Protect Abortion Access in Post-Roe US

"The Supreme Court doesn't get the final say on abortion," Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Tina Smith wrote in a new op-ed.

Kenny Stancil ·


Motorist 'Tried to Murder' Abortion Rights Advocates at Iowa Protest, Witnesses Say

Although one witness said the driver went "out of his way" to hit pro-choice protestors in the street, Cedar Rapids police declined to make an arrest.

Kenny Stancil ·


'A Hate Crime': Oslo Pride Parade Canceled After Deadly Shooting at Gay Bar

A 42-year-old gunman has been charged with terrorism following what Norway's prime minister called a "terrible and deeply shocking attack on innocent people."

Kenny Stancil ·


'We WILL Fight Back': Outrage, Resolve as Protests Erupt Against SCOTUS Abortion Ruling

Demonstrators took to the streets Friday to defiantly denounce the Supreme Court's right-wing supermajority after it rescinded a constitutional right for the first time in U.S. history.

Brett Wilkins ·


80+ US Prosecutors Vow Not to Be Part of Criminalizing Abortion Care

"Criminalizing and prosecuting individuals who seek or provide abortion care makes a mockery of justice," says a joint statement signed by 84 elected attorneys. "Prosecutors should not be part of that."

Kenny Stancil ·

Common Dreams Logo