Calling the federal government's close ties with for-profit prison operators "corruption," Sen. Elizabeth Warren released her plan to ban private prisons should she win the presidency in 2020.
The Massachusetts Democrat's proposal focused on the massive growth in the private prison industry over the last two decades. In that time, the government has turned a blind eye to human rights abuses within private detention centers, the price gouging companies like Core Civic and Geo Group subject inmates to, and as lawmakers have enriched their campaigns through their relationships with those companies—making the enforcement of any restrictions impossible.
"We didn't get here by chance," Warren wrote in a Medium post. "Washington works hand-in-hand with private prison companies, who spend millions on lobbyists, campaign contributions, and revolving-door hires—all to turn our criminal and immigration policies into ones that prioritize making them rich instead of keeping us safe."
Warren explained how she would ban private, for-profit prisons; stop contractors from charging fees for essential services; and ensure oversight of how detention centers operate.
The senator wrote that after ending all contracts between the U.S. Bureau of Prisons and other public entities with private prison operators, she would cut federal public safety funding for states and municipalities unless they agreed to use the money for publicly-run prisons only.
First, I'll end all contracts between the Bureau of Prisons, ICE, and the U.S. Marshals Service and private detention providers. There should be no place in America for profiting off of putting more people behind bars or in detention.
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) June 21, 2019
The senator's plan won praise from critics of mass incarceration on social media.
Intriguing plan from @ewarren this morning. We tried to stop using private prisons when I was at DOJ; Trump reversed course immediately.
Warren is going even further—she’s trying to end corporate profiteering off incarceration. No half measures. https://t.co/NnNTOH7jr9
— Chiraag Bains (@chiraagbains) June 21, 2019
Importantly, Warren’s plan would go beyond ending private prison and detention centers—it also takes direct aim at the prison retail industry’s financial exploitation of prisoners and their families, calling to provide services like communication at no-cost to the consumer. Huge. https://t.co/ftMsAqN7B6
— Brian Highsmith (@bd_highsmith) June 21, 2019
Another plan America desperately needs from @ewarren.
— Victoria Brownworth #PrideMonth (@VABVOX) June 21, 2019
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"We are glad to see that the prison industrial complex is finally part of the national electoral discussion on criminal justice, and that presidential candidates like Sen. Warren are addressing the issue directly," said Bianca Tylek, executive director of criminal justice advocacy group Worth Rises, in a statement. "The intention that roots her plan resonates with our mission to end the exploitation of all people touched by incarceration and offers concrete policies to help us get there."
Warren pointed to former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly's new role as a member of the board at Caliburn International, whose subsidiary operates the largest detention center for unaccompanied migrant children, as one example of the corruption deeply embedded in the operation of for-profit prisons and the need to shut them down.
"Caliburn has profited directly off of the Trump administration's inhumane immigration policies—while children at [Caliburton's detention center] are reportedly kept in unsanitary, prison-like conditions, often for months," wrote Warren. "Now John Kelly is cashing in, too."
"This is just the latest example of private prison companies wringing billions out of federal taxpayers," she added.
Private prison operators like Caliburn, GEO Group, and CoreCivic spend millions on lobbying and campaign contributions to politicians like President Donald Trump, who received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the industry in 2016. The private prison sector's inmate population grew at five times the rate of the overall prison population from 2000 to 2016.
Trump's aggressive anti-immigration agenda has also been a boon for the industry, as Kelly's involvement in Caliburn demonstrates. CoreCivic and Geo Group raked in at least $800 million in 2018 in government contracts to transport and detain migrant children under Trump's detention policies.
"These companies got their biggest break yet when Donald Trump landed in the White House," wrote Warren. "With Trump, private prison companies saw their chance to run the same playbook for our immigration system. They poured money into lobbying for 'alternatives' to ICE detention centers. And boy, did it pay off. Private detention centers have made millions implementing Trump's cruel immigration policies, as the number of detained children quintupled in just a single year. Today 73 percent of detained immigrants are held in private detention facilities."
Close relations with the government have also helped the private prison industry to explode and essentially govern itself by its own rules in order to increase its profits—all with minimal oversight thanks to a loophole in FOIA which exempts private prisons from the transparency federal and state prisons are subject to.
The secrecy with which these facilities operate, Warren wrote, has resulted in human rights abuses including the illegal overuse of solitary confinement as a space-saving measure, a higher rate of assault than at public prisons, and under Trump's immigration agenda, the deaths of children in privately-run detention centers.
Warren wrote that she plans to close the FOIA loophole and appoint an independent prison conditions monitor to work in the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General. The monitor would be charged with making sure all prisons operate safely, without cutting corners, and would terminate their operation if they fall short.
Finally, I'll hold contractors accountable by expanding oversight, transparency and enforcement. It’s time to shine sunlight on the black box of private services that receive taxpayer dollars.
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) June 21, 2019
"Washington hands billions over to corporations profiting off of inhumane detention and incarceration policies while ignoring the families that are destroyed in the process," Warren wrote. "We need to call that out for what it is: corruption. Incarcerating and detaining millions for profit doesn't keep us safe. It's time to do better."