Campaigners from two national justice advocacy groups on Monday released recommendations for the Biden administration to act on in order to fulfill the president's longtime promise to "stop corporations from profiteering off of incarceration."
President Joe Biden "took the first step in fulfilling this commitment" shortly after taking office in January 2021 when he issued an executive order to end the U.S. Department of Justice's reliance on federal private prisons, said the two groups, Color of Change and Worth Rises.
"But the 14,000 people incarcerated in federal private prisons represent a small fraction of the nearly 155,000 people currently detained across all federal prisons," said the groups, let alone the total of two million people who are incarcerated in state, local, and federal facilities as well as immigration detention centers.
To end the era in which prisons have become what Worth Rises executive director Bianca Tylek called "a business—one that is threatening our families, communities, and public safety," the Biden administration must dismantle an industry that "has worked itself into every corner of the carceral system as incarceration has exploded over the past 40 years," said the group.
"This is a pathway forward to a more just criminal legal system that does NOT put profits over people," tweeted Color of Change.
The recommendations in the groups' policy blueprint, Bearing the Cost, include:
- Prohibiting for-profit healthcare in prisons, providing medications and hygiene products at no cost, and requiring better reporting on medical care;
- Setting basic standards for food and commissary goods and preventing bundling of the services;
- Making communication free and accessible and strengthening antitrust oversight;
- Eliminating fees for money transfers and debit release cards and directing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to strengthen regulations for financial services for incarcerated people;
- Conducting a comprehensive review of electronic monitoring of incarcerated people nationwide; and
- Supporting the Abolition Amendment to end the use of unpaid labor in prisons.
"Over the last 40 years, the carceral system has grown into a vast network of corporations that use public-private partnerships to profit from the incarceration of our grandparents, parents, siblings, children, and other loved ones," said Tylek. "They have created a carceral crisis and collected the windfalls on the taxpayers' dime while the rest of us suffered. This policy blueprint provides the clearest roadmap for fulfilling the promise of justice that the Biden-Harris administration made and many expect it to meet."
The blueprint was released a month after Biden signed the Martha Wright-Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act of 2022 to empower federal regulators to ensure that charges for calls from correctional and detention facilities are "just and reasonable." Currently, incarcerated people are charged as much as $9.99 for a cellphone call and $5.70 for a 15-minute landline call.
"People ask what structural racism is. This is it," Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change, said Monday. "Our blueprint provides a clear path of action for President Biden and all public officials who believe these financial attacks on our communities must end. We outline a clear set of steps for eliminating superfluous and inflated fees, revising the terms of government contracts with corporations to prevent gouging, and more."
"The incarcerated people and families that corporations have targeted with these profiteering practices know all their tricks, inside and out," Robinson added. "This blueprint reflects their unique knowledge about what is happening and how to stop it."