column: Passing House Bill will worsen already pressing civil rights issue
On Saturday, June 30, 2010, People of Diversity United for Equality (PODUE), coordinated by Rod Casey held a community forum titled, “Private Prisons Will Enslave our Children for Profit: A Community Forum,” at Brown Chapel AME Church in Ypsilanti. The forum was moderated by State Rep. David Rutledge and the panelists included (American Civil Liberties Union Racial Justice Program attorney) Mark Fancher, Oscar Thomas, (an) educator, Dr. Ronald Woods and Thornton Perkins, both professors, and Judge Tim Connors. The focus of the forum was to discuss the impact of House Bill 5174, a proposal asking the State of Michigan legislators to make it a law to allow private corporations such as the Corrections Corporations of America, or CCA, and GEO (formerly known as Wackenhut Corrections) to take over our public prison system. If HB 5174 passes, it will have a profound effect on the African American community as well as the broader community of Michigan.
In 2012, CCA sent a letter to “prison officials in 48 states offering to buy prisons from these states in exchange for a 20-year management contract and a guaranteed occupancy rate of 90%.” In a 1990 report, Prudential Securities was bullish on CCA but noted, “it takes time to bring inmate population levels up to where they cover costs. Low occupancy is a drag on profits company earnings would be strong if CCA succeeded in ramping up population levels in these new facilities at an acceptable rate.” Community organizations have criticized the proposals, “arguing that the contractual obligations of states to fill prisons to 90% occupancy are poor public policy that could force communities into creating criminals and that these contractual clauses end up costing taxpayers more than the state run prison would.” How will these private prisons reach their occupancy levels?
According to The Injustice Line, Blacks are incarcerated (at) over eight times the rate (of) Whites. In Michigan, there are approximately 44,000 inmates, 58 percent of whom are African American. Blacks only account for 13 percent of the states population. Penal demographers project the number of prison beds needed at any point in time by the number of students in fourth grades who are struggling to succeed in school. It is no secret that young African American males are disproportionately subjected to disciplinary action in school at all grade levels and many of them struggle academically. Several years ago, the ACLU published a report titled, “The School-to-Prison Pipeline” which documents the path of young African American males to our prison system. If private prisons become a reality in Michigan, a new report may be titled, “The Cradle-to-Prison Pipeline.” Given current developments within the justice system, it only stands to reason that these private prisons will become bloated with African Americans.
Many of our public officials have taken a defiant stand in support of mass incarceration as a means of addressing crime, yet, mass incarceration have not proven to be a solution to crime or to safer communities. Also, there are no incentives for employees of the justice system to advocate for crime reduction because their livelihood is intricately tied to the prison system. Therefore, it only stands to reason that an entity driven by profit motives have absolutely no incentive to keep people out of prisons.
A common message conveyed by each of the presenters likened the current incarceration of African Americans to slavery. In many states, including Michigan convicted felons cannot vote, have difficulty finding employment and in many cases without strong family or community support are destined to return to prison. The mass incarceration of African Americans is one of the most pressing civil rights issues of our day and private prisons will only exacerbate this problem. It is incumbent upon the African American community to “own” this problem and for the broader community to voice opposition to HB 5174. If you are opposed to private prisons, call your State Representative and/or congressmen to let them know that HB 5174 is bad public policy.
Lefiest H. Galimore is the President of The Village Initiative and Rod Casey is a Member of PODUE.