Profit from Pain is Inhuman

I just finished reading a June 23 New Yorker magazine article, “Get Out of Jail, Inc.,” exposing on the crushing problems created by the private probation services which are thriving along with the private prison industry. The article references an important but perhaps overlooked February report from Human Rights Watch, cataloguing the lack of transparency in these services, across the South in particular.

Flickr/creative commons

Flickr/creative commons

This 72-page report describes how more than 1,000 courts in several US states delegate tremendous coercive power to companies that are often subject to little meaningful oversight or regulation. In many cases, the only reason people are put on probation is because they need time to pay off fines and court costs linked to minor crimes. In some of these cases, probation companies act more like abusive debt collectors than probation officers, charging the debtors for their services.

The New Yorker article tells many sad stories, including one mother who couldn’t find parking near her home because of construction street closing. She got a few parking tickets she couldn’t afford and was eventually arrested and placed in one these coercive probation programs. Under constant threat of being re-arrested and taken to jail (and away from her children and grandchildren whom she cared for) unless she brought cash to the probation center on weekly basis. These services charge very poor people not only their initial debt but large administration fees to maintain these services so as not be jailed. This mother, who initially owed just a few hundred dollars, was eventually dunned over $4000 which she definitely couldn’t pay.

If one of their clients requires electronic monitoring, the fees for surveillance are even higher, and the debtor becomes responsible for all of it.

Citing tighter and tighter municipal and state budgets, the use of these third-party probation services has skyrocketed despite their draconian tactics. So they save money in their budgets by not jailing or putting on probation their own citizens (their job), and instead farm them out to these third-party corporations, both parties profiting on the backs of poor people. Corporations are in the business of making lots of money, no matter who is exploited.

We have written about the scourge of the private prison industry and these probation service companies extend this same conflict of interest. These corporations profit through their inhumane and coercive system. Like the private prison industry, they lobby public officials to their own benefit, and government fails its own citizens by relinquishing its responsibility to do what tax payers have asked them to do.

We urge you to read the full report, and if you can get it the June 23 New Yorker article by Sara Stillman. It will make you want to get off your couch and do something to end these practices.

More: Mass Incarceration: Follow the Money, Part 1 and Part 2.

Thousands of drug offenders to receive clemency

Step by step, month by month, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, as left us breathless as he and the Obama Administration have begun to heal America by destroying some of the malignant tentacles of the 40-year-old War on Drugs.

April 2013 will become one of the greatest landmark in establishing human rights in our own country because Holder’s most recent efforts will expand the eligibility for clemency to the 20% of all current prisoners who are serving sentences for marijuana possession, eventually freeing tens of thousands of people and improving the future for just as many families. He’s hiring more lawyers to free more and more people from jails and prisons.


In order to keep up with the influx of applications, Holder says the Department of Justice will assign more lawyers to review the applications. “As a society, we pay much too high a price whenever our system fails to deliver the just outcomes necessary to deter and punish crime, to keep us safe, and to ensure that those who have paid their debts have a chance to become productive citizens,” Holder said. “Our expanded clemency application process will aid in this effort. And it will advance the aims of our innovative new Smart on Crime initiative – to strengthen the criminal justice system, promote public safety, and deliver on the promise of equal justice under law.

This is a prime example of the progress at its best, and the further dismantling of completely coercive and useless systems. Things like racially motivated “stop and frisk” are unconstitutional in the first place and techniques like it are headed for the dustbin of history, at long last. Most important, we are seeing the first reversal of the corrupt and coercive corporate prison industry. Amazingly, as U.S. taxpayers we have been paying for the privilege of this industry’s Washington lobbyists wasting our time fluffing our congressmen, judges, and local communities for longer and more severe sentences, for the express purpose of improving profits, mostly on the backs of people of color, who have been ensnared by the War on Drugs because of poverty and joblessness.


What do you think?
Is there anything about the War on Drugs worth saving?
How will society change once this domestic war has ended, beyond the end of penalizing drug users?
What do you think of the very concept of for-profit prisons? Aren’t they a brick and motor conflict of interest?





Mass Incarceration: Follow the Money (Part 1)

Take a walk through America’s unconstitutional militarization of
local and state
law enforcement, based on racial hatred and racial politics,
nd the training, munitions, and financial incentives that support it.

Since we finished reading legal scholar Michelle Alexander’s startling book, The New Jim Crow, we decided to speak up more on the toll and tragedy of Mass Incarceration in the United States. More than that, we want to urge everyone to join the grassroots uprising meant to cure America of its addiction to racial politics and end this national scourge.

Your banks’ investments and your tax dollars contribute to the billions being spent year after year to finance a criminal justice system and a system of Mass Incarceration that are creating a new, unredeemable American caste system and destroying the lives of millions of people of color and their families. It’s a national tragedy right under our noses.

All three branches of our government, including the Pentagon, colluding with U.S. banks and the corporate for-profit prison industry,  have conspired to systematically disenfranchise almost 6 million people of color for minor infractions and petty crimes programmatically ignored among the white populace.

Because of the War on Drugs (1971), young adults of color are arrested and imprisoned, and become lifelong second-class citizens, at 5.6 times the rate of their white counterparts even though they comprise under 20% of the population. Unfairly, as felons they permanently lose all access to community benefits including public housing and job training. They lose their families and children because they can’t get housing and cannot obtain legitimate employment. In spite of having “paid their debt” to society, they often cannot vote or sit on juries. They are forever second-class citizens sentenced to a marginal life.

Consider that for every youth of color who is stopped and frisked for a small amount of marijuana today, there are 9 of his or her white counterparts who will possess and use that same amount today without any repercussions. The lucky white kids are free, unencumbered, never questioned, and go on to college or a job without a hitch.

The War on Drugs simply does not target white youth or adults. Rather, it focuses on random sidewalk searches (“stop and frisk”), sweeps of bus terminals, and profiling on our nation’s highways. Simply, people of color are the obvious “low hanging fruit” for local drug task forces to keep federal dollars, training, and munitions flowing into their local coffers, in amounts so great that no state or local governments can ever (or ever could) ignore. Alexander notes Phillip Smith’s “Federal Budget: Economic Stimulus Bill Stimulates Drug War, Too,” (Drug War Chronicle, no. 573, February 20, 2009) to point that funding has increased through the Economic Recovery Act of 2009, doubling down on money spent at the local level in prosecuting the War on Drugs.

We have now, without even realizing it or checking it, allowed for creation of a Police State.

We have been seeing this information slowly trickle in through the media. Recently, Lawrence O’Donnell, on his MSNBC show, The Last Word, very well summed up The New Jim Crow. These 5 on-air minutes should be the rallying cry for a new activism that says no, unequivocally, to the War on Drugs.

For more, go to Mass Incarceration: Follow The Money (Part 2).

 Anastasia Person contributed to this post.

 Image Source (Inmates Orleans Parish Prison) : Bart Everson

Image Source (Street Arrest – NARA): Yoichi R. (Yoichi Robert) Okamoto