This Is How Private Prison Companies Make Millions Even When Crime Rates Fall

We are living in boom times for the private prison industry. The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the nation’s largest owner of private prisons, has seen its revenue climb by more than 500 percent in the last two decades. And CCA wants to get much, much bigger: Last year, the company made an offer to 48 governors to buy and operate their state-funded prisons. But what made CCA’s pitch to those governors so audacious and shocking was that it included a so-called occupancy requirement, a clause demanding the state keep those newly privatized prisons at least 90 percent full at all times, regardless of whether crime was rising or falling.

Occupancy requirements, as it turns out, are common practice within the private prison industry. A new report by In the Public Interest, an anti-privatization group, reviewed 62 contracts for private prisons operating around the country at the local and state level. In the Public Interest found that 41 of those contracts included occupancy requirements mandating that local or state government keep those facilities between 80 and 100 percent full. In other words, whether crime is rising or falling, the state must keep those beds full. (The report was funded by grants from the Open Society Institute and Public Welfare, according to a spokesman.)

All the big private prison companies—CCA, GEO Group, and the Management and Training Corporation—try to include occupancy requirements in their contracts, according to the report. States with the highest occupancy requirements include Arizona (three prison contracts with 100 percent occupancy guarantees), Oklahoma (three contracts with 98 percent occupancy guarantees), and Virginia (one contract with a 95 percent occupancy guarantee). At the same time, private prison companies have supported and helped write “three-strike” and “truth-in-sentencing” laws that drive up prison populations. Their livelihoods depend on towns, cities, and states sending more people to prison and keeping them there.

You might be wondering: What happens when crime drops and prison populations dwindle in states that agreed to keep their private prisons 80 percent or 90 percent full? Consider Colorado. The state’s crime rate has sunk by a third in the past decade, and since 2009, five state-run prisons have shuttered because they weren’t needed. Many more prison beds remain empty in other state facilities. Yet the state chose not to fill those beds because Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper and CCA cut a deal to instead send 3,330 prisoners to CCA’s three Colorado prisons. Colorado taxpayers foot the bill for leaving those state-run prisons underused. In March, Christie Donner, executive director of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, estimated that the state wasted at least $2 million in taxpayer money using CCA’s prisons instead of its own.

That’s just one example of how private prison companies keep the dollars rolling in, whether crime is rising or waning. Not surprisingly, In the Public Interest’s report calls on local and state governments to refuse to include occupancy requirements and even ban such requirements with new legislation. “With governmental priorities pulling public funds in so many different directions, it makes no financial sense for taxpayers to fund empty prison beds,” the report says. Read the full report below:

Originally published by Andy Kroll here

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In the American criminal justice system, wealth, not culpability, shapes outcomes.

Article originally published here

American criminal justice system where culpability takes a backseat to money
The American criminal justice system, where the poor are unfairly disadvantaged at every stage of the proceedings.

In the American criminal justice system, wealth, not culpability, shapes outcomes. Indigent people are unfairly disadvantaged at every step in a system that treats the rich and guilty better than the poor and innocent.

In many jurisdictions in the United States, people who are arrested and do not have money to pay bail are jailed while awaiting trial. While some people are denied bail because they are at risk of flight or illegal activity, most are detained solely because they are too poor to pay bail. Pretrial detention interferes with employment, payment of bills, and care giving, and can inflict extraordinary psychological damage. Even for minor offenses, people who are detained pretrial are more likely to be incarcerated and more likely to receive a longer sentence.

Defendants facing a felony charge, those charged with misdemeanors who could be jailed, convicted defendants filing a first appeal, and juveniles charged with delinquency all have a constitutional right to counsel, but poor people in most jurisdictions do not get adequate legal representation. Only 24 states have public defender systems, and even the best of those are hampered by lack of funding and crippling case loads. Defendants too poor to post bail can spend months in jail waiting for a lawyer to be appointed. Many poor people charged with misdemeanors appear in court hearings without a lawyer, where they must make the untenable choice of pleading guilty and being released (burdened by fines, court costs, and other collateral consequences of a criminal conviction that they cannot afford) or remaining in jail indefinitely waiting for a lawyer. Indigent defense in America is so bad that the nation’s top prosecutor, then-Attorney General Eric Holder, declared it is “in a state of crisis.”

It is illegal to imprison people because they are too poor to pay a fine, but shocking numbers of poor people have been jailed for being unable to pay fines and fees incurred for minor infractions and misdemeanors. Courts have contracted with for-profit, private probation companies to collect fines from people on probation. The companies tack on their own fees, often $80-100 a month, which escalate if not immediately paid. Private probation companies profit from requiring probationers to pay for drug treatment, electronic monitoring, and myriad other services they are required to participate in as a condition of their supervision. Impoverished people with fines of a few hundred dollars can end up owing thousands, and if they cannot pay, their probation is revoked and they are jailed.

Jurisdictions in nearly every state impose “pay-to-stay” fees on incarcerated people for everything from medical costs to food and clothing. In the last few decades, additional fees have proliferated, including charges for police transport, case filing, felony surcharges, electronic monitoring, drug testing, and sex offender registration. Forty-three states and the District of Columbia allow fees to be charged for using a public defender. A defendant can emerge from the system owing thousands of dollars in fees.

People leaving prison face huge obstacles to obtaining employment, housing, and other social services; those convicted of felony drug offenses may be barred from receiving federal housing and cash assistance and food stamps. Many also are burdened by staggering child support arrears, drug and alcohol testing fees, parole supervision fees and fees for drug treatment and other programs that are conditions of their parole.

Pass the Video Visitation Act – H.R.6441

Campaign created by Jamani Montague

Ask congress to ensure that correctional facilities do not ban in-person visits
Ask congress to ensure that correctional facilities do not ban in-person visits

Sign this petition asking Congress to ensure that correctional facilities do not ban in-person visits.

Why is this important?

This petition is in support of Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth’s Video Visitation in Prisons Act, which would require the Federal Communications Commission to ensure that correctional facilities that have video visitation services do not ban in-person visits.

U.S. jails and prisons are increasingly using video visitation to replace in-person visits. Some carceral facilities have even taken measures to end in-person visits entirely. Securus, for example, a company that provides phone services and video visitation for jails, requires jails and prisons to immediately suspend in-person visits after adopting their contract.

Although video visitation is an important option for people with physical illnesses, disabilities, and limited time and finances, in-person prison visits help incarcerated people to maintain vital relationships with their family members and loved ones on the outside. Face-to-face jail and prison visits are one of the few available opportunities for connection granted to people locked behind bars. We must protect this basic human right.

Sign The Petition Now!

 

Failing to pay your water bill should not be a crime

Chickasaw resident Sonya Ayers
Chickasaw resident Sonya Ayers

A city ordinance that criminalized the failure to pay a water bill was repealed by the city council in the town of Chickasaw, Alabama, last night in response to a Southern Poverty Law Center letter advising the city’s municipal judge that the ordinance is unconstitutional.

Chickasaw resident Sonya Ayers, 48, was convicted of a misdemeanor and ultimately jailed last year for more than a day after she was unable to pay her city utility bill.

Her water was turned off and she was ordered by the municipal court to pay more than $400 in fines and fees to the city. She also had to pay monthly supervision fees to Judicial Correction Services, a private, for-profit probation company. Ayers could not keep up with the payments and was arrested after failing to appear at a court hearing that she was not informed about.

“Failing to pay your water bill should not be a crime,” said Sam Brooke, SPLC deputy legal director. “Yet this is exactly what happened in Chickasaw with an unconstitutional ordinance that harshly punished people for their poverty.

“The action by the Chickasaw City Council will ensure that residents will not be prosecuted or face criminal penalties when they simply cannot afford to pay for running water in their homes. It’s a step in the right direction.”

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Why we should close women’s prisons and treat their crimes more fairly

Photograph: K C Bailey/NetflixImage from Orange Is The New Black

‘Nearly every incarcerated woman is the victim of a perverse and lazy policy disfigurement that fails to acknowledge the marked differences between female and male offenders.’

By  and originally published by the guardian
 Professor Mirko Bagaric is the Director of the Centre for Evidence-Based Sentencing at Deakin University, Melbourne. Wednesday 1 June 2016 

Women almost never scare us; commit random acts of serious violence; violate our sexual integrity; or form organised crime networks and yet their prisons numbers are now the highest in recorded history.

The homogeneity of the human species breaks down when it comes to criminal behaviour. Women, who constitute slightly more than 50% of population, commit only about 20% of all crime. They commit even a lower portion of all serious crime.

Hillary Clinton is right to assert that the sentencing system should be reformed to reduce the growing number of female prisoners but the changes should go much further than has been suggested. We should implement concrete targets to remove the stains on our landscape and societal ethic that are women’s prisons.

There are remarkably similar patterns of female offending and incarceration in the United States and Australia. In the United States women commit only 17% of felonies, while in Australia they commit about 13% of the crimes dealt with in the higher courts.

Moreover, when it comes to sexual offences, rounded off to the nearest whole number, women constitute 0% of all offenders – that’s right, zero. The crimes they most commonly commit are drug and property offences. Thus, in the US, approximately 30% of female prisoners are incarcerated for property offences, and a further 26% for drug offences. The percentages for these offences are 26% and 17%, respectively, in Australia.

Women do of course commit homicide offences, but nearly always the victim is a relative and the crime was committed against the backdrop of an abusive relationship or depressive mindset. All homicides are heinous crimes but the types of homicides committed by women rarely involve random victims and hence do not engender community fear.

Despite this, the rate of female incarceration in both the United States and Australia is on the increase – far outstripping the increase in male incarceration levels. Women now comprise 8% of prisoners in the United States and Australia, which amounts to more than 200,000 incarcerated inmates in the US and 3,000 in Australia.

Nearly every one of these incarcerated women is the victim of a perverse and lazy policy disfigurement that fails to acknowledge the marked differences between female and male offenders. The differences are so stark that not only should women be treated more leniently because they commit less serious crime but they should also be treated more leniently when they commit the same crime as a man.

There are four major differences between male and female offenders.

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Homewav Web Access Visitation at Montgomery Women’s Facility

In 2014, Montgomery Women’s Facility implemented a Web based Visitation System provided by Homewav. We are unsure as to how much Alabama Department Of Corrections takes in kickbacks, but CenturyLINK takes a cut of 40% of the extortionate $36 fee that is charged for a 60 minute “visit”. Homewav also charges a $1 handling fee every time money is added to the account so its effectively $37 for a 60 minute video call.

Whilst the idea of web based visitation is a good one if done ethically, Homewav certainly do not consider the inmates or their families in their business plan, all they care about is profit. For example, they claim that internet based visitation reduces the number of in-person visitation, by 75%  and the families of those incarcerated don’t understand how cutting in-person visits from family and friends is in anyway beneficial to them.

The benefits of visiting with family and other supportive individuals are well documented throughout literature, research, and from the voices of the incarcerated men and women and their families. In person visiting can build and strengthen family connections and provide hope and encouragement for those incarcerated, lets not even entertain the thought of removing it in order to provide these predatory companies with even more of your hard earned cash.

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