Yesterday, Independent presidential candidate and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders introduced the Justice Is Not for Sale Act, which would ban government contracts with private prisons.
Prisons operated by private companies—as opposed to those controlled directly by the government—housed 8.4 percent of federal and state inmates in 2013. They have been tied to higher rates of violence and recidivism, shown to supply less-than-adequate health care, and found to offer fewer opportunities for educational enrichment. And a 2014 study found that when people of color are sentenced to time in prison, they are more likely than their white peers to be sent to these institutions, which profit from mass incarceration.
Co-sponsored by Representatives Keith Ellison (D-Mo.), Raul M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Bobby L. Rush (D-IL), the bill would require the government to directly oversee correctional facilities, rather than contracting them out.
Sanders, who is running for president, held a press conference about the bill. His remarks included the following passage:
In my view, we need bold change in our criminal justice system. As a first step, we need to start treating prisoners like human beings. Private companies should not be profiting from their incarceration.
Our emphasis must be on rehabilitation, not incarceration and longer prison sentences. The basic decisions regarding criminal justice and public safety must be the responsibility of the citizens of our country and not the investors in private corporations.
It is morally repugnant and a national tragedy that we have privatized prisons all over America.
In my view, corporations should not be allowed to make a profit by building more jails and keeping more Americans behind bars. We have got to end the private-for-profit prison racket in America.
If passed, the bill would also kill a provision that requires Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain 34,000 people a day and require the FCC and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to provide regular services in prisons such as phone calls and banking, which increase the financial burden on offenders and their families.