WASHINGTON, Sept. 17 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.) today introduced bills to ban private prisons, reinstate the federal parole system and eliminate quotas for the number of immigrants held in detention.
“We cannot fix our criminal justice system if corporations are allowed to profit from mass incarceration,” Sanders said. “Keeping human beings in jail for long periods of time must no longer be an acceptable business model in America. We have got to end the private prison racket in America. Our focus should be on treating people with dignity and ensuring they have the resources they need to get back on their feet when they get out.”
Of the nearly 1.6 million people in federal and state prisons in 2013, 8.4 percent were in private prisons. That includes over 41,159 federal prisoners in private facilities and 91,885 state prisoners in private facilities. The U.S. Marshal Service held 20 percent of its detainees in private facilities and Immigration and Customs Enforcement held 62 percent of its detainees in private facilities in 2014. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is mandated to detain an average of 34,000 individuals every day.
“Our corrections system exists to uphold justice – not to house innocent refugees or feed the greed of corporate interests,” Grijalva said. “By treating prisoners and detainees as a means to a profit margin, we’re incentivizing jailors to lobby for ever more inmates, and for inmates to be denied even the basic staples they’re entitled to. The result is a corrections system collapsing under its own weight as the prison industry gets rich and countless innocent men, women and children are ensnared in their trap.”
“In a society dedicated to liberty and justice, for-profit prisons offend our bedrock principles. Depriving someone of their freedom is the most severe punishment the federal government can levy – the sole incentive must be justice, never profit,” Ellison said. “Private prison corporations spend millions of dollars lobbying government for harsher sentencing laws and immigration policy that serves their bottom line, while taxpayers foot the $80 billion dollar a year bill to incarcerate 2.3 million people. Incarceration should be about rehabilitation, not profit. Now, more than ever, we need to restore confidence in our criminal justice system. Step one is taking the profit out of the punishment.”
“I have repeatedly expressed my concern over the exorbitant phone call rates from and to correctional facilities that are unjust and unreasonable,” Rush said. “Many families have to pay an average of 300 to 400 dollars a month just to stay in touch with an incarcerated family member. Exorbitant phone rates harm the families and children of the incarcerated where studies have shown that consistent communication with loved-ones reduce recidivism. The ability to stay in touch with a family is a fundamental need, and one’s humanity does not perish when they enter the prison system.”
The Justice Is Not for Sale Act bars the federal government from contracting with private companies starting two years after the bill is passed. It reinstates the federal parole system, which was abolished in 1984 and increases the oversight over companies that provide banking and telephone services for inmates.
The legislation also ends the requirement that Immigration and Customs Enforcement maintain a level of 34,000 detention beds.
“The so-called ‘bed quota’ is costly and harmful,” Sanders said. “Allowing the agency to utilize alternatives to detention would save taxpayers over $5 million per day, or around $1.4 billion per year.”
The bill is supported by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, California Reinvestment Coalition, Campaign for America’s Future, Center for Community, Change Action, Consumer Action, Credo, Demand Progress, Democracy for America, Detention Watch Network, Dream Action Coalition, Grassroots Leadership, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Immigration Equality Action Fund , In the Public Interest, Justice Strategies, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, League of United Latin American Citizens, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity, MoveOn, National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, National Religious Campaign Against Torture, NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, PICO National Network Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services.
Click here to read the bill.
Click here to read a fact sheet on the bill.
Click here to read Sanders’ prepared remarks.