[Pnews] No, Biden Hasn’t Ended the System of Corporate Profit From Prisons

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Sat Jan 30 16:45:07 EST 2021

Biden Hasn’t Ended the System of Corporate Profit From Prisons
Tatiana Cozzarelli - January 27, 2021

Yesterday, Joe Biden announced a “racial equity” plan, paying lip service
to George Floyd, the unarmed Black man whose murder sparked a national  and
international uprising against police brutality and racism. Biden claims
the plan is a step toward “ending institutional racism.” One of his primary
initiatives is an executive order that directs the Department of Justice
not to renew contracts with private prisons that house federal inmates.
This largely returns to a policy adopted by the Obama administration in
August 2016 — an executive order issued only a few months before he ended
his eight years as president.

“To decrease incarceration levels, we must reduce profit-based incentives
to incarcerate by phasing out the federal government’s reliance on
privately operated criminal detention facilities,” Biden wrote in the
order. Of course, Biden holds much of the responsibility for the huge
increase in mass incarceration resulting from his 1994 Crime Bill, which
created tougher sentencing laws, increased police funding, and vastly
expanded the already massive U.S. prison system. Due in part to Biden’s
policies, the United States has 25 percent of the total incarcerated
population of the world, with Black people incarcerated at five times the
rate of white people.

In words dripping with hypocrisy, Biden added, “We’ve never fully lived up
to the founding principles of this nation … that all people are created
equal and have a right to be treated equally throughout their lives …Now’s
the time to act.” Of course, these “founding principles” were written by
enslavers and capitalists who wanted to maintain their power.

Prisons have become a central point of activism over the past few years.
Incarcerated people have gone on strike against meager wages paid for their
labor, solitary confinement that often relegates prisoners to years of
minimal human contact, and onerous job training and education programs.
People have demanded to #FreeThemAll throughout the coronavirus quarantine,
as well as that #NoNewJails be built and for Rikers Island prison in New
York City be closed
One of the central aspects of the Black Lives Matter movement has been to
question not only police budgets but also the massive prison-industrial
complex, which is one of the pillars of institutional racism in the United

As a result of these massive struggles, Biden has been forced to make some
concessions, including this executive order. It is part of the Democratic
Party project of painting racism as a “bug” of the U.S. system — one
embodied by Donald Trump and the Republicans rather than a central feature
of the bipartisan regime, the U.S. constitution, and global capitalism.

Private prisons are a disgusting feature of U.S. capitalism, which seeks to
privatize and make profit from everything from schools to water to prisons.
The private prison industry rakes in billions of dollars through federal
contracts. As Abolish Private Prisons
<https://www.abolishprivateprisons.org/> explains,

Private prisons are businesses. Their highest priority is profit and they
thrive on mass incarceration. The stock values of publicly traded private
prison corporations increase in value as they project higher profitability
in the operation of their facilities, which comes from incarcerating more

Private prisons are the most obvious ways that private corporations profit
off of putting human beings in cages. And yes, private prisons (and the
entire prison system) should end.

But this executive order doesn’t end private prisons. Nor is Biden
eliminating the profit motive in the massive U.S. prison-industrial
complex. He talks the big talk, but this is a small, primarily symbolic,

Ruth Wilson Gilmore argues that focusing on private prisons is how “the
‘new realists’ achieve their dominance by defining the problem as narrowly
as possible in order to produce solutions that, on closer examination will
change little.” So, what remains in place despite Biden’s executive order?
*Ending Private Prisons? *

While Biden talked about ending systemic racism and keeping “America’s
promise” to people of color, this is at best a very very tepid place to
start. People held in private prisons represent a mere 9 percent of the
federal prison population — and only 0.6 percent
of the 2.3 million people incarcerated
<https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie2020.html> in U.S. prisons and
jails. The executive order leaves the vast majority of the prison system
*entirely* intact.

Further, as Lauren-Brooke Eisen, director of the justice program at the
Brennan Center for Justice at New York University explained, “Many of those
contracts are 10 year contracts, and some of them were recently signed.” In
other words, by the time many of these contracts expire, the political
winds might have changed and we could return to private prisons.

All of this completely ignores the other system of private prisons in the
United States: immigrant detention centers, which are allowed to continue
to be within private prisons. In fact, 81 percent of immigrants are held in
private detention camps in horrendous conditions. Just a few months ago,
the forced hysterectomies of immigrant women
were uncovered in the facilities of private corporation La Salle
Corrections. Throughout the past decade, trans* women have died in private
prisons at an alarming rate, including Roxanna Hernandez and Victoria
Arellano <http://articles.latimes.com/2008/jun/01/opinion/op-hernandez1>.

The expansion of immigrant detention centers exploded during the Obama
administration. Trump went even further; in 2019, his administration more
than doubled spending
on GEO Group, a big player in the for-profit incarceration industry. Most
of the $595 million went to fund immigrant detention camps. Biden isn’t
touching these concentration camps, which continue to detain and abuse
immigrants, including children.
*Private Profits in Prisons*

Further, Biden’s executive order does not do away with *private profits in
public prisons* — not by a long shot. Michelle Alexander explains
<https://newjimcrow.com/> the multitude of prison profiteers, including
“phone companies that gouge families of prisoners by charging them
exorbitant rates to communicate with loved ones; gun manufacturers that
sell taser rifles, and pistols to prison security guards and police;
private healthcare providers contracted by the state to provide (rather
abysmal) healthcare to prisoners”; and more. Corizon Correctional Healthcare
the largest prison medical provider, takes in $1.5 billion a year. Private
construction companies are hired to build prisons: prison construction
brought in an average of $2.8 billion per year
from 2001 to 2012. Private companies provide prison food that is sometimes
so inedible that lawsuits result. For example, Aramark Correctional
one of the largest food providers for prisons, reportedly “served food
tainted by maggots … rotten meat … food pulled from the garbage [and] food
on which rats nibbled.”

Private corporations of all sorts have contracts to maintain the U.S.
prison behemoth. They provide sub-par services to prisons and rake in
massive profits — and they aren’t going anywhere.

Imprisoned people also provide private corporations with profits through
exploitation of their especially low-wage labor. The 13th Amendment, which
abolished slavery at the end of the Civil War, made an exception for
incarcerated people. When a person is incarcerated, enslavement is
justified. And so, imprisoned people provide corporations with low-wage
labor and sometimes even labor for *free*. Sometimes imprisoned people work
for the state; New York State’s incarcerated people were forced to produce
hand sanitizer at the start of the pandemic — which they weren’t allowed to
use themselves. Others work on “prison farms” that grow crops sold to the
public by the prison itself. Mississippi State Penitentiary farm
for example, had a value of production totaling $1.3 million in 2012.

Further, as the Prison Policy Initiative explains, state and local
governments sometimes use prisons to pad their own budgets. Take Oklahoma,
for example, where the Prison Policy Initiative explains that “local
sheriffs receive $27 per day” for each person they hold for the state
prison system, which makes up about 7 percent of some counties’ budgets

Clearly, there’s a huge incentive to fill the prisons.
*An Executive Order that Doesn’t Actually Free Anyone *

Perhaps most important is that Biden’s executive order does not free a
single person from prison. The United States has, by far, the highest
imprisoned population in the world, with Black and Latinx people
disproportionately represented. The US makes up about 4 percent of the
global population, but has about a quarter of all the world’s imprisoned

Biden, the author of the infamous Crime Bill and whose administration with
Obama helped vastly expand the system of immigrant detention centers, now
wants us to forget *his own legacy*. But he’s no warrior for racial
justice. His executive order is a weak half-measure, at best, that keeps
millions of people locked up and keeps corporations profiting from this
system. As the Prison Policy Institute argues, “The beneficiaries of public
prison largely love it when private prisons get all of the attention. The
more the public stays focused on the owners of private prisons, the less
the public is questioning what would happen if the government nationalized
the private prisons and ran every facility itself: Either way, we’d still
have the largest prison system in the world

Huge numbers of people imprisoned are there for low-level drug charges or
minor parole violations. The prison system isn’t about keeping anyone
safer; it’s about controlling people of color and poor people, as well as
maintaining another revenue stream so private corporations can rake in huge

Prisons are a central mechanism of the capitalist state. Like the police,
they exist to serve and defend the interests and profits of the capitalist
class. To fulfill the promise of equality and justice for all, the racist
prison system and the racist police — pillars of the capitalist system and
of a U.S. empire built on racism and the enslavement of African people —
would have to be pulled down, not “reformed.”

It’s not that the United States is failing to live up to its promise. This
is what the United States was built to do. To end this immensely profitable
prison system, we cannot rely on Joe Biden or the Democrats, who have
always defended and expanded that very system. To end the racist prison
system that helps capitalism function, we must organize to end the
capitalist system itself.
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