CCA Sets Its Sights on Profiting off Reentry Programs in California, Nation-Wide

Beginning this month, the Correction Corporation of America (CCA), one of the nation’s largest for-profit Prison corporation, will earn $4 million dollars a year from the state of California for operating 120 bed San Diego “residential reentry facility” as part of the state’s Male Community Reentry Program. This comes 3 months after the company secured a contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons to consolidate two federal reentry programs into one privately owned 483-bed location.

This is not the CCA’s first foray into San Diego’s residential reentry service sector, the company purchased two halfway homes for $36 million dollars in 2013. The familiar troubles of CCA operations took its toll almost immediately. As Mark Bartlett, a former CCA guard at one of the company’s residential reentry programs who recently began a hunger strike in protest of the state’s contract with CCA, recently explained, “It’s turned into a business where they’re cutting corners on everything. Whether it’s with cutting staff on payroll, cutting food, the lack of nutrition, cutting programming.” With their new contract, it appears the state of California (no stranger to egregious conditions within their prison systems) has no desire to improve the lives of those held in their correctional systems and forgo successful reentry for a cheaper method.

The privatization of residential reentry programs is bad news for those being released from incarceration. The list of CCA’s transgressions, cost-cutting, and inhumane treatment of workers and prisoners goes on, and on, and on, and on. Meanwhile, their stocks have risen 25% this year. While some in the criminal justice reform and prison abolition movement do not view privatization as a problem worse than publicly run prisons (a point I will concede partially, as our publicly run prisons are no walk in the park), the thought that investors are profiting from the imprisonment and failed rehabilitation of human beings creates a moral quandary that renders the end of private correctional companies a fight equally important and separate from the fight to reform (or perhaps abolish) prison as we know it today.

 

(Photo Credit 1: Grassroots Leadership) (Photo Credit 2: ShadowProof)

Wage Theft in Music City: HOTELS SHOULDN’T HURT!


HOTELS SHOULDN’T HURT! is the new battle cry for Workers’ Dignity’s newest campaign against wage theft and working conditions in Nashville’s booming hospitality industry. The member-led workers’ center for Nashville’s low-wage workers, with support from researchers at Vanderbilt University, released a report last week detailing the harsh conditions of labor for the city’s hospitality workers. The Music City has experienced a huge boost to its hospitality industry in the recent years thanks to Nashville’s rise to prominence as an “it” city. However economic benefits have not reached the lowest paid workers in the industry – housekeepers, custodians, and laundry employees.

The findings of the report are saddening, though not shocking. The hospitality industry has a long history of wage theft and abuse among its lowest paid workers. Nashville is no exception. The report finds that nearly 10% of all hospitality workers in Nashville make less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25. 89% of workers worked more than 40 hours a week without receiving fair overtime compensation. As housing and living costs sky-rocket in Nashville, the average wage of a hotel housekeeper, $8.36 an hour, falls far below the national median income. Who are the housekeepers? Overwhelmingly women of color.

In addition to criminally low and stolen wages, the industry is providing little in way of quality safety standards to the lowest paid workers. 39% of employees received no on the job training in handling toxic chemicals. 21% of workers reported that their employees did not provide protective materials such as masks or gloves. 27% of employees reported being injured on the job and 51% of employees are not provided sick days (paid or unpaid). Workers report constantly becoming ill due to long exposure to toxic cleaning chemicals, malfunctioning elevators that lead them to run flights of stairs as they are not permitted in the elevators with hotel patrons, and severe burns that received no attention from hotel management.

Wage theft anywhere cannot be tolerated, but in a city where prices, and buildings, continue to go up, it is crucial that every worker has access to a fair wage and safe working environments. As Workers’ Dignity claims, Nashville is in the midst of a crisis. You may donate to Workers’ Dignity here and remind the Music City that HOTELS SHOULDN’T HURT!

(Photo Credit: Workers’ Dignity) (Video Credit: You Tube / Zach Blumey / Workers’ Dignity)

Senator Cotton Wants More Women of Color Behind Bars, and For Longer

On May 19th, Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas stood before an audience gathered for the Hudson Institute’s event on Crime and Justice in America and argued that the United States of America is currently suffering from an under-incarceration problem. Yes, Senator Cotton believes that the country with 25% of the world’s prison population has an under-incarceration problem.

The gist of Senator Cotton’s argument, and overly simplified linear logic, is how could we have a mass incarceration problem when so many “criminals” are getting away. Well, Senator Cotton, allow me to explain. The problem with mass incarceration is not simply how many people we have incarcerated (though that is a big part of it) but who this country is incarcerating by the millions. The simple answer is low-income men and women of color for predominately low-level drug offenses.

To better understand the fallacy of the ‘Gentleman’ from Arkansas’ logic, we can turn to the fastest growing prison population: women. Since the introduction of federal and state level policies like broken-window policing, 3-strike laws, mandatory minimums (policies Cotton credits with turning around our society), the number of women in prison has risen 700%. Of the 215, 332 women who have entered prison, nearly half have entered for drug-related offenses. In the world Tom Cotton lives in, a longer prison sentence will help these women beat drug addiction and rehabilitate them into law-abiding citizens. In reality, these women will sit in prisons where only 10% will receive any form of substance abuse treatment. For those that do receive treatment, the treatment they receive is based on the substance abuse history of men and has been found to be largely ineffective.

Prisons do not just serve as makeshift substance abuse treatment centers, in which the majority of incarcerated women have substance abuse histories and barely any women actually receive substance abuse treatment. Prisons also serve as mismanaged, ill-equipped, and overcrowded places to house women with mental health concerns. While 12% of women in the general population have mental health concerns, 73% of women in state prisons, 61% of women in federal prisons, and 75% of women in jails have mental health disorders. Again, these women are largely low-income women of color. For these women, “treatment” often comes in the form of restrictive housing (solitary confinement), a form of punishment that has been shown to cause psychotic episodes, hallucinations, and suicidal tendencies.

Cotton also gives credit to the “thankless” work of Correction Officers who work tirelessly to rehabilitate individuals in prison and keep them safe. In reality, women are perhaps in more danger inside cell walls. Kim Shayo Buchanan describes prisons as if “the clock has been turned back to the nineteenth century. Women, especially women of color, are exposed to institutionalized sexual abuse, while a network of legal rules prevents them from seeking protection or redress in courts. Guards know they can sexually exploit women without fear of institutional sanction or civil liability”. Despite making up only 10% of the prison population, women make up nearly half of all survivors of sexual assault in American prisons.

Senator Cotton, the prisons you imagine, places where bad people go to repent for their wrong doings, do not exist. The US penal system currently operates as a place to control, abuse, and neglect our nation’s poor and mentally ill. The answer to the issues Senator Cotton worries about is not an increase of punishment but an increase in attention and investment to the communities that are being effected by our MASS incarceration.

(Image Credit: Bitch Media) (Photo Credit: LA Progressive / Lea Suzuki / The Chronicle)

Workers’ Radio Dignidad To Hit the Airwaves in Nashville

Workers Dignity

A worker-led, community radio station is coming to Nashville, Tennessee. Workers’ Dignity/Dignidad Obrera, a worker-led workers’ center based in Nashville, is currently fundraising to support Nashville’s first ever worker-led radio station, designed to be a mixtape of music and social justice, powered by the voices of those left out of Nashville’s recent rise to national prominence.

As low-wage workers continue to be priced out of their neighborhoods as a result of the massive development projects and gentrification occurring throughout Music City, it is important for outlets such as Radio Dignidad to exist so that our community does not lose sight of those struggling to survive in the quickly changing Nashville landscape.

Workers’ Dignity/Dignidad Obrera was founded in Nashville in 2010 in an effort to combat the epidemic of wage theft plaguing low-wage workers in Middle-Tennessee. Through organizing, fundraising, phone calls, visits to workplaces, and other acts of solidarity, Workers’ Dignity/Dignidad Obrera has helped workers recover over $200,000 in stolen wages.

Workers’ Dignity/Dignidad Obrera now has the opportunity to expand their efforts and ability to organize and empower low-wage workers in Nashville through their radio station. To do that, they need the support of the community and those in solidarity with workers. Workers’ Dignity/Dignidad Obrera plans to launch the radio station on 104.1 FM in 2016. They need to raise funds to purchase the expensive equipment needed to broadcast. Their current goal is to raise $10,000 by Thanksgiving. Together we can change the tide in Nashville, and bring power back to the voice of the people.

You can donate to their campaign here.

 

(Photo Credit: Workers’ Dignity/Dignidad Obrera) (Video Credit: Workers’ Dignity/Dignidad Obrera)

In New York, for-profit prison healthcare loses another paying customer

New York City recently announced its plans to end its contract with the for-profit prison healthcare provider Corizon Health in the city’s infamous Rikers Island jail complex. The Health and Hospitals Corporation of New York City, which currently operates all of New York City’s public hospitals, will now control Riker’s health care. This decision comes on the heels of Washington, DC, City Council’s decision to reject an offer from Corizon, that had been approved by the city’s own Office of Procurement.

New York City’s comes as a major victory for people who believe that for-profit corporations are the root of all evil when it comes to atrocities of incarceration in the United States. For-profit prison healthcare corporations such as Corizon have a history of malpractice lawsuits, negligence, and horror stories of abuse and torture of the mentally ill that would shock even the most ardent cynics. Accusations against Corizon include leaving a man with diagnosed manic-depressive disorder locked for four days in four-point restraints in a room that was 106 degrees. He died. Another accusation involves a Corizon employee who would withhold food and water from patients she did not like. Corizon’s reputation was so bad, a University of Virginia doctor claimed that releasing a cancer patient into their care was unethical.

While there is no denying the evils of Corizon, the problems with Rikers Island do not begin and end with healthcare. Corizon did not prescribe Kalief Browder with two years of solitary confinement. Corizon doctors did not beat Kalief Browder for a fight he did not partake in, as he awaited trial behind bars for three years for a crime he did not commit. The men who did this to Kalief Browder were government employees not motivated by profit and the almighty dollar, but instead fueled by the violence of incarceration. We can continue to reform this nation’s jails, but the fact remains that we are incarcerating and abusing men and women who are deprived of their humanity and dignity for crimes they did not commit. To paraphrase the curator of this blog, Dan Moshenberg, the best medicine for the people of Rikers is freedom.

 

(Photo Credit: https://resistrikers.wordpress.com)

We need to abolish prisons

As candidates for the US presidential election begin to creep out of the woodwork, an all to familiar issue is being presented from a new angle. With presidential hopefuls such as Rand Paul and Hillary Clinton leading the charge, politicians are coming out in strong opposition to the United States’ current problem with mass incarceration. Backed by political heavyweights such as Van Jones and the Koch Brothers, bringing an end to mass incarceration and the over criminalization of the United States of America has become a hot button issue.

That the state of the United States criminal justice system is highly present in the campaign should come as no surprise. As Americans continue to call for the legalization of marijuana, the extreme failures and high casualty rate of the War on Drugs have become abundantly clear. Additionally, Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow provides an immediately identifiable comparison for the majority of Americans who have at least a semblance of shame for our nation’s history of segregation. However, as politicians call for the decriminalization of marijuana and applaud the presidential pardon of 22 non-violent drug offenders, no politician has stood in support of the abolition of prisons.

People rightfully blaming the War on Drugs for the reason so many people are behind bars in the United States are missing the complete picture. The crisis of mass incarceration goes far beyond “Reefer Madness” and the War on Drugs. As Ruth Wilson Gilmore states in her book Golden Gulag, “There are more people in prison in order for the ‘state’ to help rural areas hungry for jobs; in this explanation of prison expansion, prisoners of color presumably provide employment opportunities for white guards”. For Gilmore, and others like her, prison is not merely a place where the government has sent criminals in droves; prison is used as a means to help alleviate the drawbacks of crises inherent in capitalism. Gilmore argues “crises are spatially and sectorally uneven, leading to different outcomes for different kinds of people in different kinds of places”. The prison population growth is a spatially uneven response to crisis. For example, the devaluation of rural land in California led to the incarceration of people of color in order to provide white rural Californians employment opportunity.

Because of this connection between prisons and the response to capital crisis, prison reform must not be the end goal. The end goal must be the abolition of prisons.

I recently joined a Washington, D.C. based coalition to oppose the privatization of jails in Washington. We led a successful campaign against a contract that would grant the provision of healthcare to inmates to Corizon Health, a for-profit corporation with a rich history of malpractice and negligence. The victory was a major accomplishment for the blossoming movement towards improving the local criminal justice system, whose jails are privately operated and predominately African-American. However, while Corizon will not be able to exert their negligence on the lives of D.C. inmates, the fate of D.C. Jail healthcare remains unknown, and herein lies the problem of reform as the end goal. While Corizon did not win the contract, ther is no clear consensus on the best health care option. Another equally harmful company could end up with full-control over these people’s lives.

As more groups are working to make prisons look nicer, a powerful group of people continues working to make prisons worse. Take, for example, Oklahoma. In pursuit of an acceptable method to carry out executions, Oklahoma recently passed legislation that legalized the use of gas chambers executions. This news may seem shocking, despite decreasing numbers, the majority of Americans still support the death penalty. In addition to the shocking methods being used in Oklahoma, or Utah’s return to firing squads, the population of death row inmates mirrors the general population of prisons in America. Black defendants are three times as likely to receive the death penalty, and nearly 90% of death row inmates were too poor to afford an attorney.

Californians voted in Proposition 47, which reduced penalties for drug related crimes. No matter how many Proposition 47s there are, as long as prisons exists, states like Oklahoma will find new ways to kill prisoners, and we will continue to use prison as an all-purpose response to fill vacant land and create jobs. We need to seriously consider the abolition of prisons.

 

(Image Credit: Katy Groves / Prison Culture)