As Marijuana Politics blogger Romain Bonilla recently posted, Hillary Clinton has strong financial ties to the private prison industry. These ties with the prison-industrial complex, mainly through common lobbyists, have been reported by a few blogs and rightfully make Drug War reformers suspicious of Clinton’s commitment to ending the use of private prisons. In all fairness to the Democratic frontrunner, the amount of money that she has received from the private prison industry is dwarfed by the sums donated to Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio and the money that Clinton has received already from fossil fuel lobbyists.
Since opposing marijuana decriminalization in 2008, Clinton has evolved in her Drug War rhetoric, stating that she basically has a states’ rights position on cannabis legalization and she has criticized our current criminal justice system that disproportionately imprisons people of color. However, as a blog over at the Daily Kos notes, Hillary Clinton hasn’t mentioned abolishing the private prison system in any of her speeches yet.
“My legislation will eliminate federal, state and local contracts for privately run prisons within 2 years. It will reinstate the federal parole system. It will increase oversight and eliminate the overcharging of prisoners by private companies for banking and other services,” Sanders, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, said in a statement on Tuesday.
He added that it would “end the mandatory quota of immigrants detained. It will require ICE to improve the monitoring of detention facilities and eliminate private detention centers within 2 years.”
According to Sanders’s campaign, more than 8 percent of those incarcerated in state and federal prisons are in facilities that are privately owned, and most of those detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are being held in private facilities.
The Vermont Senator stated his case on Twitter:
We need to end the disgraceful practice of corporations profiting from the incarceration of Americans. pic.twitter.com/avETOIUJHj
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) September 9, 2015
Along with many Drug War reformers, I look forward to seeing the text of Sanders’ bill and hope that Clinton and potentially even Joe Biden, evolve on the War on Drugs and move to a more sensible position on private prisons and broader criminal justice reforms. While many cannabis law reform advocates and Drug War reformers are pulling for Senator Sanders to win the Democratic nomination and the presidency, he has already done a great service by bringing private prisons and the need to reform the failed War on Drugs to the forefront of the Democratic debate.
Sanders: Our Criminal Justice System is Broken, Ending Private Prisons is a Good First Step Forward
SEPTEMBER 8, 2015
BURLINGTON, Vt. – U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders stated today that the United States needs major reforms to our broken criminal justice system, and that a good step forward would be to end the practice of prisons in America being run by private corporations. He will soon introduce legislation to do just that.
Of the nearly 1.6 million people in federal and state prisons in 2013, 133,044 (8.4 percent) were in private prisons. That included 41,150 federal inmates in private facilities (19.1 percent of all federal prisoners) and 91,885 state prisoners in private facilities (6.8 percent of total state inmates). Most of the individuals detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement also are in private detention facilities.
“It is clear to most Americans that we need major reforms in our broken criminal justice system,” Sanders said. “We need to end the tragic reality that the United States has more people in jail than any other country on earth, and that the people being incarcerated are disproportionately black and Hispanic. We need to take a hard look at why the rate of recidivism in this country is so high and why we are not developing successful paths back to civil society for those who serve prison time. Further we need to end, once and for all, the disgraceful practice of corporations profiting from the incarceration of Americans.
“As a nation, our goal must be to do everything we can to create the conditions that prevent mass incarceration. At a time when we are spending $50 billion a year on our correctional system, it makes a lot more sense to me to be investing in jobs and education for our young people than in more and more jails. Not only can we prevent thousands of lives from being destroyed, we can save billions of taxpayer dollars. Locking people up is a lot more expensive than schools,” Sanders said.
“Overall, we need bold change in our criminal justice system. A good first step forward is to start treating prisoners as human beings, not 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 are, without a doubt, the responsibility of the citizens of our country and not the investors in private corporations.
“My legislation will eliminate federal, state and local contracts for privately run prisons within 2 years. It will reinstate the federal parole system. It will increase oversight and eliminate the overcharging of prisoners by private companies for banking and other services. It will end the mandatory quota of immigrants detained. It will require ICE to improve the monitoring of detention facilities and eliminate private detention centers within 2 years.”
Sanders will be introducing this bill next week.