The Drug War has been a failed disaster by any measure, destroying lives and bankrupting budgets across our great nation. The mass incarceration of nonviolent people for drugs has been a tragic epidemic that has disproportionately hurt people of color and citizens living in poverty. For far too long, politicians scored political points for being “tough on crime” and filling up prison cells. Filling up these prison cells became big business as private prisons became a powerful lobbying group working to continue failed Drug War policies, such as mandatory minimum sentences.
Fortunately, the need to reform our prison-industrial complex has become a moderate political position that candidates across political ideologies have begun to address. Bernie Sanders, who has surged in national and state polls against Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, has stepped out first with an important bill that seeks to end the private prison racket.
Sanders said “it makes no sense” that “America has more jails and prisons than college and universities.” Calling the growth of prisons in the United States “unacceptable,” Sanders said “it makes more sense to be investing in our children, making sure they stay in school, making sure they get the mentoring they need, rather than simply locking them up.”
“It is a national tragedy that a disproportionate number of those who are in jail are black and Hispanic,” Sanders added.
The United States needs “bold changes in our criminal justice system,” Sanders said, arguing that it was “time to start treating prisoners like humans.” Private corporations, Sanders said, “should not be profiting from their incarceration”:
“We cannot fix our criminal justice system if corporations are allowed to profit from mass incarceration … 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.”
Representatives Bobby Rush and Keith Ellison, two Congressional Black Caucus members joined Raúl M. Grijalva in sponsoring the landmark Justice Is Not for Sale Act that would ban the United States government from contracting with private prisons within two years of passage; reinstate the federal parole system; and increase the oversight over companies that provide banking and telephone services for prison inmates. Whether the #BlackLivesMatters protest sparked Bernie Sanders to act or not, as this bill is consistent with Sanders’ agenda throughout his long political career, it is clear that the insurgent candidate is taking the lead on combatting the harmful consequences of a war that has become the New Jim Crow.