There is a little hopeful news coming out of the state in which Barack Obama polled only 39% in his match-up with Mitt Romney in 2012.
The Johnson City Press reports
Johnson County commissioners let state officials in on what they think about privatizing the local prison.
It’s “No way.”
The Johnson County Commission and Mayor Larry Potter sent that message to Nashville Thursday night, unanimously approving a resolution to “strongly oppose any privatization of Northeast Correctional Complex.”
The County Commission went a step further.
In honor of the passage of the resolution against privatization, the body designated the third Thursday of each August as a day to recognize the staff of the Northeast Correctional Complex.
The resolution passed by a vote of 14-0, with Commissioner George Lowe absent.
“A vote of confidence in the staff of the prison is all it is,” Potter said. The resolution cited three ways the prison has contributed to the community: providing good jobs to local people; community service projects the prison has supported with its labor crews; and the assistance provided by the prison after a tornado on April 27, 2011.
The resolution said the prison “has been a great employer for our county, employing many citizens of Johnson and Sullivan counties.” It also said the prison’s support of community projects are “too numerous to mention” and “would never have happened” without the prison’s support.
It was because of those contributions since the prison’s 1990 opening that commissioners said they opposed any type of privatization. They said privatization “would be detrimental to our county, citizens, and staff of Northeast Correctional Complex.”
Potter said the resolution came about because of comments about privatization that appeared in the media over an extended period of time. Potter said people began to discuss it and things got hotter when newspapers in Nashville and Knoxville carried stories about possible privatization of state parks and colleges as well as state prisons.
There are various motivations for opposition to private prisons. In Johnson County, it was support by the corrections department of "community projects," a questionable reason, and maintaining decent jobs, an excellent one. For Bernie Sanders it is a different impulse (photo from UMWomen/Flickr via Alternet) as the
Vermont Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said Tuesday that he will introduce legislation to abolish private prisons, one piece of his comprehensive racial justice reform package that has won praise from Black Lives Matter activists.
“When Congress reconvenes in September, I will be introducing legislation which takes corporations out of profiteering from running jails,” the independent senator said at a campaign rally in Nevada.
Sanders released his racial justice platform last week after Black Lives Matter activists repeatedly disrupted his speeches in Seattle and Phoenix, demanding that he address racial inequalities in policing and in the criminal justice system. The platform he announced in response addresses both police violence against African Americans in the United States and the problems associated with mass incarceration.
Black Americans are imprisoned at six times the rate of whites, Sanders notes on his campaign website, and if the trend continues, one in four black males born today can expect to spend time in prison. One of the methods Sanders proposes to address mass incarceration is eliminating the private prison industry.
“It is morally repugnant and a national tragedy that we have privatized prisons all over America,” his website says. “In my view, corporations should not be allowed to make a profit by building more jails and keeping more Americans behind bars.”
If we want determination of sentence for defendants to be based on campaign contributions or a statutory requirement to keep prisons to be occupied, there is no better way than to expand the presence of private prisons. Writing in The Washington Post, Michael Cohen explains
private prison contracts often require the government to keep the correctional facilities and immigration detention centers full, forcing communities to continuously funnel people into the prison system, even if actual crime rates are falling. Nearly two-thirds of private prison contracts mandate that state and local governments maintain a certain occupancy rate – usually 90 percent – or require taxpayers to pay for empty beds. In Arizona, three private prisons are operating with a 100 percent occupancy guarantee, according to Mother Jones.
Additionally, Cohen notes
several reports have documented instances when private-prison companies have indirectly supported policies that put more Americans and immigrants behind bars – such as California’s three-strikes rule and Arizona’s highly controversial anti-illegal immigration law – by donating to politicians who support them, attending meetings with officials who back them, and lobbying for funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Showing just how important these policies are to the private prison industry, both GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America have warned shareholders that changes in these policies would hurt their bottom lines.
Bernie Sanders already had been critical of the private prison industry. However, ending it has gained relatively little attention from Black Lives Matter and Repub presidential candidates, especially its most plausible one, generally have been sympathetic toward turning the penal system into a profit-making enterprise for special interests (photo below from Lauren/Flickr via Alternet). If ending "mass incarceration" is as important to both Democratic and Republican reformers as we have been led to believe it is, there is no better place to start than to stop converting public correctional facilities into private ones.