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Private Prisons for Profit – Not in our backyard

By Uzma S. Mushtaq

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The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the nation’s largest owner and operator of privatized correctional and detention facilities, is proposing the construction of a detention center in the village of Crete, Illinois to house federal immigration detainees. Private prison companies like the CCA capitalize on increasing prisoner populations while compromising care for the detainees and staff working conditions.

The trend toward privatization of prisons by states and the federal government has been part of an attempt to resolve state and federal budget issues and prison overcrowding by outsourcing corrections operations to private companies. The goal of these private corporations is to make a profit and the way in which they do so is by providing a facility to hold detainees. In an economic recession many states find that it may be cost effective to outsource their prisons to private corporations.

However, prison privatization comes with serious potential of injustices in regards to safety of prisoners, manipulation of justice, conflict of interests, and overall questioning the legitimacy of the concept in which corporations can handle government assigned facilities. Prisoners are a very vulnerable group of people whose access to justice is more limited than an ordinary citizen’s and thus prisoner abuse also becomes a factor.

The CCA has a long and sad history of mistreating detainees and workers. As many as 24 immigrant detainees have died at CCA facilities, many for lack of medical treatment. Just last year, CCA settled a lawsuit alleging that at one Idaho prison, it ran a “Gladiator school” using “Hunger Games”–like violence to control inmates. CCA guards were accused of intentionally pitting known enemies against each other and watched the prisoners battle, only intervening when the inmates themselves were too tired to keep fighting. The Associated Press released video surveillance of CCA guards standing by as a Muslim inmate, Hanni Elabed, is beaten by a white supremacist inmate. Unfortunately, Elabed suffered permanent brain damage and short term memory loss.

While the FBI is investigating the matter, this situation and many similar to it raise concern towards the profit motive involved with private prisons. When a corporation’s purpose is to make money from the amount of prisoners it holds, then the incentive for supplying adequate rehabilitation programs for its prisoners is compromised and creates a conflict of interest. If anything, considering the profit motive, it would make sense for private prisons to invest in programs and lobby for laws which further increase the amount of prisoners.

Allowing a profit-based entity to run a government program paid for by tax payers allows corporations to take control of an integral part of the justice system. While the court system assigns the sentence, the private prisons control the detention of prisoners. This means that prison officials have the authority to impose disciplinary measures such as solitary confinement, thus having complete control over just how punitive each sentence truly is. This exact structure is what contributed to Hanni Elabed’s beating. The same government which sentenced Hanni Elabed to this prison was able to takes it’s name off of the liability list and give control to a private corporation to detain and punish citizens that it deemed as criminals.

Prisons for profit present an unethical and immoral situation in which profit outweighs human rights. States which have and those that are currently looking for a quick budget fix by privatizing prisons need to understand that compromising human rights is not an option. A report released by the Arizona chapter of the American Friends Service Committee confirms that private prisons cost as much as, if not more than, state-run facilities; they endanger public safety; and they result in worrying level of inmate-on-inmate and inmate-staff violence.

CAIR-Chicago is part of a growing number of organizations that are protesting the construction of a private prison in Crete. “Justice and profitability do not mix well,” said CAIR-Chicago’s Executive Director, Ahmed Rehab. “It’s a classic conflict of interest with grave ethical, human and civil rights consequences. This is not Illinois, it never was and – if we can help it – it never will be.” The Illinois House of Representatives is now considering legislation (SB 1064) which would block CCA from running private detention facilities in our state. Contact your state representatives and let them know you support SB 1064.

TAKE ACTION: CAIR-Chicago is asking you to contact your representatives to let them know you support SB 1064! Easily contact your representatives by clicking on our easy action e-mail which has a letter already started for you!

CAIR-Chicago’s ACTION ALERT: Support SB 1064 – keep private prisons out of Illinois!

VIDEO (Viewer Discretion): CCA guards stand by as Muslim inmate is beaten

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