Prison system in need of reform

Millennial reflections
By Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem
There is a growing movement in the South to speak out against harsh policies that target the poor and minorities. Communication easily breaks down when politics trump policy and ideology trumps facts. Groups of clergy and other community partners try to take it to a new level, the level of morality and ethics. Rev. William Barber and the Moral Monday Movement is the classic example. This is spreading to other southern states. In Mississippi it is called the Moral Movement Mississippi.
Rev. Barber says clergy are more competent interpreting and speaking from Scripture than compete with ideologues or policy pundits. The group seeks to stress social justice as the theme of sermons.
We Catholics have a strong social justice teaching and see this demonstrated in preaching, and more so through the works of the many social service agencies throughout the world that bring hope and restore dignity to the impoverished.
This past week in the Clarion Ledger, reporter Jerry  Mitchell wrote about the deplorable conditions in the private prison in Meridian. In the series called “Hard Time” were articles and pictures showing cells as if they were from a third world country. This prison, as well as many others are run by a private company for profit.
Private prisons are a relatively new highly profitable industry. They are all over the country. Many people are unaware of their existence. They have a powerful lobby in Congress and the state houses.
Private prisons are one of the biggest lobbies against humane immigration reform. They oppose real education reform. They have a big education lobby in Washington that urges privatizing education, and under-funding public education and remedial programs. They plan for prison bed space by using the percentage of poor performing children in third grade. They blood suck off the poor. Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) is the biggest player in the game.
Private prisons have a notorious human rights record. They are a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) which wrote the harshest anti-immigrant legislation, especially in Arizona and Alabama. ALEC is behind these voter suppression laws, designed to disenfranchise African Americans and Latinos. The for-profit private prison lobby advocated to make certain immigration offenses felonies. Why? To fill up their prisons. They lobby legislatures to create crimes so they can fill up their prisons. They lobby for harsh sentences for non-violent drug offenses so they can fill up their prisons. Every heartbeat is cash in the bank.
It is one thing for the state to incarcerate criminals. It is the state’s duty to protect citizens from criminals. It is also the state’s duty to rehabilitate convicted felons to re-enter society.  One goal is to reduce the number of prisoners. This benefits society. For private prison companies the more people locked up the better. Crime is a profitable business. This is immoral.
To profit from human misery dehumanizes the incarcerated. It encourages crime, not to make society better, but to make money for their shareholders. Thus these huge corporations use their influence to the detriment of society, especially young people by manipulating programs that directly benefit poor people.
The goal is profit. Staff salaries are low. Many of these prisons are understaffed to make money, putting inmates and staff at risk. Many lack programs, and inmates spend long hours locked up. Why? It is cheap.
Both the people locked up and the staff that oversees them largely come from the same strata of society. Both groups are being exploited for profit.
The result of all of this is dehumanizing people.  Bluntly put, it is about greed. Greed is one of the seven deadly sins. All of this furthers the ever widening gap between the rich and everybody else.
(Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem, lives at the Priory of St. Moses the Black, Jackson.)