Maybe Minorities just Commit More Crimes

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The three major race groups in America include Whites, Blacks and Hispanics. According to the US Census Bureau, Whites account for 77.1% of the population, Blacks 13.3% and Hispanics 17.6%. One would think that prison demographics would somewhat similar to this. Wrong! From a report from The Sentencing Project, more than 60% of the people in prison today are people of color. Black men are nearly six times as likely to be incarcerated as white men and Hispanic men are 2.3 times as likely. What’s the reason behind this? Maybe minorities just commit more crimes…

Roger Clegg tends to agree with this. In an editorial he wrote in the National Review, Clegg argues that there are more minorities in jail not because the Government is targeting them, but simply because they tend to commit more crimes. “If a disproportionate number of those arrested for drug crimes are black, it is because a disproportionate number of drug criminals are black. It is not true that all groups use illegal drugs at the same rate, and in any event it is not for using drugs but for selling them that people are typically sent to prison.”

Later in the article, Clegg suggest that if you belong to a racial or ethnic group that you think is targeted by the police, then especially do not use, buy, or sell illegal drugs. Ironically enough, Clegg serves as the president and general counsel for Center of Equal Opportunity.

Roger Clegg’s argument above can best be summed up as “alternative facts”. The major flaw in Clegg’s argument is that it fails to account for the many racial disparities when it comes to incarceration in America.

In an article found in the Huffington Post, author Kim Farbota list the three reasons why Blacks are more highly represented in the prison population. Unlike Clegg, Farbota claims are supported by proven statistics.

  1. If a black person and a white person each commit a crime, the black person is more likely to be arrested. This is due in part to the fact that black people are more heavily policed.
  2. When black people are arrested for a crime, they are convicted more often than white people arrested for the same crime.
  3. When black people are convicted of a crime, they are more likely to be sentenced to incarceration compared to whites convicted of the same crime.

 

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Lifetime likelihood of imprisonment of U.S. residents born in 2001, courtesy of The Sentencing Project

 

So how can we close this racial incarceration gap? Quite frankly I’m not sure how or if it’ll ever happen, but I am positive that this gap will not close unless there is a major reform in the criminal-justice system.

Are taxpayers really saving money?

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A major issue that has been reoccurring among all states is whether or not private prisons save taxpayers money.

Now according to the article Last Resistance, it states how private prisons do save taxpayers money.  In fact, private prisons are much more suitable than public prisons, when it comes to safety and cost.  The only way for private prions to save money is if the “system” doesn’t get corrupted by the government.  If the system does get corrupted by the government, then that’s when these private prisons will become dangerous for the inmates.  According to Hakim and Blackstone who conducted this study believe that

“exposing public prisons to greater competition should lead to lower costs and improved performance of both public and private prisons, because the threat of further privatization leads prisons administrators to make more-determined efforts to reduce costs and induces public employees to temper their demands.”

I have to disagree with the article above.  Private prisons do not save taxpayer’s money at all!  In fact, private prisons cost more to maintain and handle than public prisons.  According to Politics.co.uk, only 23% of the prisons budget is spent on private prisons.  According to Andrew Neilson, who is the director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform stated:

“If the Ministry of Justice is looking at modeling cuts of a further 25% to 40% to the department’s budget, then these figures suggest the solution does not lie in privastising more prisons.  Private prisons have driven down cost thanks to their ability to make savings at scale.”

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Private prisons are just a cover up to exploit prisoners for a profit.  In a study conducted by the University of Wisconsin, it gives a breakdown on how private prisons keep inmates incarcerated longer than they’re supposed to, just so they can increase their profit.  Companies really don’t care if private prisons are saving taxpayer’s money or not, as long as they’re making a profit off of these prisoners, they will continue to support private prisons.

 

Free-Forced Labor

Food Banks Inmates

Prison labor in the United States can be traced back to the mid 19th century. During the post-Civil War era, many prisoners were hired out to continue the slavery culture. Prison labor in the US continues today, but on a much grander scale.

In the article Enlisting Prison Labor to Close Budget Gaps, the authors argue that prison labor is good for US, economically speaking. ‘“There’s special urgency in prisons these days. As state budgets get constricted, the public is looking for ways to offset the cost of imprisonment.’” Aside from making license plates and picking up litter, prisons have expanded on these services to include tasks such as: painting vehicles, cleaning courthouses, sweeping campsites, cleaning animal carcasses from the road, painting cells, repairing leaking public water tanks and many other. These duties formerly performed by private contractors and government employees are helping the state save money. For instance, in Florida were the budget was cut by $4.6 billion, analyst predict that inmate farming could save about $2.4 million a year.

I disagree with the article above because it fails to acknowledge a critical aspect of the prison labor system, free-forced labor. According to an article on Quartz, the Bureau of Prisons require all federal inmates work, unless they have a medical excuse. If prisoners refuse to work, they can be punished with solitary confinement, revoking visitation or loss of recreation time. In addition to being forced to work, inmates are also unfairly compensated. End Slavery Now reports that the average salary for workers fall between $.23-$1.15 per hour. Inmates are also subject to a harsh working environment including no unions, safety regulations, pensions, social security, sick leave, overtime pay or other benefits/protection.

Large corporations are also in on the action too. According to Global Research, at least 37 states have legalized the contracting of prison labor by private corporations. Some of these businesses include: IBM, Microsoft, Nordstrom’s, Macy’s, Target, Starbucks, Revlon, Hewlett-Packard, Walmart, Victoria Secret and many more.

How is it even remotely fair the manner in which these prisoners are being exploited? Laws like the Fair Labor Standards Act should be preventing this from happening right? I mean the FSLA does state that it establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, record  keeping, and youth employment standards affecting employees in the private sector and in Federal, State, and local governments. Wrong! The Courts have repeatedly ruled that inmates are not protected by labor laws. Just imagine how much profit these corporations and the government is making by paying these inmates substandard wages for performing the same task that a non-inmate would receive at least the minimum wage for. Enough is enough! It’s time for a true reform on the prison labor system in America.

“It’s a big scheme that corporate America and the prison system are just taking advantage [and] exploiting prisoners. And they say [we’re] the criminals. They ought to take a true look at themselves, because they’re the true criminals. We want to be treated as American citizens. We’re not slaves.”

Siddique Hasan

Are we Really Saving Money?

According to a report by the Independent Institute by Blackstone and Hakim, states have been underestimating cost savings of private prisons.

For state-run prisons, important avoidable costs are not included in cost calculations and it is ambiguous whether short or long-run costs are considered. Often, avoidable state prison costs are delegated to other departments of the state government, which are not included in the state’s calculation of cost per inmate per day. Thus, these cost omissions are not adjusted for and deflate costs for state prisons.

However, the same can be said for private prisons.

According to a journal by Alex Friedmann published in Prison Legal News and the Fordham Urban Law Journal, cost-shifting factors (e.g. differences in prisoner populations, security levels, medical expenses, transportation costs and administrative overhead) inflates the expenses paid by the public contracting agency, while deflating the expenses of private prisons.

The article pulls out several examples highlighting the need to adjust for these cost-shifting factors, mainly emphasising that the non-adjusted rate of private prisons indicated cost savings while the adjusted rate instead indicated a net loss. The article also states how the cost of private facilities in Hawaii in 2007 and 2009 increased by 14.9% and 19.4% respectively, after adjusting for cost-shifting factors. The article quotes from the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy 2010 report, stating that

“[t]here is no compelling evidence that the privatisation of prisons has actually resulted in savings…. It is very difficult to ensure that a private prison is in fact 7% less costly to operate than a comparable public prison.”

Furthermore, Blackstone and Hakim’s report states that private prisons lower costs and improve quality by introducing more competition into the industry. However, according to The Hamilton Project, the extent of the competition is not substantial due to the small number of firms in the business. Compared to the year 1999 where there were 12 for-profit prison firms, since then, eight have been acquired and only two new firms have opened.

They calculated that the “two largest private prison companies account for around 55 and 30 percent of all private prison beds, respectively, and the 3 largest firms provide over 96 percent of the total number of private prison beds.”

Due to the complexity of the industry and difficulty in calculating accurate costs that take into account cost-shifting factors, how are we to know if private prisons are actually cost effective? With many of research articles and yet no clear answer, Friedmann suggests that we may be asking the wrong question. Instead, he invites us to take a step back and look at the bigger picture:

“Should we incarcerate people in private, for-profit prisons even if they do save money?”