It has been encouraging to see the awareness about the role of private prison companies in influencing criminalization of people grow and grow in the last year. SB 1070 and the relationship between various legislators like Russell Pearce and private prison companies like CCA and Geo Group within the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and between governor Jan Brewer and CCA, has been exposed recently. People had already started to address the connection between Wells Fargo and private prison-run detention centers that hold thousands of migrants in other parts of the country and a tiny bit here in AZ. Now there are country-wide campaigns popping off against private prisons companies and against ALEC.
However, as horrible as the conditions in private prisons are (and they do tend to be several times worse than state-run facilities), and as obvious as it is that SB 1070 passed with great influence on the part of those who stand to make millions off of putting people in cages, I would hate to see the focus be solely on this most recent phenomenon. An anti-private prison campaign can easily fall into the same traps as the "go after the real criminals" message, as though there's nothing wrong with the "criminal" "justice" system. As though the criminalization of people who cross a man-made line is not similar to the criminalization of so many of the people in prisons today and historically. We should also consider the limitations of previous nation-wide anti-private prison campaigns like the one that targeted Sodexho in the early 2000's. A focus only on the privatization of prisons can only divert energy from addressing the prison system in general; the various reasons people end up in jail or prison, and the ways in which the system will never and is not meant to address the real ills of our society.
I put together the following video to provide a complex yet still simplistic (limited by time and resources) history of criminalization of people for the benefit of the few. Please share it with anyone you think would be interested. This video is a follow up from several of my blog entries including No Borders or Prison Walls and What came first: the Racism or the Profit Motive? On Private Prisons' push for SB1070
Please also view the 2nd part. It all ties together, and there's some good commentary towards the end.