The United States, “land of the free,” has less than 5% of the world’s population but about 25% of its prisoners. How can a country that prizes freedom so highly lead the world in imprisonment? One reason is the influence of private prison corporations. The more people imprisoned, the higher the profits — and the more families broken apart. One way to reduce mass incarceration is to imprison only those serving criminal sentences, which would not include inmates of the proposed ICE facility.
Why has immigration detention grown so astronomically? You may think that this system evolved to keep the border strong, to keep terrorists out of the country. But why are we locking up business owners? Babies? Even veterans! Terrorism is a justification for the system — just as it was when they built Heart Mountain. Seventy percent of the time, we are not evaluating people regarding the possible threat level they pose — we just round them up. You may say, well, they broke the law. Immigration law is a complex maze. Should we also lock up ranchers who don’t understand every nuance of environmental laws? The business owners who depend on their labor, perhaps? Are we going to further exploit the workers at the bottom of the totem pole in hospitality or agriculture by allowing ICE to round them up as fodder for the for-profit prison industry?
Most of the money the government spends on this contract will enrich the CEO and stockholders of CoreCivic, not Evanston. The contract for the Evanston facility could be worth tens of millions to CoreCivic annually. No wonder they spend millions on political donations and lobbyists. Excessive imprisonment contributes to the national debt, while needed infrastructure crumbles.
The chief concern of CoreCivic leadership is bound to be its stock price, not the condition of its inmates or employees. This is not an accusation, just a sad reality. Former employees have alleged that its other facilities were dangerously understaffed with poorly trained employees. Alleged cruel conditions include being kept in a frigid building, being denied bathroom breaks, and underfeeding (two bologna sandwiches for four days for a mother and two children). There is evidence that the standards these prisons are supposedly held to are not taken seriously. For-profit detention incentivizes CoreCivic to skimp on food, medical care and staffing. The concept is a recipe for cruelty, no matter what our intentions.
Let’s stop the expansion of mass incarceration and tell our elected officials to call off this deal. The time to speak up is now — before Uinta County becomes dependent on these jobs, and we find ourselves arguing for more human suffering instead of less. Let’s get back to being the land of the free.