Will President Trump make corrections great again?

Why big business does not belong in the field of corrections


During the summer of 2016, the Justice Department – under President Obama’s administration – decided to phase out the use of private prisons.  

In an August 18, 2016, memo, former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates wrote, “Private prisons served an important role during a difficult period, but time has shown that they compare poorly to our own Bureau facilities. They simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and as noted in a recent report by the Department’s Office of Inspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security.”

For those who work in the corrections, the phasing out of private prisons is a necessary step. 

The danger of viewing corrections through a business lens

In this Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017, file photo, President Donald Trump speaks during a White House senior staff swearing-in ceremony in the East Room of the White House, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)
In this Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017, file photo, President Donald Trump speaks during a White House senior staff swearing-in ceremony in the East Room of the White House, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

Russ Hamilton, a retired Sergeant for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, believes that at its base, government is the one depriving criminals of liberty.

"It therefore should fall to government to provide care and custody and not cede it to a third party," said Hamilton.

He also makes it clear that the closing of private prisons should be done for the right reasons: “The move by Obama to de-privatize was good, however the reasons for it were not. The Obama DOJ essentially quit prosecuting crimes and became criminal friendly.”  

Conversely, in March 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions under President Trump's administration, decided to rescind all efforts to phase out private prisons and, instead, fill up beds with low-level drug offenders, introducing harsh sentencing that can easily keep private correctional facilities in business. 

Russ Hamilton agrees that there is an essential need to enforce the law, but the current administration is, "viewing things through a business lens."  

Who benefits from private prisons?

Is President Trump using the law to help private prisons make money? Obviously, there is a definitive connection between his administration and privatized prisons. In an effort to get Donald Trump elected, USA Today noted that private prison companies like GEO Group and Core Civic donated up to $475,000 to support Trump's inaugural festivities.  

Was that money donated in an effort to get President Trump to show support for privatized prisons? Let's ask Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In March, the Department Homeland Security began issuing new instructions to carry out executive orders on immigrations. These orders require all federal agents to identify, capture and quickly deport undocumented immigrants. If they are captured, they are to be detained.  

With state and federal prisons overpopulated and understaffed, this will require more beds and therefore a need for more privately run facilities.

It's sad to say, but the field of corrections is caught between a rock and a hard place in the world of politics. On the extreme left, all changes seem to solely benefit the inmate population. On the extreme right, all changes being made seem to solely benefit privatization.

Twenty eight states – including Missouri, West Virginia and Massachusetts – are looking to pass laws to make corrections a “right to work” occupation. Right to work eliminates the chances of bargaining and is usually the first sign of privatization.

"Working in corrections is already one of the most difficult jobs to perform," states Geoff Klopp, President of the Correctional Officers Association of Delaware. "Without having union representation, employee’s rights and representation would be further diminished."

This sounds like the corporate world to me.  

Why ‘for profit’ doesn’t belong in our prisons

Gary York, a retired prison inspector for the state of Florida, believes that having a fundamental right to pursue an occupation of choice may be a good choice for many professions, but not corrections.

“We must hold a higher standard that will ensure we hire people in corrections who will uphold the law and keep our communities safe and secure,” said York. “Right-to-work laws are pushing to allow people with certain felony convictions to apply for prison jobs."

Prisons are not meant to be for profit. Human life is not meant to be for profit. Right now we are looking to eliminate recidivism, but private prisons base their profit on return offenders. Does that not immediately present a conflict of interest between a profit-driven prison and the criminal justice system’s attempt to rehabilitate? If the criminal justice system succeeds at eliminating recidivism, private prisons like GEO Group and Core Civic will eventually be forced into closure.  

Curtis Isele, a Special Agent with the Department of Corrections states, “To me, capitalism and penology can only be described as counterintuitive. Private prisons are ‘for profit’ and, as such, capitalize from incarceration. I'm not saying that the collective goal of ‘for profit’ prisons is mass incarceration; however, it seems obvious that they would lose money if recidivism were reduced.”

The corrections profession is long hidden in the shadows of law enforcement. In most cases, the brave men and women who work behind the wall are not recognized for the services they provide. They are poorly equipped, understaffed and not respected by the greater public. If President Trump really had the best interests of law enforcement in mind, he would look to strengthen the system we already have in place, as opposed to selling the system out. 

These brave correctional officers need his help in pushing for legislation that provides better incentives to recruit and retain qualified personnel; money for necessary equipment and training; and most important, legislation that recognizes these brave men and women as law enforcement professionals with the entitlements they deserve. Overall, it’s time for President Trump to protect the protectors who risk their lives behind the wall. 

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