Today is Earth Day, and it’s sure to be historic. More than one hundred world leaders plan to sign the Paris Agreement, the first global pact that commits nearly every nation to take action on climate change.
Last Monday the U.S. Department of Justice announced a powerful new effort to stop local practices that unfairly target poor people by trapping them in “cycles of poverty that can be nearly impossible to escape.” Courts across the country are requiring people arrested with minor misdemeanor charges—like driving with a suspended license—to pay fines before getting their day in court. If they can’t afford the fine, they are forced to wait behind bars until they can.
In a statement and letter, the DOJ shed light on what the agency calls a “bureaucratic cover charge for the right to seek justice,” but also on another alarming practice: the use of for-profit companies to collect fines and manage probation.
On top of fines collected on behalf of courts, many private probation companies charge their own fees for things like drug testing and supervision. If people can’t pay these fees—which can be as high as the fines themselves—they can be sent back to jail.
Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education are shining a light on troubling conditions they uncovered in the state’s property services industry. Their new report, Race to the Bottom: How Low‐Road Subcontracting Affects Working Conditions in California’s Property Services Industry, was released last week.
Women janitors and security guards in the industry— a rapidly growing sector of the state’s economy– are at increased risk of violence and sexual harassment, due to a combination of factors that allow the problems, as the study claims, “to occur and to remain unchecked.”
According to program coordinator for the Labor Occupational Health Program at U.C. Berkeley, Helen Chen, “Janitors and security officers at risk tend to work alone at night in empty buildings…isolated from almost everyone except their immediate supervisors.” Chen, who contributed to the report, announced the study’s findings at a press conference on March 8,
Last week, the country’s two largest private prison operators, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group, released their annual financial reports. The numbers were what we’ve come to expect — staggering. Combined, the two publicly traded companies collected $361 million in profits last year. That’s profit — taxpayer money that could be going to fixing our criminal justice system, which is badly broken.
In the Public Interest ran the numbers and that means CCA made $3,356 in profit for every person it incarcerated, and GEO Group made $2,135. What if we spent that money on mental health care, drug treatment, education or job training for those prisoners? What if, instead of lining the pockets of private prison corporate executives and shareholders, that money was invested in cultivating safer conditions in our jails and prisons?
Most agree that our criminal justice system is in crisis.
In the Public Interest is happy to be kicking off 2016 with good news. Pushed by students and workers, the University of California has announced it will divest from private prison companies such as Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group.
This is yet another win for criminal justice reform—Columbia University divested from CCA last summer. The private corrections industry, which makes more profit when more people are in the system, is an obstacle to the changes many of us want to see.
The industry doesn’t want change. An executive with GEO Group, the second largest private prison operator in the U.S., recently boasted that the country would continue to “attract” crime. He shared the “good news” to investors: “The reality is, we are a very affluent country, we have loose borders and we have a bad education system.”
Private prison companies claim to do a better job more cheaply,