Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders just made history by announcing that he will be introducing legislation that will dismantle America’s for-profit prison system and put an end to the systematic exploitation of prisoners, taxpayers, and the justice system. At a campaign rally in Nevada, he took aim at prison profiteers: “I will be introducing legislation which keeps corporations out to profiteer from running jails.”
If enacted, this will have major ramifications for the prison system. Prisoners work for almost nothing but their labor helps contribute to a brand’s bottom line, earning companies billions of dollars each year. GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America, the two most profitable prisons, earn a combined annual revenue of over $3 billion. Instead of paying their work force fairly with this gross amount of money, they cycle it back into lobbyists who help protect their profits through the Republican vote.
Republicans love the for-profit prison system because it embodies their policies in one clean package—people of color and the poor are kept down by the system, there is no minimum/living wage, there is no need to help prisoners because they have “done it to themselves” or “not been able to pull themselves up by their coat-tails” as Republican logic dictates everyone—regardless of circumstance or strife, should be able to do—and therefore are undeserving of sympathy/help. It is this stripping away of human empathy and compassion while corporations benefit from for-profit prisons that makes the issue so charged and so divisible along party lines.
Currently, only New York and Illinois have laws which ban privatizing their state prisons. The “War on Drugs” and the prison complex are issues that go hand-in-hand, which the Vermont Senator touched on as well. “We want to deal with minimum sentencing,” exclaimed Sanders, “Too many lives have been destroyed for non-violent issues. People that are sent to jail have police records. We have got to change that. Our job is to keep people out of jail, not in jail.” These are powerful words for a politician and not something we would ever expect to hear from the right.
The Sanders campaign also teased about their view on marijuana legalization, with a clear policy available to the public in one month. Candidates like Bush, Cruz and Fiorina support states’ rights to regulate marijuana while the rest of the Democrats have been largely silent on the issue; Sanders releasing that he will have a clear policy regarding marijuana implies he will be the candidate to take the lead, and will hopefully push his competitors further left. If his voice is as strong for legalization as it is for doing away with the for-profit prison, we can expect an even more amazing ticket with Sanders in 2016—a candidate who is running on our interests and looking to defend our rights.
Colin Taylor is the editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.