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On February 16th I arrived in Rocky Point, NY, brought there by an invitation extended by the Presbyterian Health, Education and Welfare Association (PHEWA).  PHEWA was forming a new Criminal Justice Network and reached out to me due to my extensive work on criminal justice issues here on Daily Kos, asking me to serve as an adviser to the CJN.

From the 16th to the 19th dozens of clergy, theological professors, authors, activists and those specializing in offender reentry held discussions and presentations on every aspect of criminal justice.  We discussed issues of the death penalty, prison privatization, prison industries and the legislation that had been enacted over the years to bring the total U.S. prisoner population to nearly 2.3 million; minimum-mandatory sentencing act, truth in sentencing act,  and the third theft felony act).

I presented on prison industries, inmate exploitation in the PIE Program by private companies and the involvement of ALEC in crafting model legislation (Prison Industries Act, the targeted contracting for certain correctional facilities and services act and thePrivate Correctional Facilities Act) used to incarcerate and create a huge cheap workforce with prisoners.  Most present had never heard of ALEC and when I completed my presentation, there were question after questions posed.  They wanted more information, trying to understand how an organization such as ALEC could have existed for so long without their knowing about it - or that most of the criminal justice laws we all live under originated within ALEC's back rooms.

Alex Friedman from Private Corrections Institute presented on privatization and mass incarceration, gave an in-depth analysis and report on CCA and Geo Group, the drug laws used to incarcerate so many needlessly - and keep all prisoners for as long as possible.

On the final morning we discussed how we could immediately begin to change the landscape of the current prison system.  As opponents worked to defeat the prison privatization legislation in Florida that week, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) sent letters to 48 state Governors proposing to purchase state prison facilities outright  We decided our best course of action was to counter CCA's proffer by issuing a letter opposing any form of privatization and profiting off of incarceration - and distribute a copy to every Governor.  The letter was to object to privatization of prisons and the profiting off of incarcerating human beings - objected to on principles of faith, morality and ethical grounds.

Within ten days PHEWA's Criminal Justice Network, the United Methodist Church and the ACLU all worked together and put together a huge number of signatories including faith and church organizations and non-faith groups.  We prepared press releases for the media outlets in each state and the target date for release and hand delivery of the letters was to occur on February 29th in conjunction with the Occupy F-29 Protest ALEC and Corporations.  However, such a complex task of coordination, preparing the letters and attracting supporting signatories took us a day longer.  The actual press releases were sent out at 10:00 am March 1st and individuals, ministers, and groups in several states arrived at the offices of numerous Governors, letters in hand.

Another Kossack, OllieGarkey posted a diary yesterday: http://www.dailykos.com/... about the ACLU letter and included a copy in the diary.  Below the fold I have copied the letter I hand delivered to Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana and a copy of the letter sent out in conjunction with ours by the UMC to the Governors.

Here is the first media notice of the PHEWA/UMC/ACLU camapign.

March 1, 2012                            SENT VIA FAX AND EMAIL

Governor Mitch Daniels
Office of the Governor
Statehouse
Indianapolis, Indiana 46204-2797

Dear Governor Daniels:

As the leadership of the Presbyterian Health, Education and Welfare Association (PHEWA), a ministry of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), as well as PHEWA’s Criminal Justice Network, we write in reference to a letter recently sent to your office by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the nation’s largest for-profit prison firm, in which CCA introduced its “corrections investment initiative.”

As part of this initiative, CCA indicated it has made $250 million available to purchase and then operate state-owned correctional facilities under minimum 20-year contracts with a guarantee of 90% occupancy, among other requirements.

We are contacting you to express our opposition to both this initiative and to the more general concept of contracting with private companies for the purpose of incarcerating people as a means of generating corporate profit.

We initially want to address prison privatization from a moral and faith-based perspective. In 2003, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) approved a resolution calling for the abolishment of private prisons. Specifically, that resolution found:

Since the goal of for-profit private prisons is earning a profit for their shareholders, there is a basic and fundamental conflict with the concept of rehabilitation as the ultimate goal of the prison system. We believe that this is a glaring and significant flaw in our justice system and that for-profit private prisons should be abolished.

The question of whether human beings should be incarcerated, of how they should be treated while in prison, of when they will be released, can not be answered by whether or not these steps will create profit for a corporation. In a humane society, in a democratic society, there are some things that can never be for sale, even and especially when they involve ’one of the least of these followers of mine.’

CCA and other private prison companies generate income through contracts that are based on per diem rates. That is, the more people they incarcerate for longer periods of time, the greater their revenue. This creates a disincentive for private prison companies to support criminal justice reform efforts, as more sensible sentencing policies and alternatives to incarceration reduce the number of people who are incarcerated and thus pose a threat to their corporate profit margins.

In fact, CCA has explicitly acknowledged this:

The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws. – CCA Annual Report, 2010

Our criminal justice system embodies several important principles that mirror the teachings of   our faith communities: mercy, forgiveness, redemption and reconciliation. Such principles are largely absent from the private prison industry, which has a single overriding goal: generating profit. In short, we believe that privatizing prisons – and thus privatizing and commodifying people in prison – is morally wrong from a faith perspective. There is no place in a society that values justice and believes in personal redemption for private companies that profit by keeping people behind bars. We believe that privatized prisons are inherently wrong, a violation of the social compact and contrary to the fundamental moral framework of our faith communities.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is not alone in this assessment. Other denominations that have considered this issue have come to similar conclusions and have issued resolutions or statements against prison privatization, including the United Methodist Church, the Catholic Bishops and the Southern Catholic Bishops, and the Episcopal Diocese of Newark.

We realize, however, that not everyone will agree that incarcerating people for corporate profit is immoral or wrong. Thus, we will briefly address some applicable public policy issues.

Incarceration of people who have committed crimes is an essential public safety function of our government, and the deprivation of freedom through incarceration is reserved to the government, not to private citizens. We submit that incarceration should not be delegated to private, for-profit companies, just as policing is not contracted out to the private sector. Private prison companies are accountable to their shareholders whereas public prisons are accountable to the public.

In its letter to your office, CCA touted its recent purchase of the Lake Erie Correctional Facility in Ohio – the first time a state prison has been sold to a private prison company. That acquisition by CCA was finalized in January 2012. However, rather than waiting to evaluate the long-term consequences of selling a state prison to the private sector, CCA immediately sent letters to your office and 47 other governors, asking them to participate in its “investment initiative” when the long-term results of same are unknown and unproven. The fact that CCA is requesting 20-year contracts with minimum 90% occupancy is troubling, as it would lock states into such contracts even if their prison populations decline and privately-run prisons are no longer needed.

CCA further cited “estimated” cost savings at Lake Erie, but since that prison was only recently acquired by the company, such savings (if any) have not been shown. In fact, a 2010 report by the State Auditor in Arizona concluded that private prisons actually cost more to operate in that state when all relevant factors were considered.

Regardless, as noted in the General Assembly’s 2003 resolution, “Even if for-profit private prisons could achieve significant cost savings to the taxpayer, which in fact they have not been able to do, they would still be morally unacceptable.” Something that is immoral is still wrong even if it saves money – which includes CCA’s offer of 250 million pieces of silver.

Based upon the forgoing we urge you to repudiate CCA’s offer to participate in its “corrections investment initiative,” and to reject prison privatization in your state. Thank you for your time and attention in this regard, and please feel free to contact us for additional information.

Respectfully,

PHEWA Executive Committee:

Rev. Dr. Bebb Wheeler Stone, President
Rev. John Scotland, Vice President
Rev. Robert Schminkey, Secretary
Rev. Douglas Mitchell, Treasurer
Rev. Dr. Robert L. Brashear, At Large

Presbyterian Criminal Justice Network:

Rev. Annie Rawlings
Rev. Dr. Donald Shriver
Rev. Deborah Haffner Hubbard
Rev. Steven Werth
Donna Redwing
Rev. Trina Zelle

_________

Dear Governor:
We the undersigned faith organizations represent different traditions from across the religious and political spectrum. Our organizations advocate for a criminal justice system that brings healing for victims of crime, restoration for those who commit crimes, and to maintain public safety.

We write in reference to a letter you recently received from Harley Lappin, Chief Corrections Officer at Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), announcing the Corrections Investment Initiative – the corporation’s plan to spend up to $250 million buying prisons from state, local, and federal government entities, and then managing the facilities. The letter from Mr. Lappin states that CCA is only interested in buying prisons if the state selling the prison agrees to pay CCA to operate the prison for 20 years – at minimum. Mr. Lappin further notes that any prison to be sold must have at least 1,000 beds, and that the state must agree to keep the prison at least 90% full during the length of the contract.

The undersigned faith organizations urge you to decline this dangerous and costly invitation.

CCA’s initiative would be costly to taxpayers in your state. CCA would be buying not only a physical structure but a guarantee that your state will fill a large prison and continuously pay the corporation taxpayer money to operate the institution for at least two decades. Your state will incur long-term costs associated with increasing incarceration rates, while CCA’s profits will only continue to increase as well.

CCA’s initiative would be costly to the moral strength of your state. The requirement to ensure that the prison remains 90% full for at least two decades would pose a tremendous obstacle to more cost-effective criminal justice policies. The United States imprisons far more people than any other nation in the world. The millions of people who are directly impacted by this explosive rate of incarceration included families and communities of the incarcerated. Families and communities can be strengthened through evidence-based alternatives to incarceration and reentry policies that quicken the reintegration of those coming out of prison into their home communities.

The current incarceration rate has been spurred over the last four decades by criminal laws that impose steep sentences. Mass incarceration deprives record numbers of individuals of their liberty, disproportionately affects people of color, and has not had the impact on public safety that equals the financial and moral costs that are being paid. In addition, the crippling cost of imprisoning increasing numbers of people burdens government budgets with rising debt and only exacerbates the current fiscal crisis confronting states across the nation.  

Despite the increasing costs to states and the nation as a whole that results from mass incarceration, CCA continues to reap enormous profits. We believe the profits CCA receives are not worth the costs paid by the states and by the people who will be incarcerated and their families who will be impacted by the requirement to keep prisons filled rather than the greater need for the criminal justice system to truly be just and fair.

We urge you to reject the initiative sent to you from CCA. Criminal justice policies do not need to rely on the privatization of correctional services, but rather, should be evidence-based policies and practices that are proven to reduce recidivism and can lead to a reduction in the prison population. Mr. Lappin’s proposal is an invitation to deepening state debt, increased costs to people of color who are disproportionately impacted by mass incarceration as well as their families and communities, and decreased public safety.

Sincerely,

African American Ministers in Action
African American Ministers Leadership Council
African Methodist Episcopal Church – Social Action Commission
American Baptist Home Mission Societies
American Friends Service Committee
Church of the Brethren
Disciples Home Missions-Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada
Disciples Justice Action Network
Dominican Sisters of Sparkill, NY
Franciscan Action Network
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Healing Communities
Holy Family Institute
Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters, USA – JPIC
Irish Apostolate USA
Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers
Mennonite Central Committee, U.S. Washington Office
Muslim Public Affairs Council
National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd
National Fraternity of the Secular Franciscan Order, OSF
NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
Office of Peace and Justice, Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters
PICO National Network
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness
Social Justice Committee, Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, KS
Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Sisters of St. Dominic of Caldwell, NJ
The Episcopal Church
Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
United Church of Christ/Justice and Witness Ministries
United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society

_________

After delivering the letter to Daniels, I came home and sat down to look back over the past two years...back to a time when I first began writing here on Daily Kos about prison industries, privatization and about ALEC.  At that time very few were aware of ALEC and what they knew of prison was learned from media articles and lawmakers talking about rising crime rates and the need to be "tough on crime".  Like ALEC, prison industry operations were virtually unknown to everyone.  Those who did know thought it was something designed to keep prisoners busy and out of trouble - not that a program had been created to allow private companies to use inmate labor (yes, here in America) to manufacture many of the products they bought in retail outlets, grocery stores.  Most were unaware that inmates handled reservations for airlines, tourism call centers, or were slowly replacing public sector workers across the country.

I realized that until DK members began to understand, do their own research and spread the word - ALEC, prison labor and privatization had operated under everyone's radar.  None had been seriously confronted or opposed.  The public had no idea that while crime rates in the U.S. had declined nationally by 55% since 1990, that incarceration rates had climbed by over 500%.  Private prison housing increased by 160%...and that ALEC was responsible for writing and disseminating all of the legislation used to accomplish this mass incarceration and turn prison into a profit making industry.

I thought back to the protest in Cincy last April that started making ALEC and their activities known to the public.  The research tying ALEC to Charles and David Koch, and eventually to exposing the entire network of think tanks, foundations and corporations that make up the cabal.

I looked at the news yesterday and the day before and scanned article after article naming ALEC.  Occupy and others protesting and putting together a growing opposition to privatization of prisons, education, utilities and abolishing ALEC.  While I'd been thinking that we were making so little progress toward ending the stranglehold ALEC and their corporate handlers and corrupt politicians have on us and our democracy - I realized how far we'd all come - together - in seriously exposing the cabal and getting voter and the general public aware and focused upon all of them in the network...

...this truly has been a real grassroots movement without funding, without leadership or a council to guide us.  Together we have turned the tide on ALEC and their model legislation - every state now comparing state bills to ALEC's and finding how they've changed our lives with their pro-corporate agenda.  Koch, ALEC and the others are in the news daily, protesters occupying the sidewalks in front of their offices, stores and outlets.  Instead of diminishing, Occupy and voters alike have picked up our call and keep the push-back growing and gathering speed...and it all began right here on DK with progressives and moderates coming together to worry the problem that is ALEC like a dog with a stuffed toy.  What began here was carried overseas and resulted in the spotlight pointing to ALEC's UK connection, the Atlantic Bridge "Charity".  It is now closed due to the UK Government, a defence minister running it forced to resign in disgrace.

Good job Kossacks, Presbyterians, Methodists, ACLU and all the other signatories who object to privatization and ALEC...grand and great job!

Originally posted to Bob Sloan on Fri Mar 02, 2012 at 02:19 PM PST.

Also republished by American Legislative Transparency Project, Earthship Koch, In Support of Labor and Unions, and Spiritual Organization of Unapologetic Liberals at Daily Kos.

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Will this kind of activism on behalf of so many diverse groups, help slow privatization of prisons, schools and other government services?

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