Faith Leaders Advocate Against Private Prison Profiteering
With states utilizing an increasing number of private prison contracts to purportedly ease budget shortfalls, the prison privatization debate has fallen squarely on Florida’s shoulders this week. Despite last year’s failed privatization efforts, the Florida legislature is once again considering awarding contracts to for-profit corporations that would put 29 facilities and up to 16,000 inmates in the hands of private corporations.
Since the bills were introduced, corrections officers, labor groups and public policy experts have expressed opposition to the state’s plans. They warned legislators that prison privatization would threaten public safety and put corrections employees out of work. Many who testified warned that private prison companies use inferior training and policies for their employees, and cut corners to save money.
Despite claims by private prison supporters that privatization plans save money, the benefits often fail to materialize for the state. Chris Kirkham at The Huffington Post explains:
Proponents have advanced the move as a cost-saving measure, a business-minded response to the state’s budget shortfall. But a series of studies and the experiences of several other states that have experimented with privatizing prison systems raise significant doubts about the cost savings that are supposed to accrue: Private prisons have tended to take control of the lowest-cost inmates, those lacking health problems and posing less risk of violence, while leaving states to contend with the harder cases.
While private prison corporations continue to benefit from America’s high incarceration rates and state budget shortfalls, people of faith are taking steps to ensure their congregation’s investments do not fund this growing, immoral industry.
Bill Mefford, Director of Civil and Human Rights for the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church describes his denomination’s motivation for divesting their money out of private prisons this year:
While United Methodists have been caring for those imprisoned and fighting to lessen the number of people incarcerated, our church has been profiting from corporations making billions of dollars from the incarceration of people of color. It was a sickening realization. Profiting from stock in CCA and GEO Group is a betrayal of all that we stand for and believe in as United Methodists and followers of Jesus.
As Florida activists and the United Methodist Church has demonstrated, faith-based organizations combining forces with labor and human rights advocates is a key way for state groups to effectively insert a vital moral voice into this ongoing, contentious debate.