Las Vegas Sun

March 21, 2019

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Guest column:

Private prisons are counterproductive

Before the 1980s, private prisons as we know them today didn’t exist in the United States. The expansion of the private prison industry is due in large part to America’s failed war on drugs policies, which have destroyed countless lives, especially in working-class communities. Calls for harsher sentences created a space for predatory companies to develop a nationwide network of private prison facilities. In recent years, states have begun taking steps to eliminate the private industry in their jurisdictions in an effort to reverse the disastrous effects it has wrought over the past few decades.

The industry draws its profits in large part based on the number of inmates housed in its corporately owned and operated correctional facilities. For-profit prisons are first and foremost a business, and their main goal is not to provide for the well-being and safety of those in their care. Their objectives are to grow their corporations and increase the wealth they generate. As a result, for-profit prisons operate in a way which is not conducive to the rehabilitation of prisoners. Prisons should not be viewed only as a place of punishment for crimes, but also as a site of reform for these citizens.

The private prison lobby is known to use unethical and sometimes illegal schemes to maximize profits. Previous scandals have shown these for-profit prison corporations incentivize judges to give harsher sentences by offering benefits to prosecutors and judges, further ensuring that prisoners have longer stays in the corrections system and therefore making the private companies even more money. For example, news reports broke in 2009 which revealed that for-profit prisons paid off judges in Pennsylvania to sentence juvenile offenders to harsher and longer sentence terms than normally necessary. This criminal undertaking, which came to be known as the “Kids for Cash” scandal, played out over a nine-year period.

It is the job of judges and prosecutors to ensure justice, yet the influence of for-profit prisons obstructs this ideal.

In Nevada, the industry hasn’t fared any better. Corrections Corporation of America, the last private prison company to house state correctional inmates in Nevada, left the state in 2004, a year after it was discovered that a woman in its custody was impregnated by one of its prison guards. The Southern Nevada Women’s Correctional Center, the facility in which the sexual abuse occurred, was eventually brought under the management of the Nevada Department of Corrections.

In 2017, after vetoing a bill that would have banned private prisons, then-Gov. Brian Sandoval signed a $9.2 million, two-year contract with the same company, now known as CoreCivic, to house 200 Nevada inmates in a private correctional facility in Arizona.

Within months of their transfer to the facility, some of the inmates went on a hunger strike to protest their treatment — there were reports of inadequate medical care and mistreatment of inmates at the facility. In addition to the human toll, the hastily thought-out contract is costing Nevada taxpayers an approximate daily rate of between $72.58 and $74.40 per inmate. That far exceeds the daily amount of $58.94 we pay per inmate in Nevada’s facilities.

Nevadans expect their elected leaders to find realistic, practical and cost-effective solutions to our state’s crime problem. Inviting profit seekers into the picture is certainly not the answer. We want a holistic approach that looks at ways to rehabilitate wherever possible and provides for fair and humane treatment of inmates when prison is necessary. Sadly, private prisons have proven to tip the scales in favor of costly mass incarceration. Assuming we all want to limit the crime Nevadans face, moving forward we must focus on finding alternative solutions to our faulty, insufficent system.

The 2018 election was a watershed moment in which candidates who pledged to ban the use of private prisons won up and down the ballot in Nevada.

As a retired corrections officer, I have seen firsthand the need for improved services and reforms in our criminal justice system. In response to the will of Nevada voters, I have introduced Assembly Bill 183, which would ban the use of private prisons for core services, such as housing, custody, and medical and mental health treatment, by June 30, 2024. Outlawing for-profit prisons would help establish a criminal justice system of equity, integrity and fairness

— one that views prisoners as people instead of profit margins.

Join me in supporting AB183 so we can end this unjust use of public safety resources.

Daniele Monroe-Moreno was elected to the Nevada Assembly’s 1st District seat in 2016. During the 2017 session, she introduced a similar version of AB183, which Sandoval vetoed.