A Pennsylvania judge has been convicted of selling children into prison for cash. The former judge, 61-year old Mark Ciavarella Jr, was sentenced to 30 years for taking money under the table from a developer and jailing thousands of adults and juveniles, some as young as ten. Ciavarella made more than a million dollars selling people into incarceration.
Are you outraged? You should be. This occurred in 2011, and in many states we still have a corrupt prison system that is owned by private corporations that profit from filling their jail cells. States and private prisons have struck deals that guarantee high prison occupancy rates, or “lockup quotas,” and when those quotas aren’t met, taxpayers pay for those empty beds anyway. Some of these deals require a 90 to 100 percent prison occupancy. Arizona has three privately run prisons that have a 100 percent inmate occupancy requirement. If any of these beds goes unfilled the state has to cough up the money to the prison. Three for-profit prisons in Colorado have forced taxpayers to pay an additional $2 million because of the occupancy requirement deal, making the drop in crime irrelevant to the budget. You pay either way, might as well fill the beds, right?
Practices like these incentivise putting people behind bars. Forget about justice, and fair representation; and when the state is compelled to keep prisons full to capacity, rehabilitation and community building are null and void. Harsher sentences are encouraged, promoting corporate profits instead of protecting the public.
Ciavarella was ordered to pay nearly 1.2 million in restitution, a mere pittance compared to the worth of the lives he harmed and ruined. These are human lives we are dealing with, not some sort of commodity.
According to the International Centre for Prison Studies, the United States has the largest population of prisoners per capita in the world. That’s a crime in itself. We can do better. Education and employment programs for at-risk youth would be a better alternative to locking them up, and it would cost less, as a teacher’s salary is approximately equivalent to the cost of incarcerating an inmate.
Children and adults shouldn’t be being sold into incarceration, there shouldn’t be money to be made in locking people up. It should be a last resort, not a contracted goal.
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